Blissing Out on Cambodia’s Beaches

Oh, Sihanoukville. The infamous Cambodian beach town known for its intense party scene, bountiful beaches and rampant petty theft. It is a well-trod hotspot on the Southeast Asian backpacker trail as well as a jumping off point for Cambodia’s idyllic islands.

Sihanoukville has two main beaches which fall at complete opposite ends of the beach vibe spectrum: seedy, bass-bumping Serendipity Beach and chilled-out, hippy enclave Otres Beach.

In my opinion, Serendipity Beach by day is a bit of a nightmare. As I sunbathed by the murky waters I was approached constantly by very persistent beach vendors offering $1 beach manicures and string bracelets.

I spent my five days in Sihanoukville at Serendipity Beach, and I think it stands as  testament to Sihanoukville’s prevalent party culture that I don’t have one picture of it during the day. Oops.

But I can’t say I didn’t have fun. From the 25-cent beer happy hour at JJ’s…

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to the wild dancing at Utopia…IMG_6667

to the Full-Moon style body paint…IMG_6673

we undoubtedly had some amazing nights out. And best of all I nary paid for a drink due to the many, many fliers that offered generous ladies-night specials as well as free shots.

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Do not give me a paintbrush and a cocktail. Ever.

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On one mildly productive day we decided to rent some motorbikes and journey to Otres Beach. Not much of a driver myself, I hopped on the back of Victoria’s and enjoyed the salty breeze and sprawling views of the red-earthed countryside.

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After dodging many cows, we arrived in Otres. IMG_6595

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And there we spent the day just… relaxing. It was nice.

To my chagrin, the group did play many hours of pool. Despite playing pool nearly every day of my Southeast Asian trip and receiving countless lessons, I have shown no signs of improvement. None whatsoever.

So I quickly retreated to a beach chair where I spent several hours blissing out to Alt-J by myself and enjoying some tasty squid and noodles. Joy.

IMG_6597                             Delicious and inexpensive squid with noodles! And a not-so-delicious pint of Anchor.

IMG_6598                                         Victoria getting her legs threaded, Ouch! And suffering all the while with a smile on her face.

After I’d had my fill of tanning and indie music, I braved the rough waves. We soon came across an adorable and clever little Cambodian girl who wanted us to put her on our shoulders so she could fling herself off dramatically. At one point she requested I sing Justin Bieber’s “If I was your Boyfriend” with her. I obliged her.

I do have to note that I saw several 60-year old white men playing with four-year old Cambodian children in the water which made my stomach turn a little. Given that Cambodia is the child sex tourism capital of the world I really couldn’t help but imagine the worse.

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As the sun gracefully descended into the sea we hopped back on our bikes to find a nearby restaurant. As one girl panicked about missing the sunset, one of the English guys in the group quipped, “I reckon there will be one tomorrow.” Gotta love dry English humor.

 

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After a very mediocre dinner we headed back to the hostel, driving under the stars. And then the police stole our motorbikes. Yes, really.

So here’s what happened- we returned three of the bikes to the rental shop and parked two in front of the hostel. When we woke up the morning, the bikes were gone so we headed to the police station to file a police report. And what do you know? The two bikes were chained up outside. The cops told us that they “took the bikes themselves because they would’ve been stolen otherwise” and then insisted we pay them $10 per bike. Interesting logic, officers.

So if I have any advice for Sihanoukville, just take it for what it is. It’s a seedy party town on a beach. If you’re looking for nightlife, head to Serendipity, and if you want to chill out, choose Otres. Either way, don’t leave your motorbike unattended.

Practical info: 

Food: The Dolphin Shack on Serendipity Beach serves up a great barbecue special for dinner with lots of skewered meats.

Stay: I stayed at Led Zephyr in Serendipity which is a good, inexpensive hostel with great AC (though the wifi was quite slow). It also has a central location in town. If I could do it over again, I would definitely make time to spend a few nights in Otres as well.

Visa: If you’re going to Vietnam after Cambodia get your visa in Sihanoukville, not Phnom Penh. It takes 30 minutes and is much cheaper than if you get it in Phnom Penh, considering you’ll just be paying someone to take your visa to the embassy in Sihanoukville anyway.

Have you ever visited Cambodia’s beaches? Or had a motorbike nicked by the police?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

26 thoughts on “Blissing Out on Cambodia’s Beaches”

  1. I didn’t know there were two beaches in Sihanoukville. They both look nicer but more commercial than the one in Kep.

    Perhaps I’ve spent too long in Asia but I was more shocked you left the bikes out than that they were taken, even if it was by the police. In Vietnam even locals never leave their bikes out overnight – from the cities to the fishing villages. Never. Hotels always let you park them inside!

    • Cambodia was definitely the cheapest country I’ve visited. A hostel dorm will cost you between $3-5 so I would budget $30 a day if you want to live really well, but you could easily get by on $20.

  2. This is wonderful! I have to admit I’m a little bit jealous or your adventures ^^
    I had no clue about Cambodia being a child sex capital… so yes, the view or the adult men with children turns creepy right away!
    Can’t wait to see more photos :)
    xx
    Ylenia

  3. Even after visiting I still have a problem pronouncing Sihanouk…however you spell it!

    I stayed on Otres Beach and still dream about the sandwiches at Mushroom Point. I should have told you about them before! Darn!!

    I also remember accidentally making a small child cry because I wouldn’t buy a bracelet since I thought they were WAY too expensive. Oh dear.

    Weird stuff sure does happen there!

    • Haha it took me about three days to finally stop asking people, “Um, how do you say the name of this town again?” Haha poor kid! I would’ve done the same as you though, there were just so many kids trying to sell to you!

  4. Thats nuts about the police, i would be so mad! I deal with a lot of corrupt police here in india and although it’s annoying… sometimes it’s helpful like when a small bribe keeps me out of jail for driving without a license!

  5. Wow! The cops stole the bikes – that’s pretty crazy! I haven’t been to Cambodia yet, but I’ve heard the child sex industry is quite horrible. It’s unfortunate you had to see the 60-year-old men with the children… I’d imagine I’d feel the same way you did at the sight.

  6. Great tip on the visa! We are planning to go to Vietnam after Cambodia, so that will come in handy. I am glad to know the difference between the two beaches…as we are (ahem) older, we probably won’t be interested in the party scene. :)

  7. As a local person, sometime it is wired to read how people discover Cambodia.

    We did have a special number if you see any unusual case related to sex child. We know people there want to get money and tourists could easily take the benefit from them.

    Anyway I do believe you enjoyed your stay in the country. Talk to the hostel owner if you want to park the motor at the hotel. I believe they would have a safe place to keep them.

    Good luck for your new destination, is it Bali now?

  8. WOW Shady shady cops!! Sadly not too much of a shocker though as the “law” tends to be so sketchy in so many places. It’s so funny how one is such a sucker for adorable children. I myself would never sing Justin Bieber out loud in public..but have a child ask me and I would not only sing it but even do a dance for him/her haha.

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