A Place in the Sun: Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Once an independent traveler plugs into the coconut telegraph, certain places pop up with amazing regularity. Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia has emerged as one of those hot spots so we landed knowing it would likely have many amenities travellers love- mainly a wide selection of places to stay and eat.
Named after their beloved King Sihanouk who passed away in October and was coincidentally cremated in an elaborate ceremony while we were in Cambodia, Sinville as it is called was developed as the major port for the country in the 1990s. With its lax visa regulations, Cambodia has become a haven for expats who are escaping from Thailand as that country tightens its rules for foreigners who wish long-term stays. In fact a good proportion of the operators of restos and hotels in Sinville are escapees from sleezy pattaya in Thailand- or so we were told.
Sinville remains an interesting cross between backpacker haven and high-end tourist trap. The town itself has an unfinished look to it- piles of rubble and construction sites everywhere. But the main reason people come is for the beach (and/or the sex and sin trade). While Ochateal Beach where we stayed was not amazing by Gulf of Thailand standards (the golden sand does squeak under your toes though), at night it comes alive as the locals set out big cane chairs with comfy cushions right on the sand, and offer up plates of seafood bar-b-q for ridiculously low prices with all the fixings. Happy hour draught beers can be quaffed for under a buck and cocktails for around $2.50. It is quite an enchanting setting and we took full advantage our first night ordering platters of scallops, tuna and shrimps for under $15. Fishing boats bobbed up at down at the nearby dock, tourist boast shuffled farangs back and forth from the nearby islands and the sunset was stunning.
Nicer beaches can be found further out, but we decided to stay in Ochateal. We found a terrific motel-style resort online called The Beach Club Resort, co-owned and managed by the very genial Luna Aagren, who hails from Denmark, and her helpful staff. Smiling faces were the order of the day. The key for us was the GIANT pool and courtyard where we refreshed ourselves every afternoon during our four-day stay. Our extra-large room was right off the pool, and every morning we helped ourselves at the magnificent buffet breakfast, which was presented in the open air restaurant/bar and was included in the price of our room – just $58. The Beach Club was a couple of blocks off the beach, an easy walk down a surprisingly primitive laneway frequented by meandering cows.
We discovered some excellent eateries, as recommended by Luna and fellow travellers (who originated from near our stomping ground of Windsor, Ontario, and were a couple of days ahead of us). At the Sea View Villa, we sampled a choice of appetizer and main from an extensive list for just $10 for two people. The food was carefully prepared and we topped it off with homemade desserts for only $2 each! What a deal! Elaine loved the coconut chocolate cake so much (it tasted like a Mounds chocolate bar) that we came back the next night just so she could have another piece. We also found a very authentic Italian joint as well as a restaurant set in a resplendent garden that got local kids off the street and trained them to work in the hospitality industry.
We initially planned to spend just two nights here but we liked Sinville so much, our stay morphed into four. The weather was 90 degrees in the shade so we didn’t do much sightseeing but we did manage to do a bit of shopping at a few of the many open-air stalls lining the laneways close to the beach and Elaine indulged in a pedicure, back and shoulder scrub and we both enjoyed a full-body Kmer massage right at the resort in the Relax Spa. Prices were ridiculously cheap – $8 for a pedicure or a scrub and just $12 for the full massage. Heaven!
The majority of the time we were simply content to stay near the pool, wander down to the beach to take in the sunset and an ice-cold beverage and then tuck into the yummy grub at one of the restos that had been recommended to us. We were totally chilled out and after our 4-day respite, ready for our next stop, the tranquil river town of Kampot, Cambodia.
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