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Sure, Sihanoukville would never win first prize in a pretty-town competition but thanks to a surrounding coastline of white-sand beaches this is Cambodia's most happening sun-sloth destination. Named in honour of the then head-of-state, Sihanoukville (Kong Preah Sihanouk; also known as Kompong Som) was hacked out of the jungle in the late 1950s to create Cambodia’s first and only deep-water port, strategically vital because it meant that the country’s international trade no longer had to pass through Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
Today it is a bustling and ever expanding city, but its sandy bits are one step removed from the hubbub. The Serendipity Beach area is a sort of decompression chamber for backpackers, who flock here to rest up between travels and party through the night.
Even further away from the hustle, in the far south of town, is relaxed Otres Beach, where cheap bungalow joints and bohemian-flavoured guesthouses are now neighbours with rather swish boutique resorts. The mellow scene here ticks all the boxes if you're looking for lazy days of sunbathing rather than night-time bar-hopping.
Although none of Sihanoukville's beaches qualify as Southeast Asia's finest, the sandy strips rimmed by casuarina trees and coconut palms have plenty of tropical charm and it's easy to find stretches of sand to yourself, especially if you venture outside the centre. If they're not picture-postcard-perfect enough for you, Sihanoukville is also the jumping-off point to Cambodia's southern islands, where castaway-cool beckons.
Midway between Independence and Serendipity beaches lies Sihanoukville’s prettiest beach, 1.5km-long Sokha Beach. Its fine, silicon-like sand squeaks loudly underfoot. The tiny eastern end of Sokha Beach is open to the public and is rarely crowded. The rest is part of the exclusive Sokha Beach Resort . Tourists are welcome to enjoy the sand near Sokha but are expected to buy something to drink or eat. You might even duck into the resort to use the pool (US$5).
Northwest of Sokha Beach, Independence Beach (7-Chann Beach) has mostly been taken over by a gargantuan new property development. The only open section is beneath the classic hotel for which the beach is named.
Past the southern end of Occheuteal Beach, beyond the Phnom Som Nak Sdach (Hill of the King’s Palace) headland, lies stunning Otres Beach; a seemingly infinite strip of casuarinas that gives southern Thailand a run for its money.
Although no longer the empty stretch of beach it once was, Otres has cleaner water and is more relaxed than anything in Sihanoukville proper, and is lengthy enough that finding your own patch of sand is not a challenge…just walk south.
Long eyed-up by large-scale developers, Otres has so far managed to shun major construction work and DIY development is blossoming with more than 30 small-scale independent resorts and beach bungalow places in the area, including a handful of upmarket boutique hotels. Otres is split into three distinct sections: Otres 1 is the first and busiest stretch, while about 2km south is quieter Otres 2 , separated by a slated resort development currently known as 'Long Beach'. Inland lies laid-back Otres Village , an up-and-coming estuary area.
Otres Beach is about 5km south of the Serendipity area. It’s a US$2 moto ride (remork US$5) to get here (more at night). If going it alone, follow the road southeast along the beach and skirt the hill by heading inland on the inviting tarmac. From the city centre, you can take Omui St from Psar Leu east out of town for 5km.
Though it's not the best beach in town due to the looming backdrop of Sihanoukville Port, it is hassle-free and family-friendly, with plenty of midrange beach eateries.