A Place in the Sun - 2013
Updated: Jan 4
Sihanoukville, Cambodia, once a fun pit stop on the way to the nearby islands or travel to Kampot or Kep, was completely altered by the coming of Chinese tourists and casinos. In 2013, it was in the midst of this transition but we enjoyed our brief stay.
Once an independent traveler plugs into the "coconut telegraph," certain places pop up with amazing regularity. Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia has emerged as one of those hot spots so we landed knowing it would likely have many amenities travellers love- mainly a wide selection of places to stay and eat.
Named after Cambodia's beloved King Sihanouk who passed away in October and cremated in an elaborate ceremony while we were in Cambodia, Sinville as it is called had developed as the major port in the 1990s. With its lax visa regulations, Cambodia became a haven for expats escaping ever-more restrictive Thailand as that country tightens its rules for farangs seeking long-term stay. A fair proportion of resto and hotel operators of in Sinville were escapees from sleazy pattaya in Thailand, so we were told.
Sinville was transitioning from a backpacker haven to a high-end Chinese resort. The town had an unfinished look - piles of rubble, and construction sites everywhere. The main attractions in 2013? Beach, sex and sin.
Ochateal Beach where we stayed was not special by Gulf of Thailand standards (the golden sand did squeak under ones toes though), at night it came alive as the locals set out huge bamboo chairs with comfy cushions right on the sand, and offer up plates of seafood bar-b-q for ridiculously low prices with all the fixings.
Happy hour draught beers quaffed for under a buck and cocktails for around $2.50. It is quite an enchanting setting and we took full advantage our first night ordering platters of scallops, tuna and shrimps for under $15. Fishing boats bobbed up at down at the nearby dock, tourist boast shuffled farangs back and forth from the nearby islands, the sunset stunning.
Nicer beaches can be found further out of town, but we decided to stay in Ochateal. We found a terrific motel-style resort online called The Beach Club Resort, co-owned and managed by the very genial Luna Aagren, who hails from Denmark, and her helpful staff. Smiling faces were the order of the day.
The key for us was the GIANT pool and courtyard where we refreshed ourselves every afternoon during our four-night stay. Our extra-large room was right off the pool, and every morning we helped ourselves at the magnificent buffet breakfast, which was presented in the open air restaurant/bar, included in the price of our room – just $58. The Beach Club was a couple of blocks off the beach, an easy walk down a surprisingly primitive laneway frequented by meandering cows.
We discovered some excellent eateries, as recommended by Luna and fellow travellers (who originated near our stomping ground of Windsor, Ontario, and were a couple of days ahead of us). At the Sea View Villa, we sampled a choice of appetizer and main from an extensive list for just $10 for two people. The food was carefully prepared and we topped it off with homemade desserts for only $2 each! What a deal! Elaine loved the coconut chocolate cake so much (it tasted like a Mounds chocolate bar) that we came back the next night just so she could have another piece. We also found a very authentic Italian joint as well as a restaurant set in a resplendent garden that got local kids off the street and trained them to work in the hospitality industry.
We initially planned to spend just two nights here but liked Sinville; our stay morphed into four. The weather was 90 degrees in the shade so we didn’t do much sightseeing but we did manage a few of the many open-air stalls lining the laneways close to the beach. Elaine indulged in a pedicure, back and shoulder scrub and we both enjoyed a full-body Khmer massage right at the resort in the Relax Spa. Prices were ridiculously cheap – $8 for a pedicure or a scrub and just $12 for the full massage. Heaven!
The majority of the time we were simply content to stay near the pool, wander down to the beach to take in the sunset and an ice-cold beverage and then tuck into the yummy grub at one of the restos that had been recommended to us.
We were totally chilled out and after our 4-day respite, ready for our next stop, the tranquil river town of Kampot, Cambodia.