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For more background on Sihanoukville (‘Snooky’), please read this.
I wanted to find a ‘decent’ beach location and also get out to at least one unspoilt island.
To that end, I picked on Koh Ta Kiev as my first target island. I was advised in Kampot not to try and get there in 1 day but to stay at least 1 night in Otres Beach (where you catch the ferry to the island).
The plan had come together nicely… I will go from Kampot directly to Otres 2. Depending on what I find in Otres 2, I will stay 2-3 weeks there before leaving for Koh Ta Kiev.
There was an added benefit – this gave me more time to talk to people about where best to go on Koh Ta Kiev.
I travelled from Kampot to Snooky in a minibus. The cost was US$5, the minibus left at 11am, and the journey took 2 hours.
If your bus takes you to Snooky Bus Station, it is several kms out from the centre of town and the local ‘Tuk Tuk Mafia’ have prices well under control and non-negotiable… you pay 2x to 3x more than what you should do.
We were lucky because our minibus stopped in Serendipity Beach. From downtown Serendipity to Otres 2 you should, normally, be able to negotiate a moto taxi for around $3 and a bit more for a tuk tuk. Do not pay more than $5. I negotiated $5. The Tuk Tuk ride took about 15-20 minutes.
For general information about prices, travel money, SIMcards, Visa Extensions, etc please read my post on Siem Reap.
Travellers planning to head to islands nearby can book directly from Otres and shuttles will take them to the appropriate piers. Boats leave for Koh Ta Kiev directly from Otres 1 (and, sometimes, Otres 2) and boats to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem leave from Snooky.
WHERE TO STAY:
While still one of the least developed parts of Snooky, Otres Beach is developing quickly. You can choose from cheap thatched beach bungalows to more well-appointed bungalows on the other side of the beachfront road.
Otres 1 has accommodation stretching for just over 1km – from the northernmost part of the Beach going south.
Otres 2 has accommodation stretching for about 600 metres – from the river estuary at the southernmost part of the Beach going north.
Soon it will look like some of the beaches found in Southern Thailand. Currently, it is sitting empty and unkept.
Both Otres 1 and Otres 2 offer cheap backpacker bungalows intermixed with the occasional mid-range hotel complex.
Otres 1 vs Otres 2:
Otres 2 is more laid back than Otres 1. Otres 2 is more compact than Otres 1 and has more of a community vibe.
In Low Season the differences between Otres 1 and Otres 2 are much less marked. Those people who would normally be drawn to Otres 2 may find Otres 1 more than acceptable.
This is the more ‘hippy’ and ‘party’ area of Otres 2 where they have all night techno ‘jungle parties’ until 8am (which are so loud you can hear them on the beach). There have been a lot of complaints from the locals, so they are starting to ‘tone it down’ but the ‘hippy vibe’ remains.
They also run a night market at the weekends.
There are plenty of guesthouses and, unless you’re coming in peak season, it’s easy to just show up and find a place.
My investigations are focused on Otres 2.
All of the seafront Otres 2 properties stretch about 600 meters up the beach from the rivermouth to the end of Marina Road. No further.
Some maps have the Guesthouses going 2-3 times further than that (sometimes past the road that goes at right-angles from the beach up to places like the Moonflower Bungalows. This is not the case.
I did my normal ploy and booked 1 night online in advance at Mary Beach Bungalows (a standard bungalow was discounted from $35 to $25).
Many Guesthouses listed in online websites were starting to offer discounts.
I walked up and down the Otres 2 beachfront and popped in to almost every Guesthouse. Places like Ren, Tamu and Sahaa were too expensive for a GRANDPAcking budget.
Other places were too ‘basic’ and/or only had shared bathroom facilities (which eliminates them as GRANDPAcker accommodation).
Other places were just a joke. One was Otres Marina that said that it was discounting its better bungalows from US$45 / night down to $18. I nearly booked my first night there but ended up at Mary’s. I’m glad that I did, I had a look at the property and it was nothing special… and, if they think that their bungalows are worth $45 then they are mad.
The best GRANDPAcking value for money accommodation was:
- Elephant Garden Resort: Palm Hut with Double, aircon, hot water ensuite, and in-room wifi $20. Or, a traditional ‘raised’ hut with the same facilities $25
- White Beach Bungalows: Hut with Double, fan, hot water ensuite, and in-room wifi $15
- Harmony Home: Poolside Hut with Double, aircon, hot water ensuite, and in-room wifi $25
- Otres Beach Resort: Hut with Double, aircon, hot water ensuite, in-room wifi and breakfast $20
- Footprints: Room with Double, Fan, hot water ensuite, in-room wifi $10 or $15 – after extra discounts because they were undergoing renovations which made the place noisy during the day
- Mary Beach Bungalows: Round Stone Hut with Double, aircon, hot water ensuite, in-room wifi, cable TV, daily maid service, free in-room bottles of water, free toiletries, free snacks, and free buffet breakfast $25. The breakfast alone was normally $6
All of these prices were their ‘initial’ prices BEFORE final price negotiations.
Mary’s offered me a ‘Round Hut’ built of stone with a thatched roof that was only 20m from the beach. I negotiated Mary’s down to US$22.50 / night for a 2 week stay. Not much, but every bit helps… I assume that the Owner just discounted me the 10% that he would have had to pay the online booking site…
My day normally consists of me working from breakfast until lunchtime, investigating during the rest of the day, working again late pm and into the evening, then investigating further at night (ready to write things up again the next morning).
My only complaint about Mary’s is that the WiFi was, generally, too slow. This may have been a general problem and may not have just been a problem at Mary’s.
The 7am-10am free buffet breakfast was ideal for me as I could sit and work with free juice and coffee after breakfast until 10am. Also, it was a bigger breakfast than I am used to, so I found that I only needed a light Lunch and a light Dinner in the evening.
So, at Mary’s, my average daily costs were: US$22.50 for accommodation plus a US$4 Lunch (without refreshments), a US$5 Dinner (without refreshments) and about $4 for my draft beers (US$35.50).
All transport options are over-priced.
A Tuk Tuk from Otres 2 to town will cost you a minimum of US$5 each way (about 15-20 mins). If you want to make the trip when (a) they know that you don’t have many options or (2) it is after dark… you can expect to pay 2x that. If it is after 11pm, expect to pay 3x that.
Scooter rental is US$7 / day which is almost twice what you can get it for in Kampot and elsewhere in S.E. Asia.
Bicycles are US$4 / day which is 4x what you pay in Kampot and Siem Reap for a ‘basket bike’ and 2x what you pay for a ‘geared bike’.
WHERE TO EAT:
Compare the ‘typical’ US$3 meal from Siem Reap (left) with the US$7.50 meal in Mary’s Restaurant (right).
The average Breakfast will cost you US$3.50. The average Lunch will cost you US$4.50. The average Dinner will cost you US$5.50. The average fresh juice / fruit shake will cost you US$1.50.
In Otres 2, you get a lot more ‘beach ladies’ in high season. This is the food that ladies sell walking up and down the beach. Here is what you can buy:
- Various fruit for $1 each
- Langoustines for $1 each
- Spring rolls (fresh or fried or a mix of both) 5 for $1
- Fresh grilled squid 5 for $1
Sometimes behind the beach on the street are food carts catering to construction workers and local staff. Here you can order some basic Khmer dishes like baguette sandwiches, rice soup, and fried noodles. But, you see more in Otres 1 than you do in Otres 2.
Footprints is one of the budget, backpacker Guesthouses and one of the few places that have Dorms. It’s menu, therefore, tends to be one of the cheapest in Otres 2. An overview of their menu is:
- 2 Fried Eggs with Baguette $2.50
- Typical breakfast $2.50-3.50; Full English $4.50
- Average Khmer main $3.75
- Average Western main $5
- Average salad $4
- Happy Hour draft beer 50c
- Average Cocktail $3.50 (‘2 for 1’ in Happy Hour)
The average price of a burger (with French fries) is US$5.00. An average main meal is $5.50. An average pizza is $7.50.
The food is better quality than Footprints.
What The Expats Say:
Sam’s does the best value local cuisine.
WHERE TO DRINK:
At Otres 2 it is about having a few enjoyable beers in any one of the chilled bars.
One bar will have a Happy Hour from, say, 4pm to 7pm. Another from 6pm to 8pm. Another from 8pm to 10pm… you can just wander between Happy Hours and get ‘very happy’ for less than US$4 (if you want to).
Many of the bars were quiet when I was there. One of my favourites was the ‘boat bar’ on the beach at Otres Beach Resort.
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
Be careful! Cambodia is barely recovering from three decades of war, poverty is desperate and there’s a pretty chronic drug scene among Snooky local youth.
The poorer Cambodians cannot afford Snooky prices, so they have migrated out from the centre of town to places like Otres Beach. There are many locals living a very poor existence just a short distance from the Tourist areas.
Be careful with your goods along the waterfront where Guesthouses find it difficult to control passing local ‘foot traffic’ along the ‘public’ beach.
It is safer back from the beach on the other side of the beachfront road. These properties sit on Private Land, they are usually fully fenced, have staff watching who comes in and out, and the local youth cannot just walk in and out as they choose to.
There have also been instances of Tuk Tuk drivers demanding extra money and turning on their customers when they refuse to pay… before you know it, the Tuk Tuk driver has a few ‘local thugs’ helping him out to beat you up. NEVER get into an argument with a Snooky local and especially not a Tuk Tuk driver – walk away.
If you are a single female, it is NOT advisable for you to walk (a) between Otres 1 and 2 or (b) between Otres 2 and Otres 3 (c) from Otres Beach to Otres Village after nightfall. Incidents are rare but caution is advised.
Otres Beach’s hawkers are friendlier and less aggressive than those in Snooky. While you will get offers of massages, pedicures, manicures, bracelets, sunglasses and food, for the most part a simple smile and “aw-tay aw-kun” (no thank you in Khmer) will suffice in letting them know you are not interested.
If you walk along Otres Beach you will walk through plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic bottle tops, plastic cups, plastic bowls, buoys, fishing line, etc… BUT (much more dangerously) broken glass, glass bottles, light bulbs, fishing hooks, etc.
You are advised to wear footwear when walking the beach… it is just a matter of time before you step on something nasty.
Some of the beachfront Guesthouses clean up their frontage each day.
BUT, when you go swimming, expect to hit the odd floating plastic bag.
IT IS SUCH A SHAME!
You hear horror stories from people coming back from islands like Koh Rong after spending every day being eaten alive by sandflies.
It is natural to be concerned about whether or not such problems extend back to the mainland beaches.
There are sandflies on the mainland beaches but NOT AS BAD as on the islands. Many of the Otres 2 beachfront resorts rake their sand several times each day; this constantly ‘disrupts’ the sandfly’s ability to establish a ‘home’ and keeps them well under control.
There is a ‘strong’ drug scene around Snooky; including ‘hard’ drugs.
In places like Otres Beach, marijuana is the norm and it is common to see youngsters smoking it openly in the backpacker Guesthouses.
With a 6 inch long ‘thai stick’ of heads available for US$1… you get a specific type of tourist turning up – people more focused on getting ‘off their faces’ than caring about where they are doing it. I am told that the ‘normal’ price for good quality marijuana is US$1.00-1.50 per gram (depending on the volume being bought).
Tuk Tuk Day Trip:
Talk to one of the local Tuk Tuk drivers. You should be able to organise an 8 hour day trip (of about 60kms) to see the sights around Snooky for about US$20-25.
Walk Otres Beach:
Otres Beach is about 3.5kms long so it takes under 1½ to walk the full length of it and back again. Walk the beach at sunset for a bit of exercise before hitting the Happy Hours.
Walk to Otres 3:
If you’re adventurous, this beach appears to last forever, one small bay flanked with rocks after another. Watching the fishermen at sunset beyond the first cove is magical. Ideally I’d recommend going with another person as there were some scary feral dogs.
Do an Otres Boat Club Adventure Trip:
Pop down to the Otres Boat Club (OBC) at Otres Beach Resort. There, you will find Hobicats and Kayak on the beachfront. From OBC you can:
- Kayak Otres Island at Sunset: Rent a kayak at Otres Beach Resort for 2 hours (US$4/hr). About 1.5 hours before sunset, paddle out to the seaward side of Otres Island (1 hour). Park up in one of the rocky bays and watch sunset. Paddle back to OBC before it gets dark.
- Kayak Otres River: Rent a kayak at Otres Beach Resort for 2 hours (US$4/hr). Paddle the 500m to the rivermouth. Paddle upstream thrugh Otres Village to the new bridge. Stop for refreshments at any one of the guesthouses on the way. Return downstream and back to OBC.
- Dirt Bike Circuit: Rent a scooter at Otres Beach Resort (BUT, preferably, a dirt bike) and do the 1-day Dirt Bike Circuit that takes in Prek Treng Beach, the Waterfalls, and Moat Peam river.
- Hobicat Deer Island: If the wind is right, get a group of 4 together and take a Hobicat (US$12hr) around Deer Island from Otres Beach Resort.
Watch the Sunrise and Sunset:
Otres has some beautiful sunsets: Another Sunset Video.
Swim with plankton:
Otres beach and the neighboring islands are blessed with phosphorescent plankton. Go for a night swim to see the sea light up like stars, just be sure to keep all of your belongings safe.
US$22.50 / night at Mary’s is up there with the highest that I have paid for any accommodation anywhere in S.E. Asia. So, I thought that it might be interesting to do some comparisons…
Otres vs Gili Air:
In Gili Air, I had a Bamboo Beach Bungalow set back about 30m from the beach which cost me US$23.50 / night. That price included a very basic breakfast (not as good as Mary’s buffet breakfast). However, it did NOT include in-room WiFi, stable electricity, Cable TV nor a hot water shower. Mary’s wins.
A typical Lunch (with refreshments) in Gili Air costs about US$4. A draw.
A typical Dinner (with refreshments) in Gili Air costs about US$6. A draw.
A typical Large Bottle of Beer on Gili Air costs about US$2.75. In Otres Beach there is always someone having a Happy Hour between 4pm and 10pm… so, for $2.75 you can get 5.5 glasses of draft beer (about twice as much as you can get on Gili Air). Otres wins.
Gili Air has a water pollution / sanitation problem and water-bound garbage. Otres only has water-bound garbage. Otres wins.
Nevertheless, I felt a bit disappointed with the value for money that I got on Otres for food. I was surprised to find that the cost was on a par with what I paid back in Gili Air. But at that cost, the Gili Air food was far superior.
Otres vs Langkawi:
In Langkawi, I had a Chalet set back about 200m from the beach which cost me US$20 / night (in High Season). That price did NOT include breakfast nor Cable TV (but I did have local TV and a mini fridge).
A ‘simple’ Eggs on Toast breakfast with coffee and water each morning costs about US$3. Mary’s wins.
A typical Lunch in Langkawi costs about US$3.50. A draw.
A typical Happy Hour Draft Beer in Langkawi costs about US$1.10… vs 50c in an Otres Happy Hour. Otres wins.
Langkawi has clean water and no water-bound garbage; but, it does have a jellyfish problem. Otres has water-bound garbage (and a Jellyfish problem?). Langkawi wins.
Otres vs Koh Phayam:
In Aow Yai Beach on Koh Phayam, I had a Bungalow set back about 20m from the beach which cost me US$16 / night (in High Season) with fan and cold water ensuite. That price did NOT include breakfast, nor Cable TV, nor aircon.
A ‘simple’ Eggs on Toast breakfast with coffee and water each morning costs about US$3. Mary’s wins.
A typical Lunch costs about US$2. Koh Phayam wins.
A typical Dinner costs about US$3. Koh Phayam wins.
Drug Scene: The ‘pot smoking’ scene is heavier and a lot more open in Otres.
Harassment: There is no hawking at all on Koh Phayam; there is only a little bit of hawking on Otres.
Communications: You don’t get good WiFi in either location; much of the time, you need your own Mobile Data Plan in both.
The Beach: Otres Beach and Aow Yai Beach are both about 3kms long. Both have accommodation at each end with open land in the middle. Otres is much more developed though – I would say about 4x more. Aow Yai is a much nicer beach than Otres. Aow Yai Beach is clear of rubbish; Otres Beach has a rubbish problem. Aow Yai has sea lice; Otres does not. Both get Jellyfish.
There are 2 main exceptions (1) alcohol on Koh Phayam is 50% more expensive than on Otres and (2) Thai Mobile Data Plans are about 3x more expensive than Cambodian ones.
Neither Otres nor Koh Phayam are suitable GRANDPAcking retirement locations. However, both are worth short term visits. In my opinion, Koh Phayam offers a nicer overall package.
WHEN TO GO:
Peak Season is November through April.
Monsoon Season is August through October.
However, most of the bad rain seems to miss the waterfront and, when the rain does come, it may only rain for 1 hour each day and fine up again.
On that basis, you can come to Otres Beach all year round with May through October as being the cheapest time to come (if you don’t mind the odd day of rain).
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