Sihanoukville, Cambodia: Paradise or Polluted Kip?

We had been planning on staying in Sihanoukville for at least two weeks. I had hoped to stay long enough to really get some work done on this blog. For years, people had been recommending Sihanoukville to me for its low cost and beautiful beaches. Sadly, we found more pollution than paradise.

First, let me say that Sihanoukville does have a lot of potential. It is very cheap and theoretically would be a great place to stay for a few months if you are working online. Also, we did not explore all the beaches and I am told that Otres beach is much better than the ones we went to. We were travelling on a budget and your experience is likely to be very different from ours if you are staying in one of the luxury hotels and are not swimming at the beach or eating street food.

Update: This post has been updated with more photos from our visit in October 2016.

The Food

Hole filled with dirty water and trash.
Would you like your utensils washed in this?

Normally, I am an adventurous eater. I love street food and finding small, local restaurants. An incident on Serendipity Beach changed that. All along the beach, you will encounter Khmer women with small grills selling shrimp and other seafood which looked great. I was just about to buy something when I noticed one of the women washing utensils in a dirty puddle on the sidewalk. Now, it’s not like there was no clean water available. I saw more than one public restroom behind the beach bars that presumably had cleaner water in the sinks. Maybe it was just that one vendor that had no sense of hygiene, but it really put me off of having anything from a street vendor.

Indian thali
Vegetarian curry from Slumdog curry.

Most of the restaurants we tried were pretty dismal. The only stand out was Slumdog Curry. This is a vegetarian and seafood Indian restaurant that we loved. The vegetarian thali in the photo above was only $2.00 and was fantastic. We quickly decided to have most of our meals there. Yeah, yeah, I know that we should be trying Khmer food but I’m not feeling well and I don’t need food poisoning to add to it.

I also recommend the food at Monkey Republic Hostel.

Serendipity and Ochheuteal Beaches

The tuk tuk drivers on the road to Serendipity Beach are rude and quite aggressive. It is a short walk from Golden Lion Circle to the beach, I don’t need a tuk tuk! One of the angry drivers told me I should go home if I didn’t want to spend money in Cambodia. Look, I don’t care about spending $1 on a tuk tuk ride, it just wasn’t far enough to need one.

The beach is filled with small children demanding that you buy a bracelet from them or women selling foot massages. If you turn them down, they will curse at you.

Update: This had improved when we visited in 2016. Either all the really rude tuk tuk drivers quit or else they decided to improve their sales technique. You will get tired of hearing them say, “tuk tuk, tuk tuk?” every five feet you walk down Serendipity Beach road.

Polluted beach in Sihanoukville.
2012 – Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

From a distance, the water looked inviting. When I got closer, I could see that there was trash floating everywhere. We decided against swimming. I have no idea where the water from that drainage pipe in the above photo comes from. Is it runoff from the street? Grey water from the bathroom sinks? Either way, it did not make the beach any more appealing.

Beach filled with garbage in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Ochheuteal Beach – October 2016

Drainage running into ocean on Ochheuteal Beach.
Do you really want to swim here? Ochheuteal Beach – October 2016

 
Plastic garbage and cigarette butts in the sand.
Closeup of sand on Ochheuteal Beach – October 2016.

 

Why is Sihanoukville so dirty?

Pile of burning trash in Sihanoukville.
Burning trash across the street from a beachfront hotel.

 

  1. As far as I know, there are still no recycling facilities in Cambodia. In 2014, the Minister of Environment called for a recycling plant to be built in Sihanoukville but it doesn’t look like that happened. Street pickers in Phnom Penh will collect more valuable recyclables, such as metal, and sell them to middlemen who sell them on to Thailand and Vietnam to be recycled. I don’t know how much this happens in Sihanoukville. I did notice that the cleaning woman at one of the hotels we stayed at had a stash of aluminum cans in a storage closet and the rest of the trash was taken out to the street to be burned.
  2. Most people can’t afford private trash collection, so they burn their trash.
  3. On average, 2700 plastic bags are used per person, per year in Cambodia. In 2014, the Tourism Minister urged Cambodian residents and businesses to reduce the use of plastic. This has not happened.

Should you go to Sihanoukville?

Yes! As of October 2016, I have been to Cambodia 4 times. I love this country. I’m only telling you that you that you probably don’t want to swim on Serendipity or Ochheuteal Beach. There is a much better beach available. We loved Otres Beach.

2 thoughts on “Sihanoukville, Cambodia: Paradise or Polluted Kip?”

  1. We are in Sihanoukville today on a cruise. It is filthy, garbage everywhere, and just a huge construction site, full of casinos. The Chinese have ruined this lovely little town.

    Reply
  2. I went in 2008 and the situation was already bad. Garbage on the beach, drainage pipe that went into the beach/sea. It’s really a pity to hear that nothing has changed, or even it got worst. Cambodia is indeed a wonderful country.

    Reply

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