Having loved Siem Reap so much, I was pretty excited to get to Sihanoukville. When I got into the centre of town, and down to Serendipity beach, I was, I'll be honest, bitterly disappointed. Serendipity beach is a strip along the shore close to the centre of town, which is MADE for backpackers. Bars selling cheap booze (packed with unshowered and tattooed backpackers) fill the shore line, as they do up Ochheuteal Street, which is the party street that leads up from the shore.
As we arrived at our hotel, however, it quickly became apparent that beauty akin to Siem Reap does in fact exist in Sihanoukville; its just a matter of locating it. We stayed at Tamu Hotel which is on Otres beach 2. Geographically, it is the furthest beach away from the centre of town. Some, particularly young backpackers, might find this unappealing. But to us, it was ideal. Unlike Serendipity beach, Otres 2 was virtually litter and merchant free. The water is pristine, and the view from the hotel was something else. Lounge chairs adorn the white sand along the strip of hotels, and because they are all next to each other, you will never be short of beach restaurants to try.
Must do's in Sihanoukville?
Visit Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. If I had my time again, I would definitely stay a few nights on an Island, and a few in Otres 2, to get a taste for the mainland. Koh Rong is much more developed than Koh Rong Samloem, and is more of a party Island. There are some amazing treehouse bungalows down the end of the Island for those after a quieter stay, but I would recommend Koh Rong Samloem for that purpose. Almost untouched save for a few hotel bungalows along the shoreline, the beauty of Samloem trumps Koh Rong by a hundred, in my eyes. Less inhabited, no drunk backpackers, and aesthetically far more impressive. On offer here are treks to 'lazy beach' on the other side of the Island, kayaking, waterfalls, and generally a lot of tropical paradise. Samloem is my must do for Sihanoukville.
We booked all our mini adventures through a company called Cool Bananas travel, located on Occheteal Street. We couldn't fault anything they did for us (two days worth of ferry tickets and a day trip to Kep and Kampot) and would highly recommend them. One tip, however, is to take suggestions of arriving to the ferry half an hour early with a grain of salt. You will generally, unless you are on the early ferry, be waiting at least an hour if you do.
If you are a big fan of seafood, I highly recommend the Kep crab market if you have the time. It's about two hours away from Sihanoukville by car, and the seafood is caught and consumed right on the edge of the water. I ended up eating a sweet rice pudding wrapped in a banana leaf (as you do) and it was divine and cost about 25c Australian. Bargain. You could potentially stay in Kep or Kampot on the way to Phnom Penh from Sihanoukville, as its about half way in between, give or take.
Our day trip to Kampot also took us to a Pepper farm, and, after a long afternoon of walking and faux versions, a beautiful cave temple called Phnom Chnork. Beware: the roads to get here are bumpy, and as you pull off the main road you will be ushered into a car park by kids offering to show you 'Phnom Chnork.' Turn right and keep driving, the real deal is much further down the road, and much more impressive than their homemade elephant stalactite. Props for trying though.
Now for the food. We didn't do a whole lot of eating out (per say) in Sihanoukville, as our hotel was around 20 minutes by tuk tuk and we were advised (rightly or wrongly) to try not to make the trip after dark if it was possible.
Nyams in the centre of town, off the Golden Lions roundabout, was delicious Khmer fare with a very acceptable price tag. I had Amok (standard) and Tofu with chilli and tamarind, which was delightful. One good thing about this place was that you can order half portions of dishes, which is great if a few things catch your eye. Downside? Food tends to come out haphazardly, meaning my friend had nearly finished her dinner before I got mine.
Secret Garden is both a hotel and restaurant, located on Otres 2. Because it was next-door to our hotel, this became a local haunt, particularly after big days of adventuring. There is a mix of Cambodian and more Western inspired dishes, but I recommend the Asian dory fillet, which was steamed in coconut milk, and served with a lemongrass and carrot puree, bok choi and chilli. The coconut shake is equally divine, and I even watched him cut up a fresh coconut from scratch in order to make it. Perfection!