The talesofasia guide to Sihanoukville and the south coast
by Jack Stephens
Updated September 8, 2006
Sihanoukville/Kampot Guide index page
Finding a place to stay shouldn’t pose too many problems. There are so many hotels, guesthouses and bungalows that I doubt they’ve ever approached all being fully booked, and it’s a far cry from that most of the year; only during the major Khmer holidays do things begin to approach capacity.
Whether you find something to your liking in your price range is another matter. There’s tons of choice but I found a lot of rooms disappointing, uninspiring and rather grotty – the wetness and humidity take hold and so many rooms are damp, musty or even growing mould, and that’s not only in the less expensive places.The three main accommodation areas
You’ll have some idea of the kind of place you’ll want to rest your head and how much you’re willing to spend, but it’s worth also considering which area you might want to be based in. The three main concentrations are: downtown, the Serendipity end of Ochheuteal Beach , and the Victory Hill area.
Downtown is a thinly spread, fairly charmless zone, but it is centrally positioned so that nowhere is too far away. Also, there are lots of bars and restaurants and late-night haunts within strolling distance. It’s not at all in-your-face touristy and you can keep yourself to yourself easily.
Serendipity used to be pretty much budget-class accommodation, but these days there is a wider variety in the now densely packed zone from the Golden Lions traffic circle all the way to the beach. A few places are right on the sand, but there are bungalows rising up the slopes away from the sea for those who don’t like waking up with part of the beach between the sheets after your late-night skinny dipping session with blonde Swedes.
Victory Hill began as a no frills backpacker ghetto, and although there are now way more choices and better quality rooms to be had, it is still the place to head to if your budget is tight. This area spawns bars and eateries, with loads of cheap eats and good drinks specials. It’s a short walk to Victory beach, but a steep hike back home. Some call it ‘Weather Station Hill’ or ‘The Hill’ – they’re one and the same.
Personally, when I visit Sihanoukville I’m most interested in having a decent mattress, and I want to be able to come and go whenever I please, have good security and relative comfort in a quiet room. For these reasons I avoid places with restaurants or bars attached.
Added to my verboten list are places with chill out zones with zoned out punters whacked on ropey dope starring at DVDs, hotels with nightclubs, karaoke or guesthouses infested with moto-taxi touts.
For a treat there are a few places I’d like to stay in overlooking the sea, but further from the main beaches, up on a slope with great views and a little peace n quiet.
Tip : when choosing a place to stay, carefully scout out the neighbouring buildings. A rude awakening may be in order when your sleep is halted by construction work not long after dawn. That lovingly described residence you check into during the builders’ lunch break may turn into a waking nightmare. (I know Khmers are lot less susceptible to noise pollution, but it was too much for me when I was shown a room in which a man was busy cutting floor tiles with an angle grinder; and they’d walked me to the top floor to view this room – that’s a first). Also try to spot any shops that may turn out to be noisy karaoke venues after the sun sets.
Tip : I also think about which way a room is facing – not for feng shui – but because west and south-facing rooms with big windows can get mighty stuffy any time of year.Bang for your buck
Under $5 will get you a somewhere suitably scummy for the night. Think about how your divide your daily budget and considering moving. Shared bathrooms, squat toilets, slice-of-toast mattresses, mustiness, one curious cockroach and a noisy fan come as standard (and in Khmer-oriented joints, an aged toothbrush for use of all, but it’s expected of you not to remove this item). The cheapest option is to crash on the beach, but travel light as by sunrise you will be thus with your belongings long since gone. And the biggest bed in the world is but a stone’s throw away – the sea bed, a cosy sand-lined resting place for all kinds of fish, crab and urchins.
$5-8 should secure you somewhere clean and fairly comfortable, with a bathroom (and throne-style toilet), a good bed, a functioning fridge and cable tv. Some furniture may even be provided, like a wardrobe, desk and chair (ooh!).
The cheapest bungalows start in this price range but are rather spartan.
$10 is the minimum rate for a room with air-con. But in Chinese-Khmer hotels that ten-spot should also secure you hot water (or sometimes one of those crappy coil water heaters that drizzles tepid water over you) and maybe a bath. Only properly hot water ever seems to leave you feeling really clean, and don’t be afraid of the soap guys. Lots of hotel rooms will have an air conditioner unit, giving you the option of paying around $5 if they keep it turned off (the master switch is at their fingertips), or if you feel the need to upgrade for cool air when it’s just too hot or your hangover is suffocating then you can ‘tap out’ and have them throw the switch and you fiddle with the A/C remote to your heart’s content.
$15-30 is obviously a wider price range than before. Rooms should be bigger, with some kind of view, and more comfort all-round. This includes a lot of established hotels along the road parallel to Ochheuteal Beach . Nice enough bungalows fall into this cost bracket – though often the rustic card is overplayed somewhat, meaning in actuality they’ve ‘robbed’ you of your fridge and air-con, but a decent sea view is a fair trade.
$30-60 means bigger, better, more, plusher – getting rather predictable, but what more is there to say really?
Higher? There aren’t many places above $60 (and that isn’t much in Western terms) but there are a couple of places under construction where you should be able to squander sums of marked banknotes or have a final blow-out before Interpol checkmate you.
Topping the ‘silly money category’ is the Sokha Beach Resort (which always refers to itself as being in ‘Sihanouk Ville’). For the price of their biggest rip-off room you could buy a reasonable dirtbike or rent a sizable villa in Phnom Penh for a month (perhaps with a pool even) – a grand don’t come for free, but some like to give it away quickly. For a thousand notes, I’d want somewhere with some character, charm and ‘je ne sais quoi’ rather than modern uniform blandness.
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