The dirt, the noise, the mess!! That was just arriving into Sihanoukville. I would love to say it got better, but I would be lying. Add on to that the rolling power cuts, I have never been happier to leave. Sihanoukville is a coastal city in the Southwest of Cambodia, and in many tour books, it’s one of the recommended places to visit. Taking on board this advice from travel books, this was the reason why we made the decision to take a detour and visit the area.
How wrong could we have been, it was a complete waste of time, money and overall energy. Now not everyone will agree and I am sure there are a few people that will like the area. But don’t say we didn’t warn you!
It’s Been Taken Over
Talk to any local or any tourist that has been going there year after year and they will tell you that the area is being taken over by Chinese investment, and it’s true, it has. BIG casinos and Chinese hotels are being built next to the quiet local shops and small hippy bars and restaurants. They’re taking over the area. One local explained to me how the casinos inside were empty, the Chinese build them because the land is cheap and use them for virtual casinos and online gambling.
This once laid back, backpackers retreat has now turned into bus load after bus load of wealthy Chinese tourists that use the area as a base, but don’t spend money in the local area. The amount of construction was off the scale.
Property For Sale And The Rubbish
Only a 15-minute tuk-tuk ride from the Giant Ibis bus station, we arrived in Otres Beach, the once quiet backpackers area of Sihanoukville. Otres Village still hosts the chilled out backpacker bars, but you could not miss the number of bars and businesses that were either up for sale or up for rent. In years to come, I would be surprised if many of these small independent backpacking bars will still be here.
From the moment you arrive in the area you see heaps of rubbish all over the roadside, outside every shop, restaurant and construction site! It was like the rubbish had not been collected for months. I would hate to think about what was under all of that! To be honest, the place looked like a landfill, rubbish all over the place, and this was the main entrance into the area.
Say Bye, Bye To Power When You Need It
You might be thinking that having no power is a small inconvenience and I guess it is when you can be outside in the hot sunny weather and laying down on the sandy beaches. Due to a mixture of factors, mainly the construction work, using more power in the area than is expected and a shortage of water to power the hydropower dams. This is causing blackouts, sometimes these blackouts are lasting 7-8 hours a day. What does that mean for the tourist? Well, it means unless the bars or restaurants have a generator (only a very few did) you won’t be eating or having a cold beer till the powers back on.
What’s more, your accommodation fans or if you’re lucky enough to have accommodation with air-conditioning, won’t be working during the power cuts. Your rooms will become extremely hot. I found it impossible to sleep at night, in fact, it made me feel sick as it was impossible to cool down. You will be extremely HOT, be this day or night! NO fan, NO Air-Con. Sleep was hard and the bed sheets drenched in sweat.
Our room got so hot I had to try and shower to cool myself down. Hard to do when the shower pressure is linked to the electric and even getting cold water was impossible. Even after the shower the moment you stepped out, you were hot and sweaty again and back to square one!
Less important issues but still essential are how you’re going to charge your electronics. GoPro’s, cameras and phones all need charging. More of an annoyance but you have paid for a room and you have paid for power and WIFI.
You Won’t Get Sleep
Construction work going on morning, noon and night. We stayed at Fullmoon House and whilst I must admit our host and staff were nice and the following is, of course, out their control, it should be noted on the booking sites like booking.com so other paying customers don’t have to put up with it and can make the choice. However, I’m pretty sure whatever hotel or hostel we booked we would have had the same issue because as mentioned above building work was everywhere.
Because of the power cuts, the construction work was allowed to continue during the night, when power demand in the area was lower. It would go on till 3/4 am and start again at 6 am. It was really loud banging and sleep was impossible. It was a catch 22 with the construction vs the power, at least when the power went off, the loud construction stopped, but then it got too hot. When the power came back on, so did the fans, but the loud construction started soon after. The whole area was just one big construction site and was not fit for guests to be staying in.
The Bare Beaches
Now the photos of the beaches I took they look nice, but if you look at the sand it’s covered in ring pulls and other hidden litter under the sand. Don’t get me wrong the beach and the views were nice, but the beach its self-nothing special. Whilst I guess it’s nice to have a natural beach with no tourism in the form of sun loungers and shops, I guess a beach gets looked after more if there are people managing the area and charging tourist to use sunbeds. On the plus side, the water was warm and nice to take a dip in. The beach just lacked shade and comfort.
Are There Any Plus Points From My Visit?
Yes of course! There are still some amazing little bars off the main road, in the village that offer some amazing food and drink, (beers for $1) some of my favourite bars being; Woodys Globetrotter, which does amazing pasta dishes, cheap alcohol and a very nice homemade brownie, the staff are also all amazing and friendly. The Joint, a Mexican place which offers burgers, burritos and other small Mexican dishes. Finally, I really enjoyed Jin Restaurant, they offer amazing pizzas with really fresh ingredients.
The area also has a techno jungle party on a Wednesday which is in the jungle with a big Ferris wheel, DJs, bars and partying till past sunrise, although I am pretty sure most people were on more than alcohol, guess it’s the hippy life!
My Final Words
It’s been mentioned by other bloggers that Sihanoukville is also being overtaken, but they mention Otres Beach area being one of the last for backpackers, and before development. Well, I think that has now changed and the development is unfortunately now and not later. With all its noise, rubbish and construction. It’s a shame it’s being taken over. So is their really any point in going to Sihanoukville, that will have to be for you to decide, but maybe think about the areas around it like Kampot or one of the islands like Kaoh Puos. Also if you’re wanting to do the main tourist areas like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap then Sihanoukville is definitely out of your way and definitely nothing special. It’s like 6-hours from Phnom Penh and 12-hours+ from Siem Reap.
I have said I won’t go back and that is largely true. I would, however, like to see what the next two years hold for the area. I hope I’m wrong but I can see more construction happening and the small backing packing destination that once was, gone.
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