Travel Report: Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
December 2015. It was a typically hot and humid Cambodian afternoon when Wonderboy and I arrived in the city of Sihanoukville. The plan was simple, all we wanted was a few days of beach lazing and overeating before our boat out to the nearby island of Koh Rong. Where, funnily enough, exactly the same thing awaited. We’d had a busy time of it in both Battambang and Phnom Penh, hence it felt like a recharge was just what the doctor ordered.
From the tin shack bus station, we jumped straight into a taxi to our Sihanoukville lodgings, the French-owned Pat Pat Guesthouse. Much to our delight, our twin room was right by the pool. Thus we dropped our bags inside, threw on our swimming shorts and took a quick dip before heading to the beach.
Pat Pat is just a five minute walk from Otres Beach 1, a lovely stretch of sand hugging The Gulf of Thailand. It was an idyllic scene, not yet ruined by globalisation and the subsequent explosion of Chinese casino hotels.
We stationed ourselves at Amber’s Bar, where the drinks and fried snacks kept on coming. It was the early days of my blog, then known as Leighton Literature and I recall working on one of my India short stories while Wonderboy lay snoring on his deckchair.
Tapping away on my laptop, I drank in the sound of the seagulls and the crashing waves. Every half an hour or so a local fruit lady swung by carrying a fulsome fruit basket. With barely any other people around, all their attention was on us. Moreover, these women were masters in the art of not taking no for an answer.
In fact, I remember having to buy two bananas and a mango just for the privilege of the above photograph. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed our time at Amber’s Bar, which has sadly closed in the years since our visit.
When we grew restless, Wonderboy and I would take a stroll down Otres Beach 1. We’d read that this was Sihanoukville’s busiest and most popular beach, but there was very little happening during our two day stay. And that was just fine with us.
Otres Beach 1.
The beach was, of course, magnificent at sunset. I’ll always remember the fishing boats bobbing in the sea and squadrons of tiny crabs scurrying about like Dali-esque stop motion beasts. As we drew closer, they’d disappear into the little holes they’d made for themselves in the sand.
There were also a few stranded jellyfish providing sudden bursts of vivid colour against the dark brown sand. Simultaneously gruesome and beautiful, they literally begged to be photographed.
Otres Beach 2.
If you walk far enough, Otres Beach 1 blends seamlessly into Otres Beach 2, although there’s no sign or anything. The further you progress, the less bars, restaurants and guesthouses there are. According to my research, only a few of the beach hotels we saw have survived the passing of the years. Of these, both Sam Papa Pippa Bungalows and Mushroom Point come highly recommended.
We made a particularly fantastic discovery on Otres Beach 2. The Secret Garden was an award-winning restaurant that specialised in traditional Cambodian dishes with a modern twist. With tables and chairs overlooking the beach and sea, it wasn’t a difficult decision to grab a table and order some dinner. If memory serves me well I went for their Peppered Squid and Honey, Ginger, Chicken & Mango Salad.
The Secret Garden.
However, it was actually dessert that ended up stealing the show. I’ll certainly never forget The Secret Garden’s Chocolate Bomb, a dense, white chocolate ball filled with pistachio ice cream. Sat atop a bed of warm brownie chunks and surrounded by playful drizzles of chocolate sauce. “What’s in the jug?” I hear you ask. Warm caramel sauce, baby!
We loved The Secret Garden so much, we had dinner there both evenings. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed down in August 2019, which must have been a huge loss for Otres Beach. R.I.P.
Bamboo Bistro Bar is another spot that hasn’t survived. This is where Wonderboy and I embarked on one of our great pool table marathons. After several hours, we decamped outside with cocktails on the beach. What a pity this place has gone, yet another nail in Sihanoukville’s proverbial coffin.
It’s been sad reading about the negative impact Chinese investment has had on Sihanoukville over the past five years. Over $4 billion has gone into power plants, offshore oil operations and towering casino hotels.
As a result, the backpacker scene on Otres Beach has all but disintegrated, replaced by gambling, pollution and organised crime. To read more about Sihanoukville’s decline, take a look at this interesting article by southeastasiabackpacker.com.
In any case I’m glad I got to see Sihanoukville as it was on those sleepy December days back in 2015. It was so chilled out and pretty I could have happily spent a week on Otres working, drinking, eating and sleeping. I’ll never forget our brief stay, nor indeed that exceptional Chocolate Bomb.
Like this? You can also leaf through my many other reports from around Cambodia.
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