Part 4: a night in Sihanoukville

After arriving back on the mainland we checked in at the White Boutique Hotel in Sihanoukville.

The last five years has transformed the former relaxed beach town of Sihanoukville, mostly to the bad, according to the locals. Gone are beach shack bars and pure white beaches, instead; high rises under construction, Chinese owned casinos and hotels, as well as pollution and dirt.

We did not spend much time on the actual streets of Sihanoukville, but from what we saw, the rumours were true. It felt like a giant construction site; dirt roads, half finished skyscrapers and trash.

Fortunately, the White Boutique Hotel was a small oasis. As soon as you enter the lobby, and this might sound exaggerated, it’s like another world. Lounge music, a pretty swimming pool and a sort of New England style beachy vibe. There’s also a (small) private stretch of beach, but you need to cross a road that according to our sources 🙂 was decided to be built going straight through the hotel area despite their opposition.

Breakfast is a choice of a few local and Western dishes as well as a small buffet with toast, toppings, fruit and similar. Included were also fruit shakes and “specialty coffee” such as cappuccinos.

Sihanoukville – Siem Reap by private taxi

After our night at the WBH we got picked up by our pre-booked driver, who drove us straight from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap in the north, which took about 10 hours including a lunch break. The company can be contacted through their website Cambodiaprivatetaxi.com, if you’re interested in doing the same. I sent them an email a few months in advance and got quick replies and a decent quote (approx $180) for the trip. The car used was a roomy Lexus RX300 and the driving felt very safe despite the road from especially Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh being relatively basic.

Part 3: Koh Rong

After eventually finding our way to “the drop off” which is where the Sok San Beach Resort, where we were staying, we were on a boat ($20 per person, per way) to the island of Koh Rong.

The Sok San Beach Resort is quite a place; super pretty and quite laid back. The beach area has plenty of sun loungers and after that it is a wide stretch of totally empty white sand if you don’t mind to sit on a towel or similar.

The rooms were quite basic. There was air con and a fan and a decently comfortable bed. No tv. There is also free wifi, shower and a toilet, of course. Note that we lived in the “cheapest” standard rooms, which I think was a garden villa. Unfortunately I got a little bit sick day 2, so spent more time than I had hoped for in our tiny room.

Service wise it was pretty much all good. The staff spoke decent English (a few very good) and were all friendly. One weird thing to was that they refused to help us book a table at a restaurant in the nearby village “as they had their own restaurant”. That is a first for me, I mean it’s just weird to try to force guests to eat in your own restaurant by making it harder for them to reserve a table somewhere else. Of course we still went and ate there, and all the hotel got was some “bad will”.

Speaking of the hotel restaurant, there are actually three places where you can eat, or two, depending on how you count. In the lobby and main bar area you eat breakfast, and there two restaurants (or more menus) to choose from; a Western and an Asian.

Breakfast at the Sok San Beach Resort.

Food is on the expensive side, but not terribly. A main is around $10, a beer during happy hour (5-7) was half price meaning $1,25. Rice was usually an extra $2, but included in a few dishes. Food was reasonably good, but nothing spectacular.

Kampot crab rice.

Kuy Teav, rice noodle soup with prawns.

Okra with minced pork and oyster sauce. Probably my favourite dish in the restaurant.

In the nearby Sok San village, which is walkable from the hotel in maybe 5 minutes, you’ll find a couple of small restaurants, bars and shops.

We had dinner at Moon restaurant, situated on the beach, which served up quite delicious Thai and local food for approximately $5 per dish. Rice was included. 🙂

We also had dinner at Italian owned and managed “Eat, Pray, Love” where we had a really good gnocchi with ragù sauce, and an okay pizza. Quite expensive (from around $8 for a main), but nice setting in a stilted house, and friendly service. We managed to book through their Facebook page, they did not respond to email.

Part 2: Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville

To get us from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville in the south, from where the ferries to Koh Rong depart, we had booked tickets with Giant Ibis. I’ve done a bit of reading and they seemed to be the recommended company for bus travel in Cambodia. Although Raffles was just a short walk from their bus station (we did not know this when booking) they came and picked us up in a mini bus for I think $1 extra. The tickets where approximately $25 for the both of us for the entire trip Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville.

Onboard the bus was free wifi (worked so-so), we also got free water and some kind of pastry along the way. The bus wasn’t super clean, but not that bad either. The driving style on the two lane road between the two cities is quite death defying at some points, but the drivers (they had two taking turns) were good and drove well. There was also an English speaking host onboard that could help you get shuttle transport to and then tickets to the Koh Rong ferry.

We arrived Sihanoukville approximately 6,5 hours after departure (we had a ~30 minute lunch break along the way) and were not dropped of at a bus station which we had thought, but pretty much just roadside. We had emailed our hotel to come and pick us up (which they had confirmed) but no one was there, so we took an expensive tuk-tuk (waiting where the bus stop was) to where our hotel boat would leave.

Good to know is that Grab does not work in Sihanoukville as of writing (February 2020).

Part 1: Phnom Penh

The first four days of our trip was spent in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The three days after arrival we stayed at the semi-swanky but quite affordable Plantation Hotel. Their breakfast by the pool was really nice, and in general it was the pool area that made the hotel great. Rooms were only so-so.

In quite close proximity to The Plantation was both the Royal Palace (which require an entrance fee), the river, as well as Romdeng restaurant.

At Romdeng restaurant, which is run by Tree Alliance, an organisation that emply and train former street children and other marginalized young people in the hospitality industry, you can have Cambodian classics such as fish Amok, tarantula (yes the spider), or beef with red tree ants. Food is pretty good – a little bit pricey, but not terribly – and you’re contributing to a good cause.

In Phnom Penh we also took a food tour with Lost Plate that was pretty cool. Food and “unlimited beer” (or soft drinks) was included and they took you around town in tuk-tuks in which you were constantly handed new beers. It’s not a party tour per se, but there’s quite a bit of (voluntary) drinking involved. Food was not that spectacular, but the first stop where we tried Num Ban Chouk in a streetside restaurant was really nice. It was a fun tour but my hopes for the food part was a little bit higher.

Cambodian ‘bird nest’ prawns.

The last night in PP we splurged a bit and stayed for a night at Raffles Le Royal. It was a beautiful hotel, but we actually enjoyed the Plantation better, especially since it was a third of the price.

What was really nice though was the Elephant Bar were you could enjoy a Tamarind Sour, or a Femme Fatale, the latter crafted for Jaqueline Onassis, former Kennedy, during a visit in the 1960s. Both cocktails were great and they have a happy hour stretching until quite late which means half price cocktails.

Next stop: Koh Rong!