In two years living in Thailand, I’ve been to a lot of beaches. But by my favourite experience of “sea meets sand” so far surprisingly wasn’t in Bali, Koh Samui or even Koh Phangan. It was in Cambodia.
Cambodia’s definitely not known for its beaches. That’s why the quiet seaside town of Sihanoukville remains one of Southeast Asia’s best-kept secrets. Tourists traveling through the country usually only get to Siem Reap (the home of the ancient temple Angkor Wat) and Phnom Penh. Perhaps that’s why Sihanoukville is so close to my heart – I only know a handful of other people who have been there and I didn’t expect to fall so in love with the place.
Honestly, I was pretty nervous about the trip. My boyfriend and I flew in to Phnom Penh from Bangkok and rented an Africa Twin 750 CC motorcycle for our off-the-beaten-track adventure. But what little information we could find about the drive down to Sihanoukville advised against it because of dangerous roads. But my boyfriend is an experience motorcycle driver and kind of a daredevil, so we decided to roll the dice.
Lesson learned: don’t always believe everything you read online. This was the most splendid, four-hour motorcycle ride I’ve ever had. The roads were mostly paved, and not overly rough by any stretch. But I would recommend going with a large bike like the African Twin, which is designed with extra legroom for such a long journey.
As we got further outside of Phnom Penh, the scenery just kept getting more surreal. Between every little town packed with tents and bamboo huts, there were spectacular fields of wilderness and greenery. We passing by trucks packed with at least 30 Cambodians in the back and while some people stared, others started to wave!
Sihanoukville’s a quiet and sleepy town. There’s not much to do aside from relaxing on the sand, but there’s many beaches to choose from. The cheap backpacker huts and bungalows are on Serendipity Beach, with sleeping cots going anywhere from $2 to $10 USD per night. Otres Beach was my personal favourite, a 4-kilometre stretch of impeccable white sand dotted with beach bars and restaurants.
Bangkok locals are known for complaining about how crowded Thailand’s beaches are. Sihanoukville was so unbelievably relaxed. I was even there during a Cambodian holiday (supposedly one of the busiest times of the year) and there was still plenty of space to go around. There were few Western tourists, and enjoyed watching Cambodian locals splashing around. They wore long sleeve T-shirts in the water to protect themselves from the sun! As it got cooler out, everyone seemed to retreat pretty quickly– leaving my boyfriend and I with an incredible beach sunset all to ourselves.
My biggest fear is that one day the secret of Sihanoukville will be out, and it will become over-developed with tourists and hotels like so many of Thailand’s beaches. I would recommend anyone traveling to Southeast Asia to get here while you still can.