Sihanoukville – Cambodia’s largest beach town.
Sihanoukville is on Cambodia’s southern coast which hosts Cambodias only Sea Port on the gulf of Thailand. Founded relatively recently in 1964 specifically for the deep water port. Now popular as a tourist destination because of its many beaches and tropic weather.
Named after Cambodia’s retired king, Norodom Sihanouk, Sihanoukville has developed as a premier attraction for tourists visiting Cambodia, as well as residents looking for a holiday. This was stifled in 1994 when three western backpackers were kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge, and later murders. Sihanoukville has since recovered and now entertains almost 1,000,000 tourists every year.
Sihanoukville also supports an international airport with a troubled history – following a crash in the Cardamom Mountains in 2007 the airport remains ready for service but no flights are scheduled. The plan was for the airport to encourage visitors to other major attractions like the Angkor temples in Siem Reap, to enjoy a beach vacation on Cambodia’s southern coast.
The commercial deep water sea port is located on Sihanoukville’s northern peninsula, with a number of tropical islands and beaches to the west and south. The other beaches lie on the western and southern edges of the peninsula.
The most popular beach in Sihanoukville is Occheuteal beach which is lined with casuarina trees, sporting many grass roofed huts with lazy chairs which offer cold drinks and refreshments. The northern tip of Occheuteal beach, which naturally part of the same beach, has been dubbed serendipity beach where you can find many of the same grass roofed huts, as well as backpacker accommodations and some mid-range bungalows.
The Southern end of Occheuteal beach is mainly deserted, awaiting the development of a large resort, the progress of which has been very slow following the failed attempt to build a golf course on this land. Around the headland on the Southern end of Occheuteal beach is a similar and primarily deserted Otres beach – While formerly devoid of visitors, Otres beach is now home to some backpacker accommodations and is being touted as a location for adventure sports including sailing and paragliding.
The premier beach in Sihanoukville is the privately owned Sokha beach, a beautiful stretch of well maintained beach belonging to the Sokha Hotel chain which belongs to Cambodian oil mogul Kem Sokha. Non-Guests may be disappointed if they would like to visit Sokha Beach as the hotel guards may deny access however visitors could park in the hotel car park and walk to the beach unnoticed.
Independence beach is a pebbly beach to the west of Sokha Beach and to the south of Victory Beach – Many open air alfresco restaurants line this beach which is very popular with khmer locals. Just north of Independence beach is the small and rocking Koh Pos beach with Koh Pos island only 800m off the coast. The northern most beach in Sihanoukville is Victory Beach which is directly south of the port of Sihanoukville. Another small beach called Lemherkey Beach is located on the Southern end of Victory Beach. This is where a construction began in the 1950’s on the new port of Kompong Som. You can hire boats from here to nearby islands.
Tourists can easily visit the dozen or so islands off Sihanoukville’s coast. Most remain undeveloped, however overnight accommodation is available on Koh Russei, also know as Bamboo Island. Many businesses in Sihanoukville offer trips and tours to Bamboo Island.
Sihanoukville has also been known as Kompong Som and Krong Preah Selhanu, and is often nicknamed Snookyville or even just Snooky to expatriate residents.
The Cambodian national beer, Angkor Beer built its first brewery in Sihanoukville. The famous Independence hotel claimed host to Jaqueline Kennedy in her 1967 tour of Cambodia, but in 1970 Prince Sihanouk was ousted in a coup by the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia descended into civil war. At this time Sihanoukville was renamed Kompong Som, and still retains this name to some degree. During the Khmer Rouge era, the Independence Hotel was used as target practice, and following the mistake hijacking of an American cargo ship, the port was heavily bombed by the american air force.
Despite Pol Pot’s downfall, the highway from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh remained in a shocking condition and was well known for banditry. This has changed drastically in the past 10 years with the roads from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville being improved, and all hostilities eradicated.
Sihanoukville has since been dubbed by the New York Times as “Asia’s next trendsetting beach” and this is justified by the never ending construction, with new hotels popping up on a weekly basis, and an ever increasing population of expatriate residents walking around enjoying the sun.
The famous independence hotel which was used as target practice for the khmer rouge and whose swimming pool was used as a mass grave, has since been restored as one of Sihanoukville’s luxury hotels, however a new swimming pool has been dug, and the old one filled in.
Sihanoukville is definitely worth a visit if you plan to travel to, or through Cambodia. The beaches are relaxing for all, and there is always something to do if you are so inclined.