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Is Sihanoukville Worth Visiting in Cambodia? (2024)

If you’re looking for a beach holiday in Cambodia, you might wonder, “Is Sihanoukville worth visiting? A coastal town that was once a haven for backpackers, Sihanoukville was known for its tropical palm-fringed beaches, warm water, and perfect sunsets.

Although the town has many beautiful beaches, it’s no longer the laid-back haven it used to be. These days travellers tend to pass through the city and head offshore to tropical islands like Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem or Koh Ta Tiev instead of staying in Sihanoukville at Occheuteal, Serendipity or Otres Beach.

beach with golden sands. blue water and apathway with red border
Occheuteal Beach Sihanoukville Cambodia

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Sihanoukville has experienced huge changes in the past 5 years. When I first visited in 2017 the town was already quite built up and busy with many casinos and buildings under construction. Even then, it was quite touristy and I remember arriving by bus and being hassled by the local tuk-tuk driver mafia.

I escaped the worst of Sihanoukville and stayed a few kilometres away from the city centre at easy-going Otres Beach where I enjoyed a relaxing holiday with stunning sunsets, an island boat trip to Ko Ta Tiev and snorkelling near the islands.

Unfortunately, Otres Beach has been overrun by development since then and it’s no longer the chilled-out backpacker hangout that it used to be. So is Sihanoukville worth visiting on a Cambodia itinerary?

Where is Sihanoukville?

Sihanoukville is a city in the southwest of Cambodia, located on a peninsula in the Gulf of Thailand with many lovely beaches and offshore tropical islands. A popular beach holiday resort destination in Cambodia, Sihanoukville is within easy reach of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and the UNESCO World Heritage Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.

Map created using Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android

What is Sihanoukville Like Now?

Sihanoukville is a seaside city with a rather built-up, suburban feel. There’s little Cambodian culture to be found but the town has some beautiful beaches such as Occheuteal Beach, Serendipity and Otres Beach to name a few. A golden lion statue is a landmark at the centre of the main intersection in town.

Overseas developers have moved in and Sihanoukville is overrun with casinos, highrise buildings and new developments that cater for an influx of Chinese tourists who come for gambling and nightlife. Cambodia has relaxed gambling laws compared to China and money laundering is a problem in Sihanoukville.

But on a positive note, the beaches are cleaner than they were and still have a perfect west-facing aspect, ideal for watching the sunset over the water. The main beachfront at Occheuteal Beach is lined with expensive restaurants and tacky props providing photo opportunities for visitors.

But it’s not all bad, the new development has brought paved streets, shopping malls new upmarket hotels and apartments and new restaurants and bars catering for a new kind of tourist from China.

The streets are quiet, there’s not much traffic and there doesn’t seem to be many people about. But I did see plenty of happy families on the beach with children swimming and playing in the sand.  

Is this the result of overtourism?

Yes, Sihanoukville has been spoilt by tourism and although the streets are now clean and paved, Occheuteal Beach is very built up. Expensive restaurants catering for tourists line the beachfront and a paved footpath stretches along the beach. Neon lights and gaudy decorations give the area a tacky feel.

golden sandy beach with backed by buildings
Built up restaurant strip on Occheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville Cambodia

Is Sihanoukville Worth Visiting Now?

No, unfortunately, Sihanoukville is overtouristed and has lost its charm. It reminds me of Phuket in Thailand taken over by foreigners, with a built-up suburban feel and a seedy nightclub scene.

If you want to stay in high-rise apartments or expensive hotels, shop at a Westernised mall, gamble at casinos and swim at a built-up city beach then you might enjoy Sihanoukville. But if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday and hoping to experience the local culture, you’ll be disappointed.

Sihanoukville is OK as a stopover on the way to the islands from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap but personally, I wouldn’t choose to spend much time here unless I was spending a few weeks travelling in Cambodia and had lots of time to spare.

Most travellers arriving in Sihanoukville go directly to the ferry pier from the airport or the bus, heading straight to Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem, and avoiding the main town of Sihanoukville.

A small boat floating near a white pier in calm turquoise water
Idyllic Koh Rong Sanloem near Sihanoukville Cambodia

Is Sihanoukville Safe?

Yes, Sihanoukville is safe enough to visit. Cambodia is generally a safe country for female tourists, and I felt safe travelling alone in Sihanoukville but the city is a tourist centre and less safe than other parts of the country. These days, the city attracts Chinese gamblers and crime syndicates operate there.

Scammers target unwary tourists. Petty theft, credit card fraud, and phone and bag snatching are some things to look out for. Take care of yourself by keeping your valuables out of sight, and don’t walk alone at night.

Be wary of people you have just met in bars, clubs and at beach parties. Sexual assaults happen more often in tourist areas like Sihanoukville so don’t drink too much and be wary of drink spiking. Make sure your drinks are not left unattended.

Partying on islands such as Koh Rong off the coast of Sihanoukville can be risky, especially for women travelling alone in Cambodia. This includes organised dance parties.

It’s also worth noting that medical or emergency assistance may be limited or non-existent when staying on a coastal island.

Overall, the Australian Government advises taking “normal safety precautions in Cambodia”.

TIP: Book your flights, bus, train and ferry tickets with 12Go Asia. It’s easy and convenient. You pay a small booking fee and receive your e-ticket by email.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Sihanoukville is from November to March when the weather is warm and dry with low humidity. May to October is the wet season and April is extremely hot.

palm trees lining the beach and sunset views at Otres Beach Cambodia
A beautiful sunset at Otres Beach in Sihanoukville Cambodia

Where to stay in Sihanoukville

I stayed at Manoha Villa in a comfortable room about a 15-minute walk from Occheuteal Beach. The central location and affordable price of this guesthouse made this a good option for an overnight stay on the way back to Phnom Penh from the islands.

Otres Beach is another option in Sihanoukville but it’s no longer a chilled-out backpacker hangout. Once on the outskirts of town, Otres is now like the rest of Sihanoukville, very built up and suburban. But you could spend a night or 2 there if you book comfortable accommodations like Sok Sobay Resort or Naiya Sea Resort.

How long to stay in Sihanoukville?

On my last visit to Cambodia, I had a pleasant overnight stay near Occheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville on my way back from Koh Rong Sanloem to the capital Phnom Penh. But I recommend staying somewhere other than Sihanoukville itself, even though the beaches are good and the sunsets are stunning.

If you’re interested in nightlife and casinos or have an early flight to catch you might enjoy Sihanoukville, but if you’re looking for a relaxed beach holiday vibe, I suggest bypassing Sihanoukville city and heading straight to the islands offshore or to a laidback coastal town like Kep or Kampot.

On the offshore islands, you could spend several days or a couple of weeks relaxing on the sand, swimming snorkelling and sunbathing.

Despite the recent changes, Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s premier beach destination, popular with locals escaping from busy Phnom Penh. But unless you have something specific to do here, I suggest spending precious holiday time somewhere else in Cambodia. Here’s where to go instead:

tropical island sunset at the beach
Sunset Beach Koh Rong Sanloem

Where to Go Instead

Koh Rong: Cambodia’s most famous tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Rong is known for its beach parties and has some of the best beaches in the country with white sand and calm turquoise waters.

Koh Rong is the most built up and touristy of the islands. Roads connect the main beaches and the development continues with new hotels popping up and an international airport under construction, due to be completed in 2028/29.

Koh Rong Sanloem is a smaller, quieter island near Koh Rong. Just as beautiful as its neighbour, Koh Rong, Sanloem is much more peaceful. It’s the place to go for a tranquil island escape. There’s not much to do here except swim, explore the island on foot and eat mangoes.

But development is coming. New accommodation is appearing across the island and when I was last there, a large strip of forest had been cleared to make way for a road connecting the island’s beaches.

Koh Ta Tiev is a small tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand off the coast of Sihanoukville. Covered in forests Ko Ta Tiev has pretty golden sandy beaches lined with palm trees and rustic facilities and accommodation.  It’s the perfect place to escape from the world and easy to visit on a day trip from Sihanoukville.

small baots moored off the beach at Ko Ta Tiev, Cambodia
Ko Ta Tiev Island near Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Kep: A sleepy seaside town on Cambodia’s west coast, Kep is the perfect place to unwind and one of my favourite places to stay in Cambodia. This laid-back coastal town has a pretty beach, an offshore island and a National Park. It’s only an hour by bus from Kampot.

Kampot: A pleasant riverside town famous for its pepper plantation. Kampot has colonial French architecture, lovely river and mountain views, and cave temples to explore. The train stops at Kampot on the way to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh.

Battambang: Located in northwest Cambodia, the regional city of Battambang has a French colonial legacy, an attractive riverside location and some beautiful Khmer temples. In rural Battambang, you’ll see a side of Cambodian life that you won’t find anywhere else in the country.

Catching the riverboat from Siem Reap to Battambang is one of Cambodia’s memorable experiences and it’s worth visiting the regional city to experience travelling by river. Battambang is also a good place to stop on the way to Thailand en route to the border town of Poipet.

man sweeping at Ek Phnom Temple in Battambang Cambodia
Ek Phnom Temple in Battambang Cambodia

Getting around Sihanoukville

I found using the Grab app to book tuk-tuks and taxis was the easiest way to get from place to place in Sihanoukville. I booked Grab tuk-tuks a few times travelling from the bus to the ferry pier.

In 2017 on my last visit to Sihanoukville, the tuk-tuk drivers ganged up and tried to stop me from sharing a tuk-tuk with some other travellers on the bus. The driver then dropped me off at the wrong place and I had to walk a half hour along the beach in the heat with my backpack to my guesthouse. Grab has put an end to scams like this.

The tuk-tuk mafia still operates in Sihanoukville but has much less control at bus stops and the ferry port but still prevents Grab drivers from entering the Sihanoukville wharf area or stopping directly outside the bus stop so you may need to meet your Grab driver in the street outside.

Travelling from the bus to the ferry pier my Grab driver stopped at a roadside stall without my permission and tried to sell me ferry tickets. I simply said “No thanks please take me to the ferry” and had no further trouble.

FAQ’s

Should I stay in Sihanoukville?

Sihanoukville is fine for a night or 2 and has a selection of lovely west-facing beaches and gorgeous sunsets. If you like built-up beaches, glitzy nightlife, and casinos, and enjoy staying in highrise apartments then Sihanoukville could be for you. But if you’re looking for a relaxed beach holiday vibe head straight to the islands Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem.

Are the Cambodian Islands worth visiting?

Yes, the Cambodian islands are worth visiting. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are stunning tropical islands offshore from Sihanoukville. Koh Rong has some of the best beaches in Cambodia and is known as a party island. Koh Rong Sanloem is a much quieter island offering white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and jungle.

Is there Grab in Sihanoukville

Yes, Grab operates in Sihanoukville. I booked Grab tuk-tuks a few times in Sihanoukville and found it the best way to get around. But be aware that you may need to meet your Grab driver outside on the street because the local tuk-tuk mafia prevents Grab drivers from entering the wharf area in Sihanoukville or stopping directly outside the bus stop.

Why is Sihanoukville very popular?

Sihanoukville is a seaside resort town on Cambodia’s west coast offering a selection of beautiful beaches with perfect sunsets. Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s main beach resort and a popular escape for people living in Phnom Penh. It’s also a favourite with Chinese tourists who come to gamble at the casinos and enjoy the nightlife.

What happened to Sihanoukville?

Once a relaxed and beautiful seaside destination on Cambodia’s west coast, Sihanoukville has suffered from over-development in recent years. An influx of Chinese tourists and foreign investment in casinos, hotels and high-rise apartment blocks has caused dramatic changes in Sihanoukville. The population is now 90% Chinese and the local Cambodian culture is hard to find.

2 girls sitting on a swing watching the sunset on Occheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville
Watching the sunset on Occheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville

Final Thoughts: is Sihanoukville Worth Visiting?

Glitzy nightlife and built-up beaches don’t appeal to me but Sihanoukville is OK for a short visit. I enjoyed a lovely beach sunset stroll on Occheuteal Beach and bought a meal at a street food cart on the walk back to my comfortable and reasonably priced guesthouse.

Sihanoukville has changed a lot in recent years and is now rather soulless and devoid of character, but it’s still a good stopping-off place on the way to the beautiful islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem just offshore.

You might also enjoy

Visiting Angkor Wat Cambodia for the First Time

Is Cambodia Safe for Female Travellers?

The Perfect 10-Day Cambodia Itinerary

The Best of Cambodia in 18 Fascinating Days

Kep or Kampot? Which Coastal Town is Best

Solo Travel in Cambodia – What You Need to Know

How to Visit Charming Battambang in Cambodia

Is January a Good Time to go to Bali?

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