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I spent 20 years punching a time clock... then decided there had to be another way. Right now I'm sitting in a comfortable chair on a beautiful beach. There's a sweet, soft breeze in the air. In front of me, on the clear blue water, a boat drifts by. Maybe I'll go snorkeling this afternoon, or work on my tan. This is my kind of tropical paradise... cheap and unspoiled!
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Beach Towns -Sihanoukville    

By Ken Silver About Asia
4313 Views | 2 Comments | 1/19/2011 6:44:52 AM

There are three rules for beach towns here in tropical Asia. The first one is simple. Memorize it now, please. Don’t drown.

The second rule is that, while there is no resisting the pull of the beach, it’s worth it to take some time to explore the rest of the town. For one thing, prices will be lower the further you are from the actual water.

So…while in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, don’t let the dirt roads and shanty town atmosphere of a good part of the city dissuade you from looking around. Dead chickens, - their bacteria marinating in the hot Cambodian sun - cooked and hanging by the head for sale; motorcycles being refueled at “gas stations” whose pumps are soda bottles; lots of simply dressed people just hanging out and watching you…that look is Cambodia. Everyday life to the Cambodians, and really, it all functions well enough . You might eat from a clean looking, busy street stall here, and congratulate yourself for ‘going native’. Definitely try some of the Khmer coffee.

Well, enough of the messy part of town. Lets hit the beach!

No wait…there is another section to this spread out, pleasant, large town…the section that holds the restaurants and cafes and guesthouses and proper bars which provide the necessities of life to the foreign travelers and “backpackers” who come here. This section has decent prices and the visual high standards of cooking and housekeeping hygiene travelers demand..

O.K., enough of this low budget - yet another - tourist ghetto stretch of streets - lets’ hit the beach!

And there are five or more of them, depending on who is counting.

The one down the small hill from the tourist shops is Serendipity. A pleasant long stretch of sand, filled - of course - with open air restaurants that might well be clones of each other. Great $3 fish barbecues. There are hotels on the beach in the $15 to $50 penthouse range. If you are just staying in town for a few days, a room with a sea view balcony might be worth it.

The water is clean and swim able here, though few bother. Perhaps it’s because they are either drunk or nursing a hangover from the beach party last night. One “light in darkness” truth over here is that everybody serves an honest shot of alcohol in their cocktails
The other beaches - some are actually quiet, others gobbled up by hotel empires. Dressed neatly, you can tour even the corporate stretches of white sand.

Mostly, as far as water sports go, travelers take the boat tour out to the islands, where they snorkel the warm clear water. Good reefs for that, and for diving. You can do overnights on the islands, whatever your taste for adventure. Islands, I say? Yes, three main ones in sight and more further out to sea. Sea view balconies in town are definitely worth it.

Sihanoukville might be the Holy Grail for ordinary sea coast travelers. Scuba divers will accept a town with at least 4 bars and only one restaurant as long as the scenery and finny inhabitants of the “underwater towns” are spectacular enough. Rich folks like secured islands, a resort of their own, and extensive chauffeured shopping experiences.

Ordinary, seashell in pockets type of guys like me, we want a mellow series of beaches, good swimming, and enough of a town to keep one interested. That’s spelled Sihanoukville.

And now we come to the third rule of southeast Asian beach towns.

See them soon, before development money tsunamis’ them away into just one more big tourist trap city by the sea.

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#2011-01-20 14:21:54 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Ken, I'd guess from your warning about getting there quickly before it's just another tourist trap that you see Sihanoukville already showing signs of a coming onslaught of resorts, 5 star hotels, etc. Without holding you liable for it, care to make a guess as to how long it will take for this community in Cambodia to start to resemble its northern neighbour, Pattaya, which you've already covered?

#2011-01-28 21:40:49 by twilightsmith @twilightsmith

Well, maybe it won't happen. I was looking at a Cambodia "weekend" news article about Sihanoukville which said it could go either way. So echoed a long term Australian resident here. Negatives -beaches aren't outstanding, like say Bali. The unsettling thing is the town plumbing needs 90% more to deal with waste dispersal. If it does happen, I think it will be a hotel by hotel growth, then maybe taking off if airlines start routes here.
Watch for a horse named "Philippines" to win this one by a combination of great beaches, English speakers, and cheap labor.

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