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Sihanoukville highlights and travel guide

Sihanoukville overview
 
This westerly coastal province of Cambodia is all about white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and island living. With a holiday atmosphere, a laidback vibe by the water and plenty of opportunity for partying, the peninsula at Sihanoukville offers a slice of Cambodia at its most relaxed.
 
Sihanoukville highlights

While the most vibrant activity in Sihanoukville centres on the city and the islands off the coastline, Sihanoukville Province is a place to discover relatively unexplored beaches. There’s also a little bit of nature to discover further inland, with the gorgeous Elephant Mountains backing the locality – a mountain range that is home to waterfalls and other natural phenomena. National parks and swathes of greenery in the locality protect the region’s unique set of flora and fauna too.

For pure relaxation and Cambodia’s best beaches, Sihanoukville is a must-visit.
 
See and Do

The beaches in Sihanoukville are the number one reason people visit this locality, and there are plenty to choose from.
 
Ochheuteal Beach is a popular choice given its huge 3.3km expanse. With white sand, pretty trees, sun loungers and a couple of dozen huts serving drinks, snacks and meals, this beach has everything you need in one place. For those who are young at heart, Buddy Land Water Park is a fun water park by the beach too. Serendipity Beach is another of Sihanoukville’s mainland beaches, although this one is much quieter and more unspoiled than other neighbouring beaches. Otres Beach is one of the larger beaches on the mainland at 4.6km long, but despite its size, it is still relatively uncommercialized. It’s possible to learn Hurricane Windsurfing here – ideal for those who are more actively minded. Sokha Beach is privately owned by a hotel and offers luxury facilities – ideal for those who enjoy the finer things in life with their beach time. There is an abundance of other beaches all waiting to be explored in Sihanoukville too, including Independence Beach, Hawaii Beach, Victory Beach, Hun Sen Beach and Ream Beach.
 
Ochheuteal Beach

The next most popular reason people travel to Sihanoukville is to get out on the water and explore one of the 22 islands off the coastline.
 
Koh Rong is one of the most popular islands in Sihanoukville, accessible by ferry from the mainland in just 45-minutes. With white sandy beaches, azure waters and a tropical setting, this is the stuff dreams are made of. At 77 km2, this is one of the larger islands in the locality. It has an amazing 23 beaches, the most popular of which is the 4km Long Beach. Sok San Beach has high-end sun loungers and parasols, while Palm Beach is an enchanting beach with shade offered by gorgeous palm trees. The island is also home to a stunning waterfall and a handful of traditional villages. It is possible to walk or cycle along the island’s paths to explore it for yourself. It’s also possible to hire snorkelling and scuba diving gear, go fishing or go ziplining on the island. If you stay overnight, the waters of Koh Rong offer an amazing surprise too, as phosphorescent plankton light up the waters surrounding the island!
 
Koh Rong
 
Neighbouring Koh Rong is another island called Koh Rong Sanloem. A lot smaller than Koh Rong at just 9km long and 5km wide, this is another spot where there are abundant white sandy beaches, calm turquoise waters and verdant jungles. Saracen Bay is one of the most popular spots for some beach time. At 3km long, it still has an undiscovered feeling. Mpay Bay is another popular beach, and is also home to a volunteer ecotourism project that visitors can help out at. Elsewhere on the island, there is an abundance of activities to get involved in, including snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing, jungle trekking and mountain biking.
 
Koh Rong Sanloem
 
Koh Kaong Kang is an uninhabited island ideal for a castaway feeling and enjoying the snorkelling in the surrounding waters. Koh Tuich offers similar snorkelling conditions, while Koh Koun is a favoured diving and snorkelling location – although be aware there is no beach here. Koh Bong Po-oun is home to an exclusive resort, offering a more high-class island experience.
 
Koh Kaong Kang

Koh Thmei is located just 300 metres off the mainland but still retains a feeling of island charm. As well as large, unspoiled beaches, the island is also home to jungle-like vegetation, two mountain peaks and a network of rivers, creeks and estuaries. There are said to be 155 species on the island alone, as well as other wildlife to look out for, including monkeys and a wetland feline known as the ‘fishing cat’. There are also two small villages – Taly Village and Chong Thmei Village. Around 1.5km away from Koh Thmei is the uninhabited Koh Seh, with a number of mangroves.
 
Many of Sihanoukville’s beaches and islands form part of Ream National Park, which protects both terrestrial and marine habitats over an immense area of 210 km2. From forests and hills to coral reefs and freshwater wetlands, the diversity in this area is impressive. The beaches here cover a stretch of around 10km. As well as enjoying the islands and beaches, there are plenty of other activities to take advantage of in the national park too. This includes fishing excursions – with barracuda and marlin widely caught in the local area, dolphin-spotting trips, snorkelling, scuba diving and hiking inland in the national park. Soak up the feeling in the rainforest, go wildlife spotting or embark on a ziplining adventure. For those who like the action to continue, it’s even possible to sleep under the stars in the national park in tents or hammocks.
 
 Ream National Park
 
The Kbal Chhay waterfall is inland in Sihanoukville Province and is fed by waters from the Elephant Mountains. Only discovered in 1960, this is now a popular place to visit in a day trip from Sihanoukville city, providing some interesting contrast from coastal life. There are a number of food and drink stands nearby, and it’s also a popular picnic spot.
 
Kbal Chhay waterfall

Elsewhere in Sihanoukville, the Ou Trojak Jet river is popular for canoeing and angling activities. The Otres Marina also has kayaks and paddle boards available to rent. The Wat Leu Temple – also known as the Upper Pagoda – is found atop Mount Sihanouk, open for special celebrations throughout the year. The views over the locality awe-inspiring. Wat Krom – or the Lower Pagoda – is another temple found at the bottom of the hill in Sihanoukville city.
 
Culture and Arts

As Cambodia’s main seaside destination, Sihanoukville is more of a beach spot than a centre of culture and arts. That said, there is some local art and culture to look out for.
 
One truly worthwhile project is the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project, which takes place near Serendipity Beach. Run by an NGO, volunteers work with local children from impoverished backgrounds to create art. This art is then sold, with the proceeds going to the children and their families. Buying one of the art pieces is an original keepsake that has a long-lasting impact in the local community.
 
Cambodian Children’s Painting Project
 
The Golden Lion Monument is found on one of Sihanoukville’s roundabouts and is the most recognisable monument in the city. Constructed in 1996, locals believe it is designed to remember the violence Cambodia previously experienced, together with the innate Khmer resilience.
 
Golden Lion Monument

O’tres Pagoda is one of the main temples in Sihanoukville, and it’s equally an open air art exhibition as it is a religious destination. Found in a tranquil spot on the Ou Tro Jet river, it has a water garden and sculptures of ancestral spirits in the form of animals.

Sihanoukville has a few handicraft shops run by NGOs, selling local crafts that are ethical as well as truly one-of-a-kind. Starfish is one arts and crafts shop that sells wonderful  clothes and goods made of silk. Tapang is an NGO that works with street children. Goods made with fabric such as t-shirts and bags are made by these children, simultaneously helping them get out of vulnerable situations and continue their education. Another shop that celebrates local craftmanship is Bodia Nature, which sells natural bath products and herbal soaps.
 
Bodia Nature
 
For shopping in one place, Phsar Leu Market is a popular place. Chaotic, vibrant and colourful, this market has everything you’d expect and more, from local foods to souvenirs and clothing.
 
Festivals and Events

With Khmer locals and a large number of international visitors every year, the majority of religious, secular and traditional holidays and festivals are celebrated to some extent in Sihanoukville.

Khmer New Year in Sihanoukville is reflective of the festivities that happen across the country. Cambodia’s biggest celebration in around April every year, this is a time when families spend together and get away to resorts such as Sihanoukville if they can. This means the pagodas such as Wat Leu Temple are buzzing, while there is a festive atmosphere on the streets, beaches and islands.
 
Wat leu temple festival
 
Chinese New Year, which falls between January and February each year, is another reason to celebrate in Sihanoukville. Expect days of fireworks and a vibrant atmosphere.

The Water Festival (Bon Oum Touk) is a big celebration in Phnom Penh, but provincial centres such as Sihanoukville also mark the occasion in some way. This is a time when Cambodians and international visitors flock to the water from mainland Sihanoukville or the islands every November to celebrate the end of the monsoon season. Expect lots of people and late night parties in bars and on the beaches.

Pchum Ben (‘Soul Day’ or ‘Ancestors Day’) is another public holiday and a 15-day Buddhist Festival. It’s an occasion when Cambodians travel to coastal centres for some time off, so the population of Sihanoukville swells during this time. While there is a lot of religious activity around the pagodas, afterwards Cambodians enjoy meals out in restaurants and time on the beach.
 
Bon Oum Touk
 
The Kathen Festival is celebrated every October, and is the Buddhist festival of robes. This is a time when Buddhists offer saffron robes to monks at pagodas, so expect a lot of activity around Sihanoukville’s temples at this time. There are usually other festivities to enjoy too, such as live music and colourful processions or parties.

With a small group of Christian locals and a large number of international visitors, Christmas and New Year is also a big deal in Sihanoukville. As well as thriving restaurants and bars on the mainland, a Full Moon Party takes place on the island of Koh Rong around this time every year. This is an all-night beach party that happens the night before or after a full moon, and people come from all over to celebrate at this event.
 
Food and Drink

Sihanoukville is where Angkor Beer is produced. One of Cambodia’s major breweries, Angkor Beer is synonymous with travels in Cambodia, and it’s the most widely drunk beer across the whole country. The beer’s official motto is ‘Our country, our beer.’ Pay a visit to any bar or restaurant in Sihanoukville to taste this proudly local produce.
 
Angkor Beer Sihanoukville
 
Given the locality on the water, seafood is found in abundance in Sihanoukville, with crab and prawns particular specialities. A variety of ocean fish also makes its way onto menus through traditional Khmer cuisine such as fish amok and fish curry.

Ochheuteal Beach is a popular spot for evening drinks by the water, with a few bars that stay open and lively until late. Otres Corner is also popular for nightlife, with music playing throughout the day as well. One of the most popular beaches in the evening is Otres Beach and ‘Otres Market’ on Saturday nights. This involves a range of street food stalls, live music and a generally festive atmosphere until the morning.
 
Ochheuteal Beach
 
Treasure Island Beach is a small beach with a large Cambodian seafood restaurant serving all the favourite local specialities. Visit the south shore of the Ou Trojak Jet river for a range of seafood restaurants – the fish is delivered by local fisherman on a daily basis. Grand Restaurant Kampuhea is widely hailed as serving the best fish amok in Sihanoukville. For other traditional Khmer food of fish and meat varieties, NYAM Khmer Restaurant is a local favourite. At Chez Paou, Khmer specials include grilled stingray with Kampot pepper and local prawns with pastis.
 
Sihanoukville food
 
For international cuisine, try Ku Kai for Japanese, Manoha for French and Amareina for Italian. Coffee fans should pay a visit to the favourite coffee spot in the city – Espresso Kampuchea, while vegans are well-catered for in Sihanoukville at Dao of Life. For a high end meal and all-round experience, visit the Ream Yacht Club.
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