Cambodia Beaches – Sihanoukville,  Otres, Koh Rong

Koh Rong Sanloem pier and beach view, Cambodia beaches

Cambodia Beaches: Koh Rong Sanloem pier on Saracen Bay, 40 minutes from Sihanoukville by fast boat.

And no, that’s not a fast boat in the photo! At the end of the pier is a sizeable bar/restaurant with various beach huts scattered along the white powder sand beach and a scuba dive center on the right. Jump to Koh Rong.

Cambodia Beaches, good and bad

Cambodia beaches: Sihanoukville

An easy 4 hour bus ride from the capital Phnom Penh or a 1 hour flight from Siem Reap (well, you could choose a 12 hour bus ride, but only hardened budget travelers do), Sihanoukville  is Cambodia  beaches hub. It’s also one of the country’s three most popular destinations, even though the city beaches have lost their shine along with their tranquility.

Sihanoukville beaches, Serendipity beach overview, Cambodia

Serendipity/Ochheuteal beaches overview, with boat pier on the right extending from the blue roof.

Over the last couple of years Sihanoukville  has grown exponentially as Chinese investors have piled in due to its position as Cambodia’s only deep-water port. Chinese tourists, gamblers and entrepreneurs have followed. Chinese residents increased by 120,000 in 2017 alone so there is beginning to be a problem between locals and Chinese.

Massive, neon-clad buildings – shortly to be at least 70 – now lurch above and around the beachfront, several of them casinos. I had the pleasure of staying in one new skyscraper on Serendipity Beach Road in 2017. Build quality was appalling, doors didn’t fit, power supply was erratic, staff knew nothing about anything and the breakfast was pathetic. But it was cheap, spacious and overlooking the beach (the photo above was taken from there).

Bottom line suggestion: don’t plan to stay in Sihanoukville unless you enjoy crowds, but use it as a transit point to get to Otres or the islands, tho’ how long they can survive with their beauty, ambience and identity intact in anybody’s guess.

Serendipity – Ochheuteal beaches

Serendipity Beach Road naturally leads down to Serendipity Beach, though there is some confusion as to where Serendipity ends and Ochheuteal Beach begins. Wherever it is, foreigners prefer to call in Serendipity as it’s easier to pronounce than Ochheuteal.

The pier at the bottom of  Serendipity Beach Road hosts boats out to the Rong islands, though some also depart inconveniently from Victory Beach.

Serendipity merges invisibly into Ochheuteal  beach at some point which was unclear to me in spite of walking  the four  kilometre strip several times. The 4km beach   – whatever it’s officially called –  is frequently overcrowded (by locals) and the constant hustlers, beggars, bar touts, plastic bag trash etc. are tiresome.

Ochhteuil beach chairs, Sihanoukville beaches, Cambodia

Ochheuteal beach at Christmas. The sand on just about all Cambodian beaches is soft and white but at holiday times Sihanoukville is overcome by partying locals and foreign visitors have learnt to head for Sokha (nearby but private, for beach resort visitors only), Otres (hop a tuktuk or motorcycle for a 20 minute ride down the coast) or jump a boat out to the Rong islands (30 mins – an hour depending on the boat).

Cambodia Beaches: Sokha, Victory, Independence

If you are seeking peace, quiet and manicured sands and can afford to pay a bit over the top head for privately owned Sokha Resort and Spa, just north of Serendipity. Sihanoukville’s best beach is private, which is good news and bad news. It’s a wonderful 1 kilometre length of wide, soft white sand washed by tranquil waters that is entirely hawker free. But to use the beach you’ll have to either stay at the Sokha Beach Resort or pay a day entry fee – which also gives access to the hotel’s swimming pool and catering facilities. Photo above  with hotel redevelopment in progress.

Near the Sihanoukviller’s main (industrial)  port, Victory Beaches – including busy Victory Beach and Hawaii Beach/King’s Beach are small, grubby, poorly serviced, a hassle to get to and thus favoured more by locals than tourists.
Victory Hill above Victory Beach offers a selection of budget guest houses, bars and seafood restaurants as well as a great sunset view, though the area is a bit seedy – depending on your point of view – with fast-developing night-life hotspots.

Alternatively try the latest developed beach, Independence, with limited facilities and least spoilt. We couldn’t get there as the military closed it off for Christmas/New Year – a bigwig holiday no doubt. It’s between Sokha and Victory beaches.

Otres beaches

Otres 1 beach posters, Cambodia

Otres 1  beach posters targeting backpackers and neo-hippies, their primary market.

Otres 1 beach dormitory, Cambodia

Now that’s simple living! An open-plan dormitory beside the beach in Otres 1.

Otres 2 beach hotel, Cambodia

And in contrast…not simple living in Otres 2. From what I could see (not much) Otres 2 appeared to be populated by affluent north Europeans who don’t mind a limited beach so long as the fixtures and fittings are stylish and comfortable and the service impeccable. There are a handful of very smart little hotels just off Otres 2 beach, which is  – more or less  – the end of Cambodia’s mainland beaches before Vietnam.

Best season on Cambodia beaches

Otres 2 beach bar, Cambodia

Now that is a bar where I could happily hang out, if I could afford it. Otres 2, naturally, far too sophisticated for Otres 1.

The best time to visit Cambodia is during the cool, dry months November – February. November- mid December especially benefits from pleasant, dry, warmth and vegetation that is still verdant after the rainy reason, but remember that the Christmas/New Year period will be crowded and pricey.

Cambodia has a tropical climate and four seasons:
Hot & rainy, June-August
Cool & rainy, September, October
Hot & dry, March-May
Cool & dry, November-February

The most uncomfortable time to visit is the ‘green’ season June – August, when it’s hot, wet and humid. Going in the late wet season is not a bad idea from September and October with less heat, less crowds and lower prices. At this time the beauty of Angkor is reinforced by lush greenery.

Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem (islands)

These two islands are 4kms (2 miles) apart and geographically very similar, though Koh Rong is more developed – not necessarily a bad thing up to a certain point, as accommodation, food, drink and transport options are  considerably greater and it has an ATM! On the other hand those in search of a very quiet, simple life may prefer Koh Rong Sanloem (Samloem) but need to ensure they have enough cash on hand (including small dollar bills) to cover all costs.

Ko Rong Samloem police station and beach bungalows, Cambodia

Koh Rong Sanloem Police Station and typical beach bungalows.

Koh Rong:

• Southwestern Beach is a massive, 5 kilometre (3 miles) stretch of undeveloped white sand fringed with palm trees and rinsed by shallow turquoise waters. There’s good snorkelling with colourful fish at the rocky southern end.

• Long Set Beach is also on the southern side of Koh Rong, a lot smaller than Southwestern but equally unspoilt, white and benefiting from calm crystal waters. Long Set is conveniently close to various guest houses and fruit farms growing mangoes, cashew nuts and coconuts. It’s also a favourite spot for crabbing.

Koh Rong Sanloem, bar/restaurant, Cambodia

A typical breezy, open-sided, Rong islands  bar/restaurant, serving cold beer and mediocre food. Relaxed but not necessarily over-friendly as wait staff are poorly paid and visitors come and go rapidly. As bars and restaurants gradually go upmarket so does the service.

Koh Rong Sanloem, around 9 km (6 miles) long, 4 km (2 miles) wide:

• 3kms long Saracen Beach Bay on Sanloem’s east coast is the island’s main tourist location, with a dozen or so accommodation options ranging from almost boutique hotel standard to extremely basic. The sand is a squeaky white powder and the sea warm and clean, though occasional trash does end up on the beach somehow and doesn’t get cleaned up with any urgency, which is a pity.

• Lazy Beach on Sanloem’s west coast is a fine strand a couple of kilometres across the island from the pier. The beach is soft brown there, regularly manicured and fringed by pine trees. Lazy beach is good for snorkeling, fishing and sunset drinkies. A couple more brown sand beaches share the sunsets and very few visitors.