Depends on what kind of backpacker you are…
I was sad to leave Bacoma behind and travel to Siahnoukville. I had been told that it is the touristy area of the coast in Cambodia but was also assured that it was worth a visit for the lovely beaches.
We left Kep and traveled, in a very full minivan, for the three hour drive stopping at various hostels, hotels, restaurants and shops along the way to pick-up and drop off passengers. Luckily the air conditioning worked fairly well but we were still a hot sweaty mix of Cambodian, Chinese, Canadian, French and American travelers stuck together for the wild ride.
We arrived in Sihanoukville on the main road in town in the heat of the day, hungry and ready to take our packs off, eat and shower. We arranged a tuk tuk drive to our accommodations, The Cove Beach Bungalows. It looked great from the pictures online and had fairly good reviews. The road stopped at the dock and that was the farthest our driver could take us. We then traveled by foot along the beach passing maybe ten other places along the way.
The Cove is situated on the beach with the bar and restaurant built up onto a platform closest to the water and then the bungalows go up hill, up a steep stairway to various levels. We had picked a three bed room with air conditioning for our stay here and it happened to be at the very top. So we got a good workout going up to check out the room.
One thing I have learned along my travels is to always ask to see the room before agreeing to take it. I’m glad we followed that rule here. The room was dark, damp and reeked of mold. The walls were filthy, there was gecko feces on the bathroom counter, the curtains and towels were stained and my pillow was wet from the humidity. Air conditioners are not left on or put on in preparation for guests in Cambodia so rooms are usually hot when you first enter.
We took a few minutes to talk and discuss our options. We were tired from the travel day and had not eaten any lunch yet and it was after 2pm. We know that not every accommodation will be perfect but just how imperfect was acceptable?
I knew, down deep inside, that we would not be happy here but the alternative was to tramp around Sihanoukville trying to find a new place to stay and that was equally unappealing at the time. Al and I have had conversations in the past about not settling for things like bad food or bad accommodations just to be nice and not make a fuss. In the end we concluded that we did in fact have other options so we chose to go eat lunch and then figure out an alternative.
The manager of The Cove tried to offer us some other rooms. The newer wood bungalows were better but that would have just been for Al and I. The other room for Jose smelled much worse of mold and so we declined.
We went back to the main tourist street and found a local place to eat lunch for cheap ($2) and then walked around inquiring about rooms. We were shown a very refreshingly cold dorm room with ten bunks squished together in a small room but we prefer to keep it under six maximum (four preferred) so that we can actually sleep. Then another place that had about thirty ten year olds screaming and playing in the pool – not going to happen for us and a couple of others were booked so we decided to go to another area of town where we had heard about another hostel that had good reviews, Backpacker Heaven.
Heaven it seemed to be too. It is a tall building probably about seven stories high, set alone and newer. We were on the fourth floor with a three bed room and it was much cleaner than The Cove. We had a great view of the ocean.
We headed down to the bar for our free draft beer and dunked our bodies into the swimming pool. Oh man did that feel good! We stayed in the pool hanging out and talking to Georgie from England until our fingers were prunes and we started to chill.
Then back up to our room to freshen up and watch the beautiful sunset.
By the time we went back to the common area for dinner things had changes. The music was LOUD and there were lots of young men smoking (cigarettes and pot), playing pool and video games. I felt like I was hanging out in a fraternity house. Then I realized something… It is backpacker heaven indeed IF… you are a twenty something male traveler who loves to smoke pot, listen to loud music and satisfy your craving for munchies from the kitchen. Perfect!
The smell of pot continued to proliferate from morning to night while we were there. It is in fact a party hostel and you know what they say, “If the music is too loud, you are too old”!
In the end though, this accomodation was just meant as a place to come back to at night and sleep and we managed to do that even with the loud music. Maybe that was from our contact high…
Our first full day in Sihanoukville we decided to walk through town to the main tourist area about four km from where we were staying. The plan is to head to Vietnam after Cambodia so we wanted to visit the Vietnam consulate to get our paperwork started. Silly travelers we are – we forgot that it was Saturday (because everyday is Saturday when traveling) and the consulate was closed.
We found a couple of great restaraunts in the process to go back to later and dropped off our clothes at a local laundry place. When traveling in some countries the hostels have washers and dryers for use or you go down to the local laundry mat, in Cambodia (the same in Bali) you take it to a local laundry business and have it done for cheap ($1-2 dollars per kg). It’s a nice service at a good price and it saves time however, I have had some of my clothes ruined, shrunk, stains set in and the like. I guess I just chalk it up to part of the experience and an excuse to buy some tourist t-shirts along the way.
The “thing to do” in Sihanoukeville is to visit the islands. There were two day-trip tours offered, one visits three islands for $15 dollars and the other visits one island for $25 dollars. We were told that the tour that visits the one island is better because it is less developed then the others. So we bit the bullet and paid the extra money.
I can’t tell you how the three island tour was since we didn’t go on it but I do wonder if it would have been better. Probably because ours was just so-so. Here is where my being spoiled by pristine ocean waters of Fiji and the Marshall Islands has ruined me.
The boat ride was nice. The boat was open along the sides on all three floors allowing for the cool ocean breeze to keep us cool and minimize the cigarette smoke. They played some great tunes and I noticed that me and the female bartender were both lip singing along. She was way better than me but I think she probably hears the same playlist day in and day out.
The boat was full mostly of Chinese families out for a good clean family adventure. They were prepared and brought along coolers of food. I was a bit jealous as we were not prepared but food was included with the all day tour and it started with banana poppy seed muffins and jasmine tea. Lunch was a traditional Khmer style with stir-fried meats, noodles and veggies and fried rice.
We stopped along a smaller island and were told it was our snorkel location. I just looked down at the green water in wonder but gave it a try anyway. We were provided with a snorkel and mask but no fins. A life jacket was optional and I passed on it. I soon regretted it. Not having fins on makes a huge difference in energy expenditure.
I didn’t stay out in the water long though because it was green and murky. Visibility was maybe only five feat and the color of the few fish I saw and the sea urchins was washed away in the haze. This was disappointing but like I said, I have become spoiled with great snorkeling elsewhere.
We landed at our destination island, Koh Rong Saloem about an hour later. Check out the dock!
Jose and I took a dip in the ocean looking for fish. There were only a few close to the shore. The water is very shallow for a long distance here making it a perfect beach for families with kids. So I chose to just sit in the water, float around a bit and people watch for the two hours we were there.
On the way back, our calm family boat turned into the PARTY boat!
It was free beer time. The only catch was that you had to drink it out of a snorkel. I must admit that I got into the party spirit and fully participated in aging on brave souls who went for it. I think one person actually did five beers in a row. On one round the bartender added some vodka in the mix. It was a scene! Check out the video here.
We arrived safely back to shore (not all making it with their stomach contents intact) and walked back to our party hostel for our last night in “heaven”.
We didn’t stay long or see much in Sihanoukville. The town just didn’t have the vibe we were looking for. Granted that we didn’t go to the famed Otres Beach or any other beach for that matter. We tried to go see the mangroves but were discourage over price and it being low season it was hard to arrange a tour there for some reason. So maybe there is something redeeming to Sihanoukville that we missed. Check it out for yourself and see if you can find something you like. If you are into partying stay on the main tourist strip and you are sure to have a good time.