Fantastic white sand, clear blue seas and ultra-friendly locals - what more could one ask for? Throw in cheap prices and a pulsating nightlife and you have Sihanoukville, Cambodia's coastal paradise
The bus jerked to a halt and we had arrived. Before us was Sihanoukville, a place that I had heard many interesting stories about from fellow backpackers and travellers. The bus station thronged with people - some selling, some buying and others hawking, all of them smiling. I stood for a moment taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a Cambodian market in full flow. I was quickly brought back to earth by a cheerful Khmer offering his services in the form of a motorbike taxi. After paying US$1 each my girlfriend and I were taken by moto (motorbike taxi) to Serendipity Beach where we were deposited in the lobby of a hotel (as is common practice in Asia). We opted not to stay in our drivers 'commission-hotel' and decided to take a walk along the beach to see if we could find anything beside the sea.
On entering the beach we were met with a wonderful sight. The sand was a brilliant white and the sea an inviting blue. We knew we were beginning to discover paradise. The sun was shining and the beach although populated was a far cry from anything in the Spanish 'costas'. All along the beach were shacks selling the local beers and serving a mouth-watering selection of local Khmer dishes. We ambled along, politely declining the many offers of rooms and tuk-tuks. At the far end of the beach we stumbled across a sign declaring 'Rooms for $5' and decided to have a look at what a person can expect for such a low price. The guest-house went by the name of Serenity (+855 011 696009; email firstname.lastname@example.org) and was situated overlooking the lapping sea. Even before I had seen the room I knew we would be spending at least a few nights here. On requesting a room from the French proprietor we were taken up a steep flight of stairs to a white-painted block of guest accommodation. The room was clean and of a good size and included mosquito nets, a double bed, a western-style toilet and a cold shower. The view from our shared veranda outside was one of palm trees and sea. We were sold and accepted the room and headed down to the spacious bar for a relaxing drink.
The local beers were rather confusingly called Angkor and Anchor and were both lagers in style. Prices ranged from 50 cents to $1 which I realised would probably mean a few headaches over the next few days. We made use of the free pool table and the extremely comfortable 'satellite-chairs' and settled into the Serene vibe whilst gazing out to sea. In the corner of the bar was a washed up old Hippy swinging in a hammock taking life at a very relaxed pace. As I listened to the reggae music and looked out over the pristine beach and the increasingly inviting sea I fell in love with Sihanoukville. Not only is it visually stunning but the vibe and the friendly 'smiley' nature of the locals are very endearing.
After refreshing ourselves at the bar we headed out to seek out some well earned food. We opted to try a place called Coasters as it served a mixture of Khmer and Western dishes. The food was delicious and as always in Cambodia the service was efficient and very friendly. Feeling completely stuffed we opted to sit and chill on the beach and have a well earned rest. The beach has many bars who will allow you to use their sun loungers for free if you purchase a drink. There is something very special about sitting on a beach in paradise being served cocktails whilst you laze the day away, only breaking the cycle to take a quick dip in the crystal clear sea.
At night we took a stroll along the beach and spent time perusing the various food options. Almost every shack on the beach had a nightly barbecue serving a selection of fresh locally caught fish and a range of meats, complete with chips/rice/baked potato and salad for a mere $3 - a consistently good choice was the French run Banana Boat. The price alone represented fantastic value but being beside the sea lounging in the comfortable futon chairs made it an unforgettable experience. Later in the evening fire twirlers and jugglers came out on to the sand to entertain the diners. As the drinks began to flow the real party atmosphere began to grow. Among the two best places to party the night away are Jack's Shack - nightly music and general chaos with free darts, free pool and the world's most comfortable chairs - and Chiva Shack (full moon parties on the beach).
We spent a very happy 6 days of (and in!) Serenity at Sihanoukville. There was plenty to do locally other than just lazing on the beach. Numerous places on the beach have jet-skis, canoes and snorkelling equipment for hire at very reasonable rates (try Coasters). The centre of Sihanoukville with its bustling market and interesting shops is a slow-paced walk away as are many other great places to eat and drink (Mick and Craig's Sanctuary being a good choice). Other things to do include trying the infamous Khmer 'Happy Pizza' (maybe that is why everybody is always smiling!) made with herbs other than oregano or having a dance to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' in a locals bar. Whatever your desires, Sihanoukville on Cambodia's Southern coast is a place not to be missed.