As a “mountains” child to my very core, I didn’t plan on stopping by the beach in either Cambodia or Thailand. Crazy, I know, but my heart was pulling me towards the local villages and away from the party scene that tends to accumulate on the beaches. However, I was spending New Year’s Eve in Cambodia, and the holiday called for a change of plans.
Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs), like my guide Roger, spend a majority of their volunteer time isolated in their separate villages. So the opportunity for a bunch of them to gather in one area for the weekend was a special occasion, and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to meet and learn from more of the volunteers. It was decided that we would join ~20 of the Cambodia volunteers in Sihanoukville to bring in 2016.
Sihanoukville is pretty much the only reputable beach town in Cambodia, and backpackers tend to flock to the coast for events such as New Year’s Eve. Every hostel in the area was refusing to allow reservations, and raising the prices of their rooms significantly. A few PCVs arrived in the town early and were able to book an entire hostel dorm for 12 of us (only $2 per person per night), which was a life saver. The downside was that this was the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed in. The “beds” were foam pads, there was no security, no outlets, and the whole place was totally dirty. Of course the whole place was somehow STILL an upgrade from the housing of some volunteers so I felt too privileged to whine too much…
Sihanoukville has multiple beaches, accommodating the different types of travel. One beach, Serendipity, offers backpacker’s sketchy bar shacks lining the beach, western food options, and wild nights. The other beach, Otres, is serene and beautiful. We stayed on the “wild side” but if I were to go back to Sihanoukville, I would prefer to stay at Otres.
For New Year’s Eve, the PCVs packed in to two of the iconic green boats (pictured above) with bags of beer and vodka and floated out into the gulf as the sun set. It was a great time, we laughed and drank and jumped into the water. As the sky grew dark, we were delighted to see phytoplankton light up like stars in the water. Back on the beach the nightlife was in full swing. I insisted on lighting a lantern as my tribute to the new year, and waded into the ocean before letting it rise into the sky.
Our little party weekend was a fun way to celebrate 2016, and I really enjoyed getting to hear the unique stories from all of the PCVs. Every one of them was so welcoming and kind, I felt like I was part of the group. I’m so inspired by the work they do in Cambodia, and truly hope to reach a point where I feel like I am making a difference in my own way.
Why go to Sihanoukville?
If you’re not planning a trip to Thailand, Sihanoukville is an awesome way to squeeze some beach time into your Cambodia trip. If you like to party, you will love Serendipity, and if you just want to relax and read, you will love Otres. If you have extra time, there are boat tours to the islands off the coast, snorkeling included. Sihanoukville isn’t going to win any rewards as a beautiful, developed town… but it is definitely charming in it’s own Cambodian way.