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ugly sihanoukville
the first place we've hated

We do not hate places.  Hatred is just not in our nature when it comes to travel.  As enthusiastic travelers with an endless supply of optimism, we thought we could make the best of any situation no matter how dismal or uninteresting.  Sure, there are places we like less or cities to which we can only afford ambivalence, but have we ever hated a destination?  No, never, ever.  That is, until we found the miserable town known as Sihanoukville.

Sihanoukville is billed as Cambodia's "beach resort destination" and the Thai beach-alternative because it is supposedly less crowded, less polluted, and more natural than Ko Tao and Ko Samui.  To get there, we took a four-hour bus ride from Kompong Chnnang to Phnom Penh, where a guy started smoking two rows behind us though the windows would not open, and then a seven hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville on a more comfortable bus.

Within about five minutes of our arrival in Sihanoukville, we discovered that the town is defined by three salient characteristics: rubbish,  prostitutes, and occasional glimpses of a marginally attractive beach.  To be fair, there are some nice bungalows, bars, and restaurants that sit directly on the beach.  But, to get to them, you have to put your feet in the sand polluted by hundreds of empty cigarette containers, beer bottles, water bottles, and generally unidentifiable refuse. 

Once you wade through the trash, you are certain to be approached by an attractive young Cambodian woman (if you are male) or be disgusted by the wrinkly men in Speedos coveting said young Cambodian woman (if you are female, or male for that matter).  In the night, fire dancers come to the Sihanoukville beach except, unlike the buff young men who twirl sticks of flames in Koh Tao, these guys look dirty and underfed.  By 8 p.m., we found drunk men passed out in the beach chairs facing the ocean at the nicer restaurants.

Let's say that you decide to escape the skeazy scene in Sihanoukville and head into the waters.  The blue waters are inviting and warm but the moment you enter, beer bottles, plastic netting, and trash swim into your view.  There are no fish.  You are swimming in a junkyard fed by polluted streams and rivers.  To give you proof of how ugly and disgusting this place was, we did not take a single picture.  We have taken almost 5,500 pictures in the last seven months but could not find anything remotely interesting or attractive in Sihanoukville. 

We stayed less than 24 hours.  If this had happened seven months ago, we probably would have stuck it out for a few more days, thinking that maybe Sihanoukville would get better, or we would uncover its hidden charms.  Now, we know better.  If we dislike something, we leave and find something else that we enjoy.  We trust our instincts now because we have developed a rhythm to our travels.  The next morning, we took the first bus out of Sihanoukville to Koh Kong and found ourselves in the stunning Oasis Resort Bungalows, replete with an infinity pool overlooking the Cardamom Mountains.  Thank goodness we left.

* We have heard that the beach at the Sokha Beach Resort is private, clean, and beautiful.  But, rooms run about $200 per night which is out of our price range.  And, it's Southeast Asia for heavens sake --- it shouldn't cost $200 to go to a nice clean beach.

I'm curious: where have you traveled that you absolutely and utterly hated? 

05/05/2010 19:46
For some reason, your description reminds me of Pattaya. I have never been to Sihanoukville so I don't know how bad it is. I also don't want people to think that Pattaya is bad but there is some part that can be that touristy with all lights and sounds and unclean beach. But I don't hate Pattaya though. I just avoid it and head to a seafood restaurant. :)
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05/07/2010 07:02
what?! I love sinhoukville. The area I stayed at was beautiful, no one was there, it was dirt cheap, and i loved it! Maybe it's changed since 2007. but I still here the area around victory hill is empty.
05/11/2010 11:06
Amy, We heard from others that Sihanoukville is like Pattaya, too. Your idea of heading to the restaurant is a good idea!

Matt, I think it might have changed since 2007 because we saw a ton of construction in the area. The entire city looks like a construction site now and I think the character of the city has changed at the same time.
05/28/2010 04:51
Oh man! So sorry to hear that Sihanoukville has gone so downhill. It was absolutely gorgeous in 2004, a little touristy with the restaurants right on the sand, but the water was crystal clear and no rubbish at all. sigh.

Thanks for the update - can't win em all I suppose!
06/18/2010 09:36
Agree w/Anna & Matt. I loved Sihanoukville in '03; my husband and I spent every day on one of the pretty (public) beaches just chilling with some local 12-year-olds who spent the day making and selling bracelets. Such a relaxed, chilled-out town. Your report makes me so sad! (I hate to think what those girls might be up to now! Ugh.) I've heard some bad news about the town from friends who've gone recently, too...boo.
06/05/2011 08:16
I think you probably missed the best part, which was an island (Koh Rong Saloem) just off the coast. At Lazy Beach you can rent your own private hut on a nice clean beach very cheaply--with hardly anyone else there. This was just last year (September 2010).
06/06/2011 20:17
EJ, thanks for that tip. If we're back in Cambodia, we'll have to try and find it next time.
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06/10/2011 11:23
I m in sihanuokville for 1 week, thats true, the town sucks, just western backpackers in western hostal managed for westerners. Its a pity the only local industrie of a poor country are taking by euopeans.

Plus the neares 3 national parks are closed for independents travelers(just tour operators)

Anyway if you travel around just 20 min from the town there are very nice and isolated beaches. This town will be the next Pattaya or Pucket for sure.
06/12/2011 18:59
Adrian, I think you're right. There are some really nice beaches just a bit outside of Sihanoukville but unfortunately Sihanoukville is a bit more like Pattaya.
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08/02/2012 09:31
zane zeehan
i'm in S'ville right now staying at serendipity. what a hole. I've spent ten years in Asia and this is the shittiest place I've ever been. Skankiest backpackers and westerners on earth. the cambodian moto drivers here suck. last time i was here was maybe 10-12 years ago, i prefer phnom penh to this. First time i came to cambodia was 97 or 98, everything shut at 9pm, usually agunshot or two around midnight. i don't think package tourism or even backpackering can work in a country where locals earn $2 a day. so why am i here? thailand are cracking down on the longterm asia bums like me. i think i'd rather be in bali or sumatra. sure, individual cambodians can be ok. but in general, as a westerner, it is like you are from mars. i'm always glad to cross the border back into thailand, if i can get a visa. my advice, stay at victory beach, or go to the philippines. i think most of the backpackers here are fron the vang vieng circuit, totally brainless pissheads.
09/01/2014 14:40
Sorry to wake this thread but I just wanted too.
I agree with zane zeehan, I live in SE asia and rent a place in Phnom Penh part of the year.
I did got to S'ville a few months ago and I hated it. The beach sun set is very nice but with Tecno from both ends of the beach just does not match the wonderful view.
Wonderful view destroyed by high dreadlocks beach bums.
Load Tecno music that is out of place there.
The locals in Phnom Penh are friendlier than the Thais now days.
Thailand has been my fall back but they have become really Price gouging with everything not like it was in 2000-2003 it has changed in Thailand. They dont really like westerners that much and gouge all the time but in Camboida they are still normal. I might move to Vietnam or Philippines.
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