A mere fifty years ago, a French-Cambodian construction carved a camp out of the jungle and started building the first deep-sea port of a newly independent Cambodia. Named Sihanoukville in 1964 after the ruling king of Cambodia, the booming port and its golden beaches soon drew Cambodia's jet setting elite, spawning the first Angkor Beer brewery and the modernist seven-story Independence Hotel which, claim locals, even played host to Jacqueline Kennedy on her whirlwind tour of Cambodia in 1967.
Unfortunately, the party came to an abrupt end in 1970 when Sihanouk was deposed in a coup and Cambodia descended into civil war. The town – renamed Kompong Som – soon fell on hard times: the victorious Khmer Rouge used the Independence Hotel for target practice and, when they made the mistake of hijacking an American container ship, the port was bombed by the U.S. Air Force. Even after Pol Pot's regime was driven from power, the bumpy highway to the capital was long notorious for banditry and the beaches stayed empty.
Peace returned in 1997 and in the ensuing ten years Sihanoukville has been busy picking up the pieces. First visited only by a few intrepid backpackers, guidebooks still talk of walls pockmarked by bullets, but any signs of war are hard to spot in today's Sihanoukville, whose new symbol seems to be the construction site. After 30 years of housing only ghosts, the Independence Hotel is up and running again, more and more Khmers and expats have settled down to run bars and restaurants, and the buzz of what the New York Times dubbed "Asia's next trendsetting beach" is starting to spread far and wide.
The main reason to visit Sihanoukville is the beaches
- Victory Beach (south of the commercial port)
Plenty of budget accommodation nearby on Weather Station Hill
- Independence Beach
Also known as '7-chann beach' after the seven-storey Independence Hotel
- Sokha Beach
Owned by Sokha Beach Resort, it is private but you can access it by paying a couple dollars. You won’t have many people begging or trying to sell you something here
- Ochheuteal Beach
The most popular beach, with many restaurants, bars and food vendors
- Serendipity Beach
Guesthouses and bar/restaurants right on the beach open until the early hours.
- Otres Beach (South-east of Serendipity and Ochheuteal Beaches)
Amazing 4km long stretch of clean, white sands. Less crowded and definitely more relaxed than other beaches in Sihanoukville.
Ream National Park
A wonderful mangrove nature reserve, about 30 minutes driving from Sihanoukville.