Sihanoukville / Cambodia



Sihanoukville / Kampong Som / Kompong Soum

As a booming industrial and touristic center with a deep-sea port, Sihanoukville (also: Kampong Som, Kompong Som, Kampong Soum; nickname: Snook) is the only Cambodian coastal city of significance. With a population between 200,000 and 250,000 inhabitants it's also one of the biggest cities of Cambodia.

The Lion Monument

Lion Roundabout in Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

The lion roundabout at the edge of Sihanoukville's city center. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

The place is situated in the southeast of Cambodia on the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. The touristic attraction lies mostly in a number of fine sand beaches close to the city, a couple of islands and a developed touristic infrastructure and facilities of many kinds.

Sihanoukville is as well a city as a province. The surroundings are coined by the sea and a larger number of smaller and bigger islands, and by a forested, hilly landscape, the foothills of the damrei (elephant) mountains. It reminds to the French mediterranean coast at the Côte d'Azur.



Allegedly Sihanoukville was already a seaside resort in the time of the French rule, although I personally didn't see any trace for that claim. In Kep, the other former seaside resort of the French, are the remains of a number of old colonial villas left. Kep became a seaside resort in 1917. However, both places compared, Sihanoukville is the potentially more attractive and versatile place. Therefore it's spoiled by business, tourism, criminality and development, while Kep is still a quiet place, good for relaxation. Sihanoukville's other name, Kampong Som or Kompong Som, is dating back to a time before the Cambodian independence.

The Old Times...

Sihanoukville's Past by Asienreisender

In the 1950s Sihanoukville's coastlines were coined by mangrove forests; a few fishermen families lived along the coasts and beaches. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

However, appart from this rumour, Sihanoukville's history reaches back only to the mid 1950s. After the independence, Cambodia's access to the open sea depended on the free passage along the Mekong River between Phnom Penh to the South China Sea. But that meant to pass over Vietnamese territory and included Vietnamese restrictions. To get an own seaport, in 1955 the construction of a deep sea port at Kampong Som begun.

The foundation of the small province and the new town happened then in 1960. The name was given after the then prime minister and prince Norodom Sihanouk.

The port was also in the focus in the American Vietnam War. After the (US-backed) coup d'etat against Sihanouk and the establishment of the American-friendly Lon Nol regime, American war supplies came into Cambodia over Sihanoukville's port.

At the end of the American Vietnam War there was a remarkable last military episode happening in Sihanoukville. An American freighter, the Mayaguez, got captured by the Khmer Rouge in May 1975. The US navy tried an invasion to rescue the crew. It became another disaster for the Americans; instead of freeing the hostages they lost fifteen marines and most of their helicopters. In revenge corporate America did what it can best - it bombed Sihanoukville's infrastructure. Seems to be it's basic qualification and the only thing they are really good in. Is there a problem? Well, let's bomb them! America appears too often like a dinosaur: big body, strong armor, little brain. Ironically, as it turned out later, the Khmer Rouge had set the crew of the Mayaguez free already on a Thai fishing boat before the bloody US intervention started.

Independence Hotel

Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

Architecture of the 1960s: the Independence Hotel. Once the best hotel in town, hosting guests like Jaqueline Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve, nowadays it has a lot of competition. An exclusive part of Independent Beach belongs to the hotel; though, it has the charme of a graveyard. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

In the four years rule of the Khmer Rouge the contact to the outer world ceased almost completely. Though, part of the imported weapons might have come over Sihanoukville's seaport.

In the years after Democratic Kampuchea it was a long, long way for recovery. Khmer Rouge guerilla was still fighting in the forests along the Cambodian coastline.

In 1998 there was a remarkable toxic-waste scandal. The Taiwanese company 'Formosa Plastics' deposed 3,000 tons of heavy-metal contamined waste ten kilometers outside of Sihanoukville. Five workers died while working in the action. In a reaction to that, several thousands of local inhabitants fled the surroundings. Considerable resistance from the people of Sihanoukville led to a removal of the waste in 1999.

Since the 1990s the city is developing, meanwhile in a considerable speed. Big building projects are undertaken and the touristic infrastructure is expanding massively. Sometimes local people who are residents and/or have businesses at attractive beach spots get dislogded by big investors who plan their business at the spot. Bulldozers appear one morning and create facts...



A Tourist Boom

A new Hotel in Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

There is since years an ongoing hotel and guesthouse boom in Sihanoukville. There is good accommodation for any budged. Here a new hotel building. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

A larger part of Sihanoukville's economy is based on tourism. An increasing number of tourists from other Asian countries, from Russia, Europe, Australia and America visit Sihanoukville as one of the central touristic destinations in Cambodia. The only two other touristic alternatives along the Cambodian coastline are Kep and Koh Kong. Apart from the visiting tourists a considerable number of ex-pats from various countries settled down in the city; they make either business or enjoy their monthly old-age pensions.

However, the tourist boom does the place not only good. Although it's certainly a crucial source of income for a great deal of small restaurant and bar owners, it's also attracting big investments. Together with the touristic party din, booze, drug abuse, prostitution and gambling dominate the scene. In fact, the touristic beaches give an ugly impression. Consumerism everywhere, and the only cheap thing here is alcohol. And accommodation. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses for all budgets. Sihanoukville is kind of a Cambodian Pattaya.


Mangrove Forests around Sihanoukville City by Asienreisender

The surroundings of the city give an impression how the whole place must have looked in the time before 1960 - dominated by mangrove forests. There were, of course, the sand beaches already. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

On weekdays and holidays, particularly the songkran holidays (here: Khmer New Year), many wealthy Cambodians from Phnom Penh spent time in Sihanoukville. The national road 4 becomes then more dangerous than ever.

Sihanoukville's beaches, let's say Serendipity and Occheutreal beaches, compared in April 2014 with a first visit in January 2007, the scene totally changed. A couple of years ago there was already much beachlife, but the buildings were simpler. Bamboo and wood construction changed to a lot of plastic and concret. It all looks much more artificial now as it did before, besides most of the places look a bit run-down.

The surroundings also became built-up - everywhere are new restaurants of international style like pizzerias or burger king-like fast-food restaurants, bars, bars and more bars, mini-supermarkets, souvenir shops and guesthouses.

It might look somewhat better on some of the many islands around, but of course they all are part of touristic Sihanoukville at the end.

Serendipity Beach

Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

Serendipity Beach a few years ago. Already busy and touristic, but now there is even more tourist activity. Image by Asienreisender, 1/2007

Snake House

The Animals of Snake House

Animals of Southeast Asia - A Choice of the Animals in Snake House, Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

A choice of the animals of Snake House: an owl (same kind seen on 4000 Islands), a mildly venomous Golden Tree Snake, a slow loris, a flying fox with a length of some 30cm, a Mangrove Cat Snake (mildly venomous as well), a very excited young cobra, a crocodile and another cobra. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2014

Very surprisingly, driving down Soviet Street from Victory Hill, there is a Russian restaurant left hand, called 'Snake House'. It's such an extraordinary place that it is worth to be mentioned in some detail.

Snake House is a restaurant which offers a variety of Russion food. The place is styled following a greenhouse concept. It's a quiet, open, very green place, coined by a very large aquarium in the middle and a great number of terrariums and cages with different Southeast Asian animals inside. The most of them are reptiles, but there are also mammals and birds. It's a green oasis in Sihanoukville which includes a larger spot and extends far behind the restaurant itself. In the back there are more cages and terrariums and a trench, filled with water in which quite some crocodiles are living. There are also fish, some birds of the jungle, a monkey, some slow loris' and different snakes, most of them poisonous cobras, vipers and kraits. Most of the cages are labelled with a plaque which gives the name and some basic information of the animal.

The whole place is clean and looks for beeing good cared for. And it's defenitely a lot of work to keep such a zoo up. Besides, the food in the restaurant is fine, so far I tried it. Russian cuisine has defenitely it's highlights.

Kbal Chhay Waterfall

One of Sihanoukville's recreation 'attractions' is Kbal Chhay Waterfall, a few kilometers east of town. Following the NH4, some 5km before Hun Sen Boulevard, a dirt road turns left into the green. Following this road a few kilometers, one reaches a large parking, where the fall is just behind. On half of the way there is the unavoidable ticket booth, where one has to pay money for nothing.

The waterfall itself is a bigger fall over a few cascades, the biggest of them about a few meters deep. Some pools, good for swashing, are there. Even in the driest time of the year the river carries some water. In rainy season it must be a powerfull spectacle. The sandstones here look, similar to Popokvil Waterfall on Bokor Mountain, neatly cut. Maybe the site served as a quarry in former times.

Coming from the parking, where the first foodstalls are placed, there is a rough wooden bridge over the river. On the other side the stream is paralleled by many more foodstalls. The bit food which is to buy here is heavily overprized and of no good quality. It's probably so that the stall owners have to pay extra permission for running their business here. Most of the places here sell drinks only. The Khmer visitors who come here usually in bigger groups bring their own food and leave their litter where they eat. Wooden shacks are for rent, most of them are equipped with hammocks. Here and there a loudspeaker cares for the necessary din. An overall impression is similar to the site of Teuk Chhou Rapids near Kampot, but Kbal Chhay Waterfall is defenitely much more impressive.

Kbal Chhay Waterfall

'Kbal Chhay Waterfall in Sihanoukville' by Asienreisender

Waterfall and quarry? Kbal Chhay Falls. For those who like it, they can have an organized hula-hula faked paradise experience with unforgettable photos. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 5/2015


'Same Same but Different' Bar, Restaurant and Guesthouse by Asienreisender

The 'Same Same But Different' bar, restaurant and guesthouse at Sihanoukville's Serendipity Beach. Image by Asienreisender, 2007

The security situation in Sihanoukville is not relaxed. Cambodia generally is a country in which criminality and violence play a considerable role, much more than in neighbouring Thailand. Sihanoukville seems to be a crystallization point of criminality. Booming business, gambling, drugs and prostitution attracts dubious people. Records about crimes against tourists alone are plenty in Sihanoukville. People, among them many tourists, get mugged and sometimes also killed. Not only a high number of websources speak for that. The travel guides already years ago informed about murders and security risks. Personally I have heared various hair-raising stories about violent robberies in Sihanoukville from victims.

Besides more serious, physically violent crimes one has to be aware of pickpockets and snatch-and-run thefts. Particularly at the beaches are belongins not safe if one does not have always a close eye on them. When swimming it's a must to have a guard for anything left at the beach.

On the motorbike it's too risky to put things in the front basket or having a bag loosely over the shoulder. Offenders sometimes snap it while passing by and risk or even enforce a dangerous accident for the victim.

The Gambling Passion

A Casino in Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

Another reason to visit Sihanoukville: gambling. And the casino always wins. Image by Asienreisender, 4/2014


Commerce and Industries

Besides tourism there are a number of factories producing in Sihanoukville. There is for example to mention the large Angkor brewery, where also Bayon beer and Pepsi Cola are bottled. Due to the boom of the place, real-estate speculation is good business here. Even textile industries settled down in the city.

The Angkor Brewery

Angkor Brewery in Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

'My Country, My Beer' - the slogan of the Angkor beer producer. A large brewery is located in Sihanoukville. The Angkor brewery is blamed to be an investor in the Don Sahong dam on the Mekong River at the 4000 Islands. Environmental groups therefore call for a boykot.

Images and composition by Asienreisender, 4/2014

A couple of years ago there was one casino in the place what attracted gamblers from further away. Many came from Thailand, where gambling is prohibited. Now there is a growing number of different casinos in the city.

Additionally Sihanoukville is home for the good, old fishing industries, some aquaculture, but also for mining and oil. There are offshore oil deposits along the Cambodian coastline around the place.

Smuggling certainly happens in a larger scale in exchange with the neighbouring countries Thailand and Malaysia, but certainly also with Indonesia and other countries around.

The Bus Station

Sihanoukville Bus Station by Asienreisender

This sad place is Sihanoukville's bus station. It's situated on a hilltop behind victory hill, seen from the city center. It seems that bus stations are intentionally neglected places. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

Sihanoukville is connected to the outer world by an in the last years upgraded infrastructure. The national road 4, maybe the most dangerous road in Cambodia, is part of the Asian Highway 11 and connects Sihanoukville with Phnom Penh. At a junction at Veal Rean the national road 3 to Kampot is branching off. To the north and west there is an upgraded road connection via Sre Ambel to Koh Kong and from there to Thailand. Since this road was so miserable in the recent past, there was a frequent boat service to Koh Kong, but after the improvement of the road connection the ferries lost importance and go infrequently now. It's to expect that they will cease service completely.

There is no inner-city public transport in Sihanoukville. One has to walk, to rent a bicycle, a motorbike or whatever, or depends on the local tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. There is a bus station in the northern part of the city. It is, as almost always nowadays, too far away from the city center. Modern city planning in Southeast Asia is very ambitious to make it bitter even for good walkers to avoid additional transport from/to the bus stations.

Sihanoukville Harbour

Sihanoukville Commercial Port by Asienreisender

Sihanoukville commercial port. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

The city center is concentrated near the 'Golden Lion Roundabout'. In the center is a big fresh market, banks and a lot of other business of different kinds. The roads are wide and there is a lot of traffic on them. Be aware of the fact that Cambodian drivers don't know any rules. 'I AM COMMING' is the only rule. Better drivers accompany their coming with a horn signal.

Sihanoukville is still, until the completition of the new port near Kampot, the only Cambodian city with a deep sea harbor. A great deal of the import and export of the country is running over the port here. Meanwhile the trade route the Mekong River upwards between the South China Sea to Phnom Penh is open again, so that Cambodia is no more exclusively depending on the Sihanoukville port in it's access to the sea. Though, the container terminal is of limited capacity, for the harbour basin is only eight meters deep, what is (far) not deep enough for the contemporary large container ships. Middle seized vessels can dock here.

Oil & Gas Depot

Oil and Gas Reservoirs at Sihanoukville by Asienreisender

The oil and gas reservoirs near the oil jetty, some kilometers northeast of Sihanoukville city. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

There is a particular pier for oil and gas a few kilometers northeast of the city. The road which leads along there, it's the 'Hun Sen Beach Drive', is also a much quieter and safer alternative to drive to Kampot or Sre Ambel. This road is also running parallel to the renewed railway line via Kampot to Phnom Penh. Sihanoukville's commercial port has a railway station which marks the endpoint (or starting-point) of the line.

Eighteen kilometers east of the city, directly behind the province border, lies Sihanoukville airport. It's a small airport with little traffic and seems to play no important role at the moment. It's in discussion to expand the airport for flights to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap (Angkor) and for visitors to Bokor Hill Station.

Power Plant

Sihanoukville's Power Plant Station by Asienreisender

Sihanoukville's brand new electric power plant. Image by Asienreisender, 4/2014


Ream National Park

At Sihanoukville Airport a smaller road splits to the south from national road 4. It's leading into Preah Sihanouk National Park, in short 'Ream National Park'. It has protection status under Cambodian law as a national park since 1993. The nature's diversity includes mangrove forests, lowland tropical rainforests, rivers and lakes, sand beaches and a considerable naval fauna and flora. Of the 210km2 park 60km2 are naval, including some islands. Parts of the park are coastal plains, others are slightly mountainous with hills up to 277m.

Jungle River seamed by Mangroves

'Mangrove Forest is seaming a river in Ream / Preah Sihanouk National Park' by Asienreisender

Mangrove Forest is seaming a river close to Prek Chak Beach. Image by Asienreisender, 12/2014

A number of rare species are living in the area, among them dugongs, dolphins, pelicans, bigger turtles and many more. The park has some touristic significance and is advertized particularly in nearby Sihanoukville town in hotels and tourist resorts who offer daytrips.

First thing I wondered about after entering the park was the brandnew petrol station one passes. Then I wondered about several heavy petrol trucks crossing my way; even more I wondered about a grand oil-petrol tank depot at the coast. How very flexible Cambodian laws can be.

Oil Port in Ream National Park

'Oil Port in Sihanoukville National Park' by Asienreisender

The oil port is certainly the reason why the road is paved. Petrol trucks frequently go in and out.

Image by Asienreisender, 12/2014

A few hundred meters behind the oil port comes a bigger naval base of the Cambodian navy - Ream Naval Base. From the slopes of the mountains behind one can see battleships in the port.

Ream Naval Base

'Masonry representing the Cambodian navy at Ream Naval Base' by Asienreisender

Three of these large masonries are decorating the entrance to Ream Naval Base. Typically for any army and any nationalism in the world, it refers to the 'grand' old times - here the ancient Angkorian empire. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

Turning left at the naval base one approaches a bombastic, not yet fully completed buddhist temple at the slope of a mountain. Much donation money has been poured into the temple's construction, what meanes more harm for the forest. An as well brandnew concrete road leads further up the hill. After some 200m there follow some buildings I couldn't approach, for the road was blocked by an adventurous looking thug who waved his machete to signal me not to approach any further. It seems part of a military base.

Following the paved road further east parallel to the coastline one passes a larger area where logging happens. A greater area has been cleared already from the tropical rainforests. It gives a sad impression.

Following the dirt track further east requires some driving skills - the ground is sandy and the rear tyre tends to slip aside. After a while one enters the jungle. A few abandoned shacks follow, one of the park's rivers is to cross over an instable looking wooden bridge. The river is framed by mangrove forest. It's not Prek Teuk Sap (river), which lies further east. Reaching Prek Chak Beach makes one crossing a larger plain, before crossing another small river over another instable looking wood bridge and entering forest again. At the next slope and up on a ridge there is another building site, a new resort with a number of wooden bungalows and a restaurant under construction.


'Beach in Ream / Preah Sihanouk National Park' by Asienreisender

A narrow beach in the western part of the national park, seamed by casuarina trees. That's the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. It's planned to built a new road along the coastline to link access to Sihanoukville city. Image by Asienreisender, 2014

For me there is not anyhow to see that Ream National Park is anyhow under protection or different from other areas with the usual rampant building activities.

It's also possible to follow a dirt road to the western direction along the coastline. Soon one passes a bigger metal bridge which separates the sea bay from Boeng Thom Angkep lake. There is another settlement which stretches slumlike along the southern lake's shores. The dirt road then leads through a casuarina forest (Asian pine trees) which grows until close to the water, just giving space for a narrow stretch of white sand beach.

There are estimated 26,000 - 30,000 people living in the park in a few impoverished villages. They live mostly from fishing and from the surrounding forests. Considering the populations size and growth, it doesn't look sustainable. However, the greatest and apparently lethal threat for the nature is not coming from the poor but, again, from the rich. Cambodian law guarantees protection, but it's frequently weakened by exceptions over exceptions for the grand tycoons. That makes it, after all, worthless. If there is no exception given by the corrupt government, the logging happens illegal.

I would, by the way, bet on that illegal hunting happens as well.

A Settlement in the National Park

'A Settlement in Preah Sihanouk / Ream National Park in Sihanoukville' by Asienreisender

A slum in the national park at the shores of Boeng Thom Angkep lake. There are several of this kind and, next to the naval base, a village. Here and there is a restaurant open for the occasionally arriving tourists. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2014, 2015

The naval side does not look any better. Not only the existence of the naval base is a heavy impact. The military proofs itself again as useless, to say the least, where they could at least do a good job: protecting the remaining nature. Big trawlers operate in the closeby waters, using push-nets and destroying the fish grounds. The time of a sustainable subsistence economy is over in Ream National Park.

Preah Sihanouk / Ream National Park

'Logging in Preah Sihanouk / Ream National Park in Sihanoukville' by Asienreisender

The state of the affair in Sihanoukville's national park - a sad picture of the destruction of the nature for the profit-hungry tycoons.

Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2014, 2015

The part of the national park north of Kaoh Thmei Island is separated from the bigger part of the park in the west by a bay. There is one dirt road turning from NH4 to to the coast, passing the two bigger villages of Boeng Ta Prum and Ou Chrov. At the very end of the road lies a coastal village in the mangrove forests. This road borders the park to the east - further east stretch bare plains, formerly overgrown with mangroves but now all cut and used mostly for agriculture.

A few other, smaller dirt roads turn west into the inner park. Everywhere are more villages, artificial canals, new dirt roads and another of these bombastic buddhist temples (in this case labelled as a 'meditation center'). Urbanization is creeping into the nature, and a rapidly growing population is living from the shrinking forests.

Ream National Park, East Coast

'Photocomposition Ream National Park | Sihanoukville' by Asienreisender

A fishing village in the easter part of the national park. It's low tide; also the third photo shows merely mud with a few centimeters of water above. Usually the tides make no big difference on the coasts here.

All the numerous villages here grow and grow, the buildings advance more and more into the green. There seems to be no control maintained. Nature protection exists on paper, only.

The small image bottom left shows a canal in the park. Parallel runs a dirt road and everywhere hamlets sprawl out.

Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 5/2015


North of Sihanoukville

Inside a Rubber Plantation

'Inside a Rubber Plantation - Rubber Worker's Dewlling' by Asienreisender

Here and there are simple dwellings for the plantation workers and their families. The workers have frequently to go out inmiddle of the night for harvesting. The shacks are usually built of the most simple materials, mainly corrugated iron. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 4/2015

There is a paved road north of Sihanoukville which parallels more or less the railway track until it meets the NH4 shortly north of Veal Rehn. This road is mostly used by petrol trucks who bring petrol to Phnom Penh. It carves through a hilly landscape, where the plains are already deforested and now overgrown with savannah, while the mountains are still covered with rainforest.

At a certain point the 'Hun Sen Keo Phos Road', a new dirt road, splits up and leads to the north. It looks like a former logger's road; the beginning of it is in a very bad state, but improves after a short distance. Here the landscapes, who were a few years ago all overgrown with tropical rainforest, are now transformed into big monocultures of mostly rubber plantations and, to a smaller part, palmoil plantations. All the rubber trees are small and young, what shows that the plantations are also merely a few years old. In the dry season any bypassing vehicle causes a huge dust cloud; in rainy season there will be a tremendous slippery on this road and one has to drive slow and cautious.

Rubber Monocultures

'Rubber Plantation in Northern Sihanoukville Province' by Asienreisender

Rubber (caoutchouc) is an essential product for the modern industries. In almost anything we use, rubber is a (mostly hidden) part of it. However, the industries produce for profit only, and so a huge amount of waste is made for quick consumption. The short-living products then quickly end up as rubbish.

Image by Asienreisender, April/2015

After some kilometers on this mostly straigh and broad dirt road it joins a paved road at a t-junction. This one connects the NH4 with a small and rather new industrial port. It's Oknha Mong Port City, another dirty and ugly place. It's already Koh Kong Province here.

Oknha Mong Port City

'Oknha Mong Port City' by Asienreisender

A small industrial port at the coast of the Gulf of Siam. A settlement is growing up here as well, providing houses for the workers. The buildings above were all empty, though. Directly at the coast are two resort-like places, a hospital and kind of an administration building. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 4/2015


'A Path leading through the Savannah' by Asienreisender

A path, leading through the savannah. Image by Asienreisender, 4/2015

From Oknha Mong a road leads over the bridge of a smaller river towards north-northwest. Looking for a connection to Sre Ambel I followed a dirt road which became, after kilometers, smaller and smaller and ended inmiddle of nowhere. Another trial led me again into the dense green, following a small path now which cut through the savannah, crossed several adventurous looking tiny bridges who consisted of merely a wooden plank or two. Right hand a hill chain runs parallel. The plains here are also partially transformed into rubber plantations, only the hills are still forested. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the remaining forests have been poached heavily so that many species are extinct already. The valuable trees have been cut also, those who bring some thousand dollars on the market.

After an adventurous trail and a last crossing over a stream the path joined a wider dirt road. This one lead then eastwards to the NH4. Actually I was on the search for a connection to Sre Ambel. But without a usuable map and little orientation in the green I failed to find the last connection.

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Published on April 25th, 2014

172 | Sihanoukville

Last update on May 11th, 2015