(And see the end for Phom Penh...)
In November/December 2014, I went to Sinhoukville and, whilst not amazing, it was a reasonably pleasant beach front strip. I had a few fun nights out on Serendipity Beach, at the Blue Dolphin and JJs and a few other places further into town. It was full of travellers from South Africa, Holland, Germany, Scandinavia and all over the world and whilst it spun a little too much towards backpackers of a particular age and beer pong style nights out, I definitely had fun (you can read all about it below) and I was sort of looking forward to going back for a night on our way to one of the Islands. Our plan for Cambodia November/December 2017 was to go back to Koh Rong (read about that here) and onto Kampot (read about that here), Phom Penh (read about that here) and maybe somewhere else.
From Koh Chang (for 750 Baht from Jungle Fresh Travel Agents in Lonely Beach) you get picked up from your accommodation and then drive to the ferry for about 8.30am. Then you are driven on the mainland to the border (at Had Lek, the better border by the way) for about 1pm. Then you go to the window depending on whether you’ve done e-visa or not. If you’re the latter you will pay 1600 Baht for the visa followed by 200 Baht per person as a ‘tip’ (is it worth arguing over?). Have two (though I only needed one) passport photos ready (you can do it there for a charge).
If you are on the e-visa you will still pay more than the $36/40 you are expecting; and all I can say is welcome to Cambodia! Then you will get offered a minibus transfer for another 100 baht to get to Sihnoukville 2 hours earlier. The first time in 2014 I thought it was a con so I didn’t take it. This time we took the risk and it was worth it. As you will see from the below, book a place in Sihanoukville first and make sure you make them take you to it, rather than the bus station or the Golden Lion roundabout that they will want to.
When we got to Sihanoukville at 6pm we couldn’t find anywhere to stay at first. Anywhere we could find was charging ridiculous prices and the $2-5 a night I remember had been replaced by $18 and up. Apparently, Chinese investors are in the middle of turning Sihanoukville into the Macau of South East Asia. From the looks of it, it’s actually going to be a mix between Macau, 1980’s Bangkok, Hell and some futuristic dystopian apocalyptic world with a Cambodian twist. I think the “Wet Pussy” bar opposite our ‘guesthouse’ summed it up nicely. Actually I think when they are done, considering the lawlessness of Cambodia, it will become the most dangerous and crazy place on the planet. Let’s see, we’ll consider doing a review if it does.
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For now, the first travel tip for Sinhoukville, apart from ‘don’t go,’ is to be very very careful and to look after your belongings. Rooms can get broken into, hotels etc sometimes conspire against you and keeping them on you carries great risks too. The last time I was in Sihanoukville I had had my phone stolen (read about that, and me getting it back below) and this time it felt even more dangerous; and dirty. It’s full of Mafia (we met an Egyptian 'Mafioso' there who was a well of knowledge) and people trying to make money at any costs and it is a crazy and lawless place. I don’t think, unless you want risky drugs, gambling, prostitutes and to kill yourself, there is anything for anyone in Sihanoukville. Unfortunately, to go to the good places that this area has to offer (Otres and the Islands), you have to go to Sihanoukville. So, as usual, you have to suffer to get the good stuff.
You could do we what we did and embrace Sihanoukville (it’s the only way to go to be honest) or you could just stay in your hotel room for the night! We ended up having a good meal, some drinks, a few games of pool and a bar let me DJ for a bit (using this awesome app called DJ free which links to Spotify). We went to In My dreams restaurant and had a few beers and met a man with a walkie talkie who was very helpful and friendly but who also offered us other things apart from beer if you know what I mean. Then we went to Nice Ocean Restaurant and ate a good meal (the Cambodian Beef was the stand out meal there but there's a lot of other beach front restaurants offering decent Khmer, western and BBQ food there too, but do watch out for food poisoning risks, see our guide on that here) and they let me DJ there (and then offered me a gig!). Then we went to Eden Bar, played some pool and had a few more drinks and then they let me DJ again (they did not offer me a gig) but overall it was a good night. It was very different to last time as you can read about below.
As for the room, all the Chinese construction companies had bought up all the rooms in town and all we could find was the worst room we’ve ever stayed in, complete with cum stains on the bed sheets, gross smell and dirty bathroom. It turns out that 'the Chinese' are systematically buying up the area and the guesthouses are just waiting for offers and have given up trying to run their businesses. So we won’t even bother with names this time. There are still some places available but I’d go for booking ahead using something like booking.com and expect to pay a bit more than you’d like (especially in Cambodia) for something not horrible and scary like we found.
The next day we had a good coffee and breakfast in Bamboo Vegetarian Restaurant and then got the hell out of there. We weren’t ready to head to an island and I’d remembered this other place called Otres from the last time I was here (see below), so we decided to go check it out in a tuk tuk, if only just to get out of Sinhoukville. We were very happy we did, and you can read about that using the menu…
As for Phom Penh, we avoided it completely as we heard there's not much there unless you want to see The Killing Fields and related exhibits. There is obviously stuff to do, and if you're flying in there I'm sure you can survive to get to a transfer away from there, but tales of poor accomodation, unsafe rooms and streets, muggings and lots of other terrifying stories; we decided to stay away. Cambodia is the 2nd most lawless country in the world afterall and we didn't feel like going into its capital city!
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Sihanoukville 2014 with 2017/18 updates:
Key memories include:
Fun nights out on Serendipity/Ochheuteal Beach front (still possible but it's a lot less 'traveller' and more 'Sin City/Mafiosa' now). There's also some fun and good food in the town itself, especially on the road that goes into town from the beach (Serendipity Beach Road) and around there up to the Golden Lion roundabout. This area is the tourist area and where most of the accomodation can be located too. We also found a place called Cheam Yan (see photos for a map) where they spit roast a whole cow and cut you slices from it which we highly recommend, and yes it is still there!
The Golden Lion Roundabout is worth a photo and around there are bars and restuarants and a more local feel. Also, as mentioned that area down to the beach is where you will probably want to hang out. I also remember a good time on a boat trip out to some beaches with beer and a BBQ included, still recommended for a fun day out but take a waterproof bag for your electronics as sometimes the boats tip over when drunk idiots rock them (yes that happened to me and the only reason we didn't fall in was because I got my teacher on with the kids doing the rocking when I noticed the now worried looking boat driver put on his life jacket...).
Apart from that and the local attractions 'nearby' like waterfalls and temples, the best bit about Sihanoukville is Otres and the islands/beaches. Actually, it's mainly Otres. Read all about it using the menu, but remember to experience it you have to hurry as its future remains uncertain and we really recommend you do actually hurry and go, because it's a really lovely and special place.
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As for going out in Sihanoukville, remember that this is Cambodia. Here is my getting robbed in Sihanoukville story.... I was in a bar (possibly JJs) when I put down my phone and turned to say something to my friend. I turned back and my Iphone 5s was gone. Apparently kids come under the tables and reach up and grab what they can. Seeking someone with an Iphone or Apple product that I could activate 'Find my Iphone' I eventually found someone but all I could do was hit 'notify when found' and I went to bed pretty upset. It had all my photos and I hadn't backed them up.
The next morning I woke up to an email that my phone had been found, and screenshotting the map on my laptop, I went clutching it, hungover as hell, to find my phone. Bit stupid when you think about it in hindsight, but there we are. Outside I ran into Mark Tottenham (see Koh Rong) and he offered to give me a lift. We went and he dropped my off, on my own, on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere with a few closed shops and Cambodian 'cafes' on it. I walked down the road looking for people to ask and eventually found a women in one of the cafes. Signalling 'phone' with my hand and then hanging both my hands up in an open questioning manner, she pointed next door to a closed and security gated shop. 'Your phone next door' she said pointing. I thanked her and went next door and banged on the shutters.
This went on for about 5 minutes, with me shouting out 'hello?' constantly and peering through the letterbox. Suddenly a woman appeared from around the corner wearing a shower cap, a hairdressing cape and holding a half shampooed dog. She looked at me and I signalled 'phone' and said 'I just want my phone back, I will pay, I don't want any trouble or police.' She waved her hand at me and turned her back to me and continued to shampoo the dog. I kept banging on the shutter and trying to negotiate or reason with her for about 10 minutes. Eventually she put down the dog and got out her phone and made a call.
5 minutes later a guy showed up on a moped. Now remember I'm all alone, clutching my laptop so needless to say, it was at that moment that the stupidty of what I was doing hit me. However, the guy didn't say a word and just opened the shop gate and went in, inviting me to follow. I nervously entered and as I did so I could see my phone case sitting behind the counter. I knew I was in the right place. He opened a drawer and pulled out a gold Iphone. In the same drawer, I could see my cracked screen white Iphone so I grabbed it and said 'this is my phone'. He shook his head and offered me the gold one. I thought about legging it at that point but wasn't sure that would be smart. So I tried to switch on my phone but couldn't. He kept pushing the gold one in my hand so I took it and pressed the home button and sure enough there was a picture of my cat which was my scrensaver image. It appeared he had swapped out the bits of my Iphone into this gold one in about four hours.
He said, 'I fixed your phone, $100'! I said, 'I don't want it fixed, change it back.' It was at this point that Mark returned as he promised he would. We waited as the guy took about 45 minutes to swap back the Iphone. Then he wanted $50 because he had spent his time on my phone but we settled on 40. Cheeky, but it's that or no phone back. The police, I later found out, would have sided with the shop owner anyway so I did the best of a bad situation. As for the phone, it never worked as well after that I thought and it died 6 months later. But it was an interesting quest that gave me a sense of achievement afterwards so it was actually a good experience overall!
Check out the photos below!
Sinhoukville 2014 photos: Click on the arrows to scroll, or on the image for a larger version (in a pop-up)
Sinhoukville 2017 photos: Click on the arrows to scroll, or on the image for a larger version (in a pop-up)
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