Named after the former king Norodom Sihanouk, the city of Sihanoukville is usually a must on everyone’s travels to Cambodia.
The city’s golden beaches originally caught the attention of Cambodia’s jet-setting elite, however, Sihanoukville fell off the map during the tragic and violent reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Years later, it was “rediscovered” and revitalized by the backpacking crowd, evolving into a lazy beach town.
These days, Sihanoukville is now the premier backpacker party city in Cambodia. It’s also popular with, Russian and Chinese tourists who are rapidly changing the face of the city.
While I think the city is a fun place to party, traveling here isn’t going to “wow” you. In fact, the city has become a bit of a mess due to construction, pollution, and casinos in recent years. It’s not very appealing except for a small strip of land by the dock.
That said, the islands off the coast are still a backpacker and budget traveler paradise, so Sihanoukville is still good for a night as you transit to/from the islands.
This Sihanoukville travel can help you make the most of your visit, save money, and show you how to enjoy the islands surrounding this once-sleepy backpacker town.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Sihanoukville
1. Lounge on Otres Beach
2. Go on a motorbike tour
3. Visit a pepper farm
4. Relax on Monkey Island
5. Take a booze cruise
Other Things to See and Do in Sihanoukville
1. Go scuba diving
The islands around Sihanoukville have great visibility, vibrant colorful coral, and exotic fish. There are a lot of PADI-certified schools on the islands, offering courses, liveaboards, and fun dives — including night dives. For an Open Water certification, expect to pay around $450 USD for the multi-day course. Single-tank dives start at $50 USD.
2. Shop at the market
The Phsar Leu Market, also known as Upper Market, is in the center of Sihanoukville and a good place to shop around and try some of the local foods. Come here for incredibly fresh seafood and marvel at the variety of items on offer. You can also buy clothing and souvenirs here as well. It’s open daily from 7am-5pm.
3. Rent a jet ski
Jet skis and banana boats are very popular around this area. Prices vary based on how long you rent one for but expect to pay at least $30 USD. If you want to rent one, be aware of your surroundings, stay clear of the swimming section, and adhere to safety regulations. There have been numerous accidents in the last few years due to negligence so have fun but drive carefully!
4. Visit Wat Leu
This temple is located on top of the big hill in town. There is a small museum here, and it’s a great place to catch the sunset, as well as take in wonderful views of the area. It’s much less busy than many of the other temples in Cambodia.
5. Day trip to Kampot
Kampot is a small town that is a nice break from the bustling backpacker atmosphere in Sihanoukville. A minibus to Kambot takes around two hours and costs $4-6 USD per person. You can visit pepper farms, beaches, temples, and just relax in a quieter setting. Be sure to eat at The Rusty Keyhole (for the best rib BBQ outside of Texas). If you want to make it an overnight trip, stay at the Bohemiaz Guesthouse. Even if you don’t stay there, you can use their facilities (swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi, garden) for free when you eat at or have a drink at their bar/restaurant.
6. Go snorkeling
Almost all the islands around Sihanoukville offer snorkeling opportunities, and the further from Sihanoukville you get the better the visibility and sea life gets. Snorkeling tours average $15-25 USD and include breakfast, lunch, and equipment. The Dive Shop Cambodia is the only dive shop in Sihanoukville itself, though there are plenty of shops on the surrounding islands.
7. Jam with the expats at Otres Market
Every Saturday from midday until midnight the local expats gather to eat, drink, sell handicrafts, and jam to live music. The market is fantastic. The night is lit up with multi-colored lights and funky stands offering everything from passion fruit cheesecake and shots to handmade jewelry, hair dreading, and hippie clothing. Do not miss out on this incredible musical experience!
8. Hang out on Ochheuteal/Serendipity Beach
This is one of the most popular beaches in Sihanoukville. Ochheuteal refers to the entire 4-kilometer (2.5 miles) length of the beach, whereas Serendipity refers to the northern section with bars, restaurants, bungalows, and guesthouses on the sand. However, don’t go in the water here, because the sewage pipes empty right out into the harbor in front of the beaches (if you want to swim, do so in Otres.) It’s the liveliest beach area in Sihanoukville though, and Serendipity Beach Road is packed with bars and cheap guesthouses.
9. Chill on Independence Beach
At 1 kilometer (.6 miles) long, this is a smaller beach area, but it hasn’t been overly developed (yet). There are a handful of beach restaurants in the middle and a large casino and hotel complex at one end of Independence. It’s still mostly a quiet place to relax.
10. Relax on Koh Rong Sanloem
Koh Rong Sanloem Island is a smaller version of Koh Rong, with some really beautiful beaches on the eastern side. The sea life around here is very diverse and makes for great diving and snorkeling. Most day trips cost around $20 USD.
11. Hike in Bokor National Park
Spanning 1,423.17 square kilometers (550 square miles), there’s a lot to do at Bokor National Park. You can hike through a rainforest and see Bokor Hill Station, the atmospheric ruins of the French aristocracy for whom Bokor was a big draw in the 1920s. There are amazing views, ruins, waterfalls, and temples all around. Admission is free too. Group day tours from Sihanoukville start from $20 USD, while a private guide for the day is $40 USD. However, it’s 3 hours each way so it’s best to do it as an overnight trip.
12. Take a day trip to Kep
Like Kampot, Kep is a small, chill town. This quaint beach town and fishing village is the quiet version of Sihanoukville: a nice place to relax near the ocean but without a party atmosphere. It’s famous for its pepper crab and empty beaches. Getting here by minibus takes around two hours and costs $4-6 USD per person. If you want to spend a few days here, you can also visit the secluded nearby Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay).
For more information on other cities in Cambodia, check out these guides:
Cambodia Travel Costs
Note: Cambodia uses USD. There’s no real need to carry the local currency, Cambodian Riels (KHR), unless you’re paying for really small things on the street. In a growing number of places, especially in the countryside, you might start getting riels back when paying in USD but you can essentially get by using mostly USD here.
Hostel prices – Hostel rates start around $6 USD per night for a bed in an 8-person dorm. A private double room in a hostel is around $20 USD per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard, but almost no hostels offer free breakfast or have a kitchen. Some hostels have a swimming pool.
Budget hotel prices – Two-star hotels and bungalows start around $20 USD per night, but they’re fairly comfortable rooms with air-conditioning, private bathrooms, balconies, and free Wi-Fi. If you want something closer to the beach, you’ll pay about $32 USD per night for a double room which includes all the usual amenities and often also a hotel swimming pool and restaurant.
Airbnb is available in town with prices for an entire home/apartment beginning around $20 USD but averaging closer to $35 USD. As always, the places near the beach are the most expensive.
Average cost of food – Cambodian food is similar to Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Vietnam and Cambodia especially have many dishes in common due to the countries’ shared history of French colonization. For example, the baguette sandwich known as bánh mì in Vietnam is called num pang pâté in Cambodia. Popular Cambodian dishes include num banhchok, a lightly fermented rice noodle dish served for breakfast; amok trei, a fish curry dish; and samlar kako, a hearty soup filled with vegetables, roasted ground rice, and catfish or pork. In general, Cambodian cuisine includes a huge variety of noodle soups, stir-fries, curries, fried rice, and sweets.
Rice and freshwater fish are present in nearly every Cambodian meal. Lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, tamarind, ginger, chili pepper, and kaffir lime are all commonly used spices. Fermented fish paste is another widely used ingredient that adds saltiness and flavor.
Common vegetables include leaf and root vegetables as well as melon, long beans, snow peas, bean sprouts, and eggplant. Dozens of types of fruit are native to Cambodia, with durian being the most infamous. However, there are plenty of less pungent fruits to try, including mangosteen, passionfruit, dragonfruit, and mangoes. Fruit is a popular dessert and snack, either eaten alone or made into a variety of sweets.
Sihanoukville has a surprisingly diverse range of cuisine. Along the beaches, especially at Ochheuteal Beach, there are many food stalls serving grilled meat, chicken, and seafood with fries and a beer for around $3-4 USD. Snacks are even less, around $1 USD or less. I’d stick to the street food as it’s cheaper and tastes better than the restaurants.
Cambodian food at a casual restaurant generally costs $4-6 for a typical dish, such as curry or noodles.
There are many western restaurants in town as well that cater to tourists, costing around $5-8 USD for a meal. A pizza or burger costs $4 USD, fish and chips cost $5 USD, a pasta dish costs $6-8 USD.
For drinks, a beer costs less than $1 USD, a glass of wine is $2 USD, and a cocktail is $3-5 USD. A cappuccino is $1.25 USD.
If you plan on buying groceries and cooking your own food, expect to spend around $15-20 USD per week for basic groceries like vegetables, rice, and some meat. However, given that hostels and hotels don’t have kitchens and food is so cheap, I wouldn’t advise cooking your meals while here.
Backpacking Sihanoukville Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Sihanoukville, expect to spend around $40 USD per day. On this budget, you’ll be staying in a hostel dorm, eating food from the street stalls, limiting your drinking, taking the occasional motorbike taxi, and doing mainly free or cheap activities like hanging out on the beach and snorkeling.
On a mid-range budget, expect to spend about $95 USD per day. On this budget, you can stay in a budget hotel, eat some sit-down meals at nicer restaurants, have some drinks, take a tuk-tuk ride to and from the beach, and do more excursions like visiting the islands or going on a booze cruise.
On a “luxury” budget of $130 USD or more a day, you can stay a room at a nice hotel with a swimming pool, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, take more taxis, island hop, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). Prices are in USD.
Sihanoukville Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Despite being a popular tourist destination, Sihanoukville remains affordable. But if you want to save some cash, here are some money-saving tips for Sihanoukville:
- Drink during happy hour – The trend on Serendipity Beach is to advertise a permanent ‘happy hour’ (cocktails for $2-3 USD and draft beer for as little as $0.75 USD). If you’re going to drink, stick to places with cheap happy hour drinks because they add up fast!
- Negotiate with tuk-tuk drivers – Make sure you negotiate the price of your ride before taking off. Moreover, don’t take the first number they give you — it’s inflated. Keep in mind, prices rise around sunset, and negotiating becomes more difficult.
- Work for your room – It’s pretty common to get a job in a hostel in order to stay longer in Sihanoukville so if you stay at a hostel and like the vibe, ask if they’ll let you work there. You usually just need to work a few hours each day in exchange for accommodation.
- Minimize your drinking – Drinks, though cheap, really add up. Every drink is a dollar and before you know it, you’ve spent more money on beer than on food and accommodation. If you drink a lot, you’ll need a slightly higher budget.
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier comes particularly in handy in Sihanoukville since you can’t drink the tap water here. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw, as it has a built-in filter to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Sihanoukville
There aren’t many hostels in Sihanoukville; most are on Koh Rong or other nearby islands. Here are my recommended places to stay in the area:
How to Get Around Sihanoukville
Motorbike Taxis – Motorbike taxis are the most common way to get around Sihanoukville. The standard price for a ride is around $1.25 USD per trip, although expect to haggle at night or if the distance is long. The ride from the new bus station to Serendipity Beach should cost around $3.50 USD during the day.
Tuk-Tuk – If you’re uncomfortable with taking a motorbike taxi in Sihanoukville, tuk-tuks are also plentiful. They’re more expensive than the motorbikes, however, and haggling often doesn’t work as drivers work together to fix their rates. A trip from the city to Serendipity Beach or Otres shouldn’t cost more than $4 USD. Hiring one for a full day costs about $20 USD.
Taxis – Regular car taxis are also available here, but they’re rarely metered and they’re the most expensive option of these three. If you need to get to the airport, you’ll have to get your hotel or hostel to arrange the ride. The entire journey costs about $20 USD. Otherwise, I’d avoid them.
Due to construction, the ride to the airport takes a couple of hours. Leave hours before your flight as there are constant delays!
Motorbike/car rental Motorbikes are around $5 USD per day and $30 USD per week. However, with hazardous roads and driving conditions, there’s really no need to rent a motorbike here (especially since you’re likely heading off to the islands).
Car rentals are virtually non-existent here and I wouldn’t recommend driving here anyway as accidents are very common.
When to Go to Sihanoukville
The high season in Cambodia is from November to April when temperatures are mild. This is the best time to visit Sihanoukville (and the coast in general) — the sunshine is constant and so are the blue skies. Daily highs are just under 30°C (90°F), and you’ll be able to enjoy a nice sea breeze on the beach. This is when most people visit, however, so be prepared for large crowds.
If you’d rather avoid peak tourist season, visit from May to the beginning of October. Although this overlaps with the rainy season, generally that just means getting hit with brief heavy rainfall in the afternoons.
April is the hottest month, and the humidity can be unbearable for some. Daily highs are usually 33°C (91°F) or higher. But if you want to avoid hordes of tourists, this is the time to come!
How to Stay Safe in Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is a safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks are super rare.
Petty theft is the most common type of crime here. Unfortunately, it’s rather frequent on the beaches. Ochheuteal Beach is particularly a hotspot for thieves. Never leave any valuables unattended while you’re here and avoid walking on the beaches alone after dark just to be safe.
Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (never accept drinks from strangers, don’t walk around alone at night, etc.).
A common scam here involves being distracted by a child (or sometimes an adult) while another person takes your valuables from your towel. Leave your most important valuables in your safety deposit box or locker and always stay vigilant if people randomly approach you.
If you’re worried about getting ripped off, read about common travel scams to avoid here.
Hold onto your bag tightly when you’re riding on a motorbike taxi. Keep your bag in front of you so other drivers can’t snatch it. Bag snatching can occur so always keep your bag secure when out and about.
The people who do tend to get into trouble here are usually involved with drugs or sex tourism. Avoid those and you should be fine.
Avoid dehydration in the heat by making sure you bring lots of water to keep hydrated. Remember that tap water isn’t safe to drink, so bring a water bottle with a built-in filter.
If you experience an emergency, dial 119 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Sihanoukville Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
Sihanoukville Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Sihanoukville Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more information on Sihanoukville? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Cambodia travel and continue planning your trip: