Oct. 20-24, 2014
Exploring Sihanoukville, Cambodia
GPS waypoint: 10°36'38.3"N 103°31'25.4"E
Location: Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Word on the Grapevine
With my Thailand visa expiring, I had to choose between Myanmar or Laos. If I choose Myanmar, I will head northwest to Bhutan and India, foregoing Laos and Vietnam altogether. No way. I had to go back to Cambodia to do Vietnam, then Laos. I haven't seen all the essential destinations in Cambodia anyway. I've heard the word 'Sihanoukville' thrown around in Battambang. I'll see what that is all about.
Ripped-off in Trat at Booth #16
Leaving Bangkok for Sihanoukville is much easier said than done. I took the wrong bus from my hotel in Bangkok to the bus station. I ended up in Chatuchak Market old bus station. No one spoke English but there were a few signs that helped. I got a bus ticket that would go to "Trat" - I was sure the bus ticket vendor knew I was going to Sihanoukville, so I thought Sihanoukville would be along the way to Trat. It turns out Trat is only half the distance - it would not go all the way to Sihanoukville. Sigh! In Trat, I got confused when booth #16 convinced me that their bus would take me all the way to Sihanoukville despite everyone telling me I had to sleep over at the Cambodia border in Koh Kong as there is no bus at that time anymore. I paid the hefty Bath 700 they asked for, instead of taking the regular Baht 120 to Koh Kong. After crossing the border, I finally arrived close to midnight in Koh Hong. Their people told me that I will have to sleep there overnight as there was no bus for Sihanoukville anymore - contrary to what the Trat people promised me. But then they asked for another Baht 500 to connect me to a private minivan going to Sihanoukville at that time. At that moment, I knew I was already being setup by these unscrupulous transport providers. But I already felt helpless and vulnerable. Grudgingly, I had to dig deep into my pocket for another Baht 500 which should have been covered already by the Baht 700 the Trat people asked from me. This is the first time I had been ripped-off since I left the Philippines. After 15 gruelling hours on the road, I finally reached Sihanoukville. I was still simmering for being ripped-off.
I made an advance booking via Agoda to Relax Guesthouse for the cheapest stay I could find - $7/room. The room was exceptionally big with a balcony overlooking the street - not bad for $7, but it was too far from the main drag. After 2 nights, I moved closer to the beach at a backpacker haven, Utopia.
Utopia and Invito
I loved the vibe at Utopia. At $2/dorm bed, it was the place for backpackers. The bed mats were set side by side together - you make a body roll and you end up at someone's mat. You place your stuff anywhere on the floor you find space for. It was very spartan, but it was fair game for me. I talked to some backpackers there and was advised that the insect bites I saw riddled on them was from the bed bugs. Yikes!!! That is the line I wasn't willing to cross just to save a few bucks. I couldn't get my $2 back, but I moved to another place, Invito for $5/night. Not exactly a bargain, but at least no bed bugs and I could walk it to the beach.
Sihanoukville is a party place for backpackers in Cambodia. The beach front is lined-up with lounge chairs from restos serving food and drinks. Vendors ply the area selling tours, sky lanterns and fireworks. It's cheap - beer starts at $.75/mug and grilled Barracuda sells for $3. People talk to one another - you're expected to be interacted upon and to interact. It gets wild during the wee hours when the revelers get drunk. It seemed fun when you look at it, but the energy was dead for me. I thought it was just me, but a few travelers said the same thing.
I tried to roam around the place. Hired a moto guy to take me around town for $5 - best value! I walked around the public market - it was dirty compared to others I'd been to. I talked to a few hotels but no deal came out of it.
Sihanoukville never did it for me. I stayed as long as I could thinking maybe I wasn't just getting it. But after 6 nights, it was time to throw-in the white towel. Sihanoukville was fraught with red flags at its very outset. In hindsight, I should have heed the signs. First, I got on the wrong bus going to, then got ripped-off in Trat, then got a guesthouse that was off the main drag, and the party scene didn't do it for me. I was putting in effort to make it work out. It never did. Time to take the speed ferry for Koh Rong.
Sihanoukville can cost just slightly more than Siem Reap and Battambang, being a beach destination
- one mug draft beer
- 1.5 liter drinking water
- one hour massage
- muesli breakfast
- bicycle rental, 24 hours
- sugar cane juice in a plastic cup
- fresh coconut
- dorm bed at Invito
- cheap dorm lodging at Utopia
- regular tuk-tuk ride around town
- currency conversion: $1 = P44 = Cambodian riel R4,000
- no need to convert your dollars into riel. All establishments in Cambodia accepts US dollars.
- if you find yourself in Trat Terminal en route to Sihanoukville, avoid booth #16 at all cost - they are scammers and thieves. You'd been warned!
- Sihanoukville is a popular destination within Cambodia. It's known as the backpacker beach party place. Most tour companies and bus companies offer Sihanoukville as a destination. Take note that if you are coming from Trat, Thailand and you cross the Koh Kong border after 1pm, you may have to sleep overnight to catch the bus for the following day. The Trat Immigration office closes at 10pm so make sure you arrive before they close.
- from Chatuchak Old Bus Terminal (there is a new one already but I didn't take that one), take a bus for Trat (Baht xx), 5.5 hours (11:00am to 4:30pm).
- At Trat terminal, go to booth #13 and to take the minibus for the border, Baht 120, xxx hours. Avoid booth #16 who will charge you Baht 700 and promise everything they can't deliver - these people are scammers! 1.5 hours (5:25pm to 6:45pm)
- at the Thai border (they close at 10pm), get your papers done and cross into the Kho Kong Cambodia border. If you arrive after 1pm, you may have to spend overnight as you may have already missed the last bus.
- take a bus from Kho Kong bus terminal to Sihanoukville. There is an 8 am and 1pm bus. 5 hours.
- total travel time for me took 15 hours without spending the night in Kho Kong
Oct. 20-24, 2014
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