After limited deliberation and discussions with many a passing traveller, I have come to the conclusion that Sihanoukville or “Snookyville” (as it is often affectionately referred to), is the the Benidorm of Cambodia. Obviously on a smaller scale and minus the sky scraping hotels but from what I hear, the beaches are just as packed and the atmosphere in both leaves something to be desired. Located 185km south of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville is surrounded on three sides by the Gulf of Thailand. The province offers a handful of beaches to chose from but my favourite, by far, was Otres Beach. The water is warmer than warm, the sand is golden white and it’s quiet…. well quieter than the others anyway.
If you’re looking for activities, the snorkel/island trips are pretty good value for what they are. I’m usually reluctant to buy anything ‘beachside’ but having already decided to do a snorkel trip and got a solid idea of prices, I was more than happy when a guy turned up at my deck chair with a laminated menu of their trips and all relevant prices. In the end, Rich and I scored a full day snorkel trip including a breakfast of our choosing and a beach BBQ lunch for just $15 each.
Our day began with an 8am motorbike pickup with our guide on the front, Rich in the middle and me on the back. It has to be said this was pretty fun but also highly unnecessary as we arrived at our breakfast destination about 30 seconds after we set off! We sat at a table on the sand and inhaled some pancakes, fruit and a couple of banana shakes before it was time to board the boat. When the cheery wooden vessel arrived, we waded in to meet it and climbed aboard. The ride was beautiful and also pretty quiet despite the giant old-fashioned engine on the back. Half and hour or so later, we arrived at the first snorkel spot… and this is where the real fun began.
We dove in to the box of masks and snorkels that had be provided by the tour. Instantly it became apparent that they were more for show than actual snorkelling. Most of them (if not all) were child size which although fine for me, not so good for the 6 foot something american guys aboard. They also leaked terribly and what should have been 15 people all face down in the water admiring scenery was actually 15 people treading water, trying to reattach their mask straps, empty their snorkels and recover from mass saltwater inhalation. As a thoroughly un-confident snorkeler myself, I gave up pretty quickly as not only did the masks not work, there wasn’t really a huge amount to see under the water anyway.
It wasn’t long before everyone else had given up too and we were on our way to the island of Ko Russei (Bamboo Island) for lunch.
The island was pretty attractive with just a smattering of wooden deck chairs however, as we quickly found out, if you want to sit on one, you have to pay 2,000 riel. Ok, so that’s only 50 cents but I thought it was a bit off. We also didn’t have any money with us so instead, opted to sit in the sand. Ko Russei is a beautiful swimming spot and the way the sun sparkles off, well, everything is not to be missed.
I had been a little apprehensive about our BBQ lunch as when we boarded the boat, I spotted the plastic box ful of raw chicken breasts just sitting, uncovered, in direct sunlight where it remained until it was tossed on the BBQ three hours later. In any case, lunch was delicious. BBQ chicken breast with fresh baguettes and a lovely half salad half coleslaw thing. They also served fresh pineapple, watermelon, water and soft drinks.
After lunch we boarded the boat. In order to do this you had to wade out to thigh depth then climb up the iron ladder that hung over the side of the boat. Easy for us, not so easy for the 22 stone German man in budgie smugglers. In fact, when he attempted to mount the ladder, I lost my footing and almost went overboard…. as did everybody else on the boat. Unfortunately, I also loudly exclaimed “WHAT was THAT?!” before realising it was just Germany’s answer to Mr. Blobby being hauled aboard by three Cambodian sailors. On the way back, we stopped at another snorkelling spot, much the same as the first but this time most people, including myself, just opted to swim and forget the snorkels and masks. It has to be said that for a snorkeling trip, this trip didn’t involve much snorkeling .. but all in all, we had a lovely six hour boat ride around the islands, a delicious breakfast and lunch, some drinks, a relax on the beach and a good swim for just $15. It may not have been all it promised to be but we had a good time none the less. The view alone was probably worth more than that!