Sihanoukville is the largest and most famous sea resort in Cambodia and as such not particularly attractive for an independent traveller. Sihanoukville itself is a noisy and rather ugly town full of high- rise hotels. Otres village, located a few kilometers outside Sihanoukville is much calmer and more hippie. The beaches are pretty but plagued with hawkers. Moreover, large construction projects are on the way which sadly means the fate of Otres as just an extension of Sihanoukville is sealed.
THE UNEXPECTED AND UNWELCOME CHANGE OF PLANS
Our original plan included hiking in the Cardamom Mountains, in the remote area bordering with Thailand. However, the weather wasn’t great and it was a logical assumption that it might be only worse in a tropical rain forest. Reluctantly, we swapped the great adventure for a visit to Sihanoukville, the main sea resort in Cambodia and the one most travellers’ blogs and forums warned against.
SIHANOUKVILLE AND THE WAY TO OTRES
We took a rather pricey minivan (considering just a short, 2 hours long drive) to Sihanoukville around midday and we were glad to be on board as it was raining most of the day. We were dropped off at the Golden Lions roundabout, right in the middle of a busy, ugly city full of big hotels and casinos. We didn’t see much point staying there so we ordered a tuk-tuk to Otres beach via Pass App. We chose Otres as it was supposedly the nicest beach on Cambodian coast (not counting the islands).
We were quite shocked by the quality of the only road connecting Sihanoukville with Otres. It was so full of potholes that sometimes the hard shoulder provided the only way to go ahead. We quickly realised that the roads were destroyed by the trucks heading to various construction sites, peppered all along Otres 1 beach.
OTRES- HIPPIE BUT NOT FOR LONG
We felt that we arrived to Otres in the very last moment before it changes forever. The Otres beach was still lined only with discrete backpackers bungalows but huge hotels and apartment blocks- all built by and for the Chinese- were already looming on the horizon. The road along Otres beach was actually in even worse shape than the one leading to it (probably because it was a dirt road). Even walking was difficult and during heavy rains it was pretty much impossible to drive on that road, unless you were a very skilled driver.
OTRES ON A BUDGET
Our accommodation- the cheapest we could find on Otres 1- was twice as expensive as the one in Kampot and in Kep. I couldn’t complain, though: our hut was literally twelve steps from the beach. Unfortunately, it turned out we had little chance to enjoy the sea.
Accommodation in Otres beach was much cheaper than in Sihanoukville but it wasn’t very convenient for people on a tight budget. First of all, getting to and from Otres required hiring a tuk -tuk (or having your own means of transport). Secondly, the few shops along the beach were selling mostly cigarettes and beer. It was impossible to find fruit in the entire Otres. Locals neither shopped, nor dined there. We found a few very basic eateries along the pot-holed road where we could have unexciting and poor value but relatively cheap meals. Otres village (around 1.5 km from the beach) had a bit more budget dining options.
OTRES BEACHES AND VILLAGE
It was actually quite sunny, though only warmish the afternoon we arrived. Instead of jumping in the sea, though we had a long walk along Otres beach. At the end of a row of bungalows there was a ‘park’, a public but relatively clean beach used mostly by the locals.
There were some trees planted along the whole stretch of the beach and a paved footpath half covered with the dunes. The white sand beach was nice but the view at the construction sites in the distance made it lose much of its appeal.
Having satisfied our eyes with the sea views we turned inland to have a look at the Otres village: a cluster of hippie bungalows and guesthouses further away from the beach. Coming back from Otres village after nightfall was no fun, though. We chose to go along tarmac road rather than the beach but it was still pitch dark and even at night some trucks were passing by, making it quite dangerous.
NOT MUCH TO DO
Having given up on Cardamom Mountains, we hoped to see at least the Ream National Park, located just 15 km away from Otres or visit the famous Cambodian islands: Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem (as beautiful as those in Thailand but still very low-key). Alas, the weather was against us. The next day it was pouring with rain from the morning all the way till 6 pm. Apart from coming out to take a few photos of the rough sea we couldn’t do much.
Expecting a similar weather the following day, we didn’t dare to hire a motorbike and go to the national park, not to mention taking a boat to the islands. Instead, we decided to walk to Sihanoukville along the seaside.
A LONG WALK TO SIHANOUKVILLE
It was drizzling when we left in the late morning, walking pass a nearby fishermen village and all along Ochheuteal beach towards Sihanoukville.
We were expecting to see Ochheuteal beach very developed and full of big hotels but it wasn’t the case at all. In fact, the area was completely deserted, with just a couple of shacks used by the locals. It was a strange feeling to have this whole 3 km long, wide sandy beach all to ourselves. By the time we reached the town, it stopped raining and it became much warmer. We cursed ourselves for making a wrong decision.
We walked all the way till the pier where the boats for the islands would leave. Then, we turned into the city and walked through its busy streets for quite a while to get to Psar Leu market. It was altogether 7 km from our resort. The market was really big, very lively and more dirty than most of the markets we saw in Cambodia. We bought some fruit and food (there was nothing apart from alcohol and cigarettes in mini-marts on Otres) and decided to take the tuk tuk (via Pass App) back since the weather seemed good enough for swimming.
FINALLY IN THE SEA
The sea was quite rough so prudently we didn’t venture very deep but surprisingly warm. I dipped in the water twice before I got trapped by one of the lady hawkers walking incessantly along the beach (whenever weather allowed her). She was offering feet massage and threading (a technique of hair removal using just normal sewing thread).
Despite my protests, she just grabbed my leg and started threading it. I felt defeated and just bargained the price down from $10 to $5. I must say she was really conscientious and just as promised, the hair did not reappear for another few weeks. I guess in the season, the hawkers might make sunbathing a rather unpleasant experience.
RUNNING AWAY FROM THE RAIN
Seeing the weather wasn’t bound to improve, we decided to move back to Kep (which also featured a small national park with various easily accessible walking trails), with a faint hope that it might be less rainy there. We would have gladly crossed the border with Vietnam already but our visa was valid from 14th July, forcing us to stay in Cambodia for two more days.
How to get to Sihanoukville?
It’s possible to get to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh both by bus and by train. The train runs only Friday to Sunday. It is very comfortable if somewhat icy.
There are some over-priced minivans from Kampot and Kep (2h and 3h drive away respectively) as well as buses from Koh Kong near Thai border (5h) and Ha Tien in Vietnam (5h).
It might be difficult to find a van directly to Otres but they do exist. Most of the buses would go just to Sihanoukville centre which would require taking a tuk tuk to Otres ($2.50 with Pass App).
Prices [in USD as of July 2018]:
$8 comfortable hut with shared bathroom, straight on the Otres 1 beach (low season!)
$8 minivan Otres beach – Kep
$6 minivan Kampot- Sihanoukville
$5 half-leg threading from a hawker on Otres beach (bargained)
$3 meal at a backpackers eatery in Otres village
$3 tuk-tuk Psar Leu market- Otres 1
$2.50 tuk-tuk Golden Lions Roundabout- Otres 1
$1 beer at the resort on the Otres beach