The Cambodian Shore
If you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll likely have been to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat complex. But there is more to this Asian country than sun-baked ruins and temples galore. Retreat to the south and experience Cambodia’s shore, full of beaches and off-beat sights to be explored.
Sihanoukville (Kampong Som)
The New York Times called Sihanoukville “Asia’s next trendsetting beach,” and I think after the long, hard history of Sihanoukville it deserves the title. The French helped build this city out of the jungle to serve as a port town, but during the Pol Pot regime the area fell into disrepair. But in the last ten years, the area had blossomed and taken hold a new lease on life. From trendy internet cafes to boutique hotels, Sihanoukville has transformed from a backpacker stop to more mainstream.
The main highlight is the coast, where you’ll find a few beach options. Ochheuteal and Serendipity Beaches are the most popular (and thus the most crowded). Victory Beach is also popular and crowded, but if you’re willing to head out of town a bit, Otres Beach is a nice choice and has similar sand/shore as Serendipity Beach.
You can’t walk around from point to point in Sihanoukville but as elsewhere in Cambodia, there will always be a tuk-tuk waiting to take you. They’ll extraordinarily cheap here to hire for the short distances required.
Bokor National Park
By the sounds of it, you’d expect forests and lush green scenery if headed to national park. In this, case, though, you do get a Hollywood-backdrop worthy sight, but just slightly different. The main attraction here is an old French hill station, built during the French occupation in the 1920s and meant as a retreat for soldiers. It’s been abandoned and left in a very unusual state – you have to see it to understand.
Other nearby sights include waterfall hikes, the black palace, and the old casino. All ruins and artefacts in their own right, but from a totally different era than Angkor Wat.
Please note: Construction works on the roads leading to Bokor means travel is limited. Check with your travel agent or a local prior to your journey.
Hard to believe it now, but Kep was the ‘in’ destination on the Cambodian shore in the 60s. Nearly abandoned, it hasn’t recovered as much in recent times as Sihanoukville. It is still a great stop to see some abandoned architecture, like Bokor, but also to experience some essential Kep lifestyle.
Your first stop should be for crabs! You’ll find the freshest crabs in the country here, so you can’t miss out on a meal of it here. If you don’t fancy crab, then any dish in the many seafood restaurants will do. You’ll want to make sure and pair your meal with the famous Kep peppercorns – there’s a pepper plantation in Phnom Voir, just outside the city, that’s worth visiting and all of the restaurants locally use the pepper in sauces and dishes. Absolutely delicious.
For outdoors-y things to do, check out the trail that goes around Kep Mountain. It’s about 5 miles and well signposted. If you’re feeling lazy, though, stick to the beach – Kep Beach is the main strip. From Kep Beach you can also take a boat over to Rabbit Island, a super-quiet destination with wonderful white sandy beaches too.
If You Go
To reach Sihanoukville, a good gateway to the rest of the shore area, you have a couple of options from Phnom Penh:
Bus. It’s a four hour journey but thankfully the road is one of the better ones in Cambodia. Mekong Express and Sorya are two of several operators. Book in advance to ensure a seat. Approx US$4.50.
Taxi. Reduces the trip to three hours but cost can range from US$30-40. There’s also the option to rideshare, which can be a little odd considering in Cambodia this means 6-8 people in one taxi.
Sihanoukville does have an airport, but as far as I know due to a crash in 2007, the only air service was suspended.
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About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.