While many travellers consider Sihanoukville as just a pit stop on the way to Cambodia’s enticing offshore islands, you might find yourself lingering longer than planned. The resort town features chic new boutique stays and inviting restaurants and bars, along with some cool natural draws – apart from the powdery white sands.
Not only does the diverse menu at this resort’s restaurant feature tapas plates, Khmer amok (steamed curried fish) and boozy ice-cream shakes, all the fine food gets served right out on the sugar-like sand of what’s arguably Sihanoukville’s best beach. Should you decide to spend the night here, the property boasts airy bungalows with rattan furniture and a tropical garden with a pool.
NGO-run ‘training restaurants’ which equip at-risk youth with the skills for working in the hospitality industry, are mushrooming all over Cambodia. One of the best, Sandan, happens to be a hot dining spot. With creative Khmer dishes using fresh seafood accompanied by cultural dance shows, you’re guaranteed to be back more than once.
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This chic beachfront retreat has become the star of bohemian Otres Beach, a former backpacker hangout that is going chic. Its minimalist guest rooms are accented by warm bamboo, rattan and wood elements, surrounding a lap pool that meets the palm-fringed sands. There’s also a beachside bar that’s perfect for sundowners.
This artisan bar adds a touch of sophistication to the standard rows of beer joints lining Sihanoukville. There are 25 different rum infusions using ingredients like local Kampot pepper, lime and passionfruit, and stylish cocktails like espresso martinis and mango margaritas. Add mood lighting and retro posters, and what you’ve got is one of the coolest places to be spotted at after dark.
For the most pampering spa in town and Sihanoukville’s only private beach, Sokha Beach Resort scores on both counts. It’s a great family spot to stay at as well, as there are two huge swimming pools with swim-up bars, a kid’s playground, and even bungalows built right over a lagoon.
This NGO-run outfit has both a cute garden cafe-bakery as well as a shop that sells handcrafted jewellery and contemporary crafts made by locals. One of Sihanoukville’s best spots for souvenir shopping, it’s a non-profit fair trade endeavour that gives underprivileged Cambodians the chance to produce and market their own work.
7. Kbal Chhay
Fifteen minutes from town, these tiered waterfalls are a popular place for swimming and picnicking. The water is cool and refreshing, and there are far more locals than tourists, which is not often the case at the beaches in town. Vendors rent out hammocks and grill fresh fish by the waterfalls.
Mangrove swamps, coral reefs, white sand beaches and abundant birdlife just 15km from town make this Sihanoukville’s top natural escape. You can take boat tours or go on guided walks with rangers into a coastal rainforest, and spot bottle-nosed dolphins swimming just off the coast.
Lest you forget why you’re here, Sihanoukville is home to several lovely strips of sand. The casuarina-lined Otres Beach (below) is aimed at the boutique crowd, while Ochheuteal and Serendipity beaches join together for three glorious kilometres, where weekenders from Phnom Penh hang out and party. For quiet, head to the Sokha and Independence beaches; now is the time to visit, as they are earmarked for some big development projects.
– TEXT BY DAVE STAMBOULIS
PHOTOS: THE STARFISH PROJECT, SOKHA BEACH RESORT, LA RHUMERIE BISTRO AND ARTISAN RUM BAR, SANDAN, THE SECRET GARDEN AT OTRES BEACH
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.