When my two-month stint of being a yoga teacher (English teacher, computer whiz, receptionist) finally came to an end I decided it was time for a visit to the beaches. I spent two months listening to travelers either rave or complain about the enigma that is Sihanoukville, seedy overrun tourist town or outlet to gorgeous beaches, diving and paradise - that was up to each traveler to decide. Having bypassed the area completely on my last visit to the country I decided I should at least pay a visit and attempt to answer this question for myself.
Having committed to a meditation retreat in the hills of Chiang Mai I had a little less than two weeks to spare, including my promised return visit to my friends in Battambang. I chose to make a compromise and spent a long weekend in Otres, bypassing the congested city but also forgoing a trip out to the islands. I received a few recommendations from travelers for Hacienda, located in Otres village, so I decided to give it a try - their promotion of $3 dorm beds with repeated nights stays free sounded too good to be true.
A major downfall to staying at Otres is the $7 you have to shell out to a tuk-tuk driver to get you there, but based on the brief intro I got to Sihanoukville on the drive through town I was happy to pay it. My driver mumbled something about a big 'jungle party' and asked if that's why I was in town but I had no idea what he was talking about, soon after my arrival though I found out. Turns out Thursday nights in Otres are for one thing and one thing only, the Kerfuffle, a huge party on the beach full of acid dropping, high as kites, drunk in love hippies, so in other words, somewhere I'd never find myself. Thankfully the crowd at Hacienda was non-judgmental when I admitted that no, I would not be going, but it was entertaining observing them all prepare for the night - which I could do before going to bed as the party "really starts at midnight".
Although I heard the "you have to go at least once" reasoning a few times, I experienced 0% FOMO and was elated to start my day with a run rather than an I'm still drunk stumble back to the dorm. I followed my run with yoga on the beach, cheap breakfast and hours sunbathing/reading before another night of entertainment at Hacienda. It seemed everyone was too hungover to make it out for another night of fun, so card games and a few beers would have to suffice. Although I was 100% out of my element with these people they were nonetheless a great form of entertainment for my two-day stint in the village. Although the price of "free" on my dorm bed was enticing I decided to make the move the next morning to a beautiful bungalow on the beach, putting a dent in my wallet yes, but also warming my soul.
Shanti bungalows is one of those places I'd usually admire but chose to pass by upon hearing the price, finally though I took a night to spoil myself, time for a little indulgence. Settled into my beachfront, open-air, treehouse bungalow I knew I had made the right decision. There were no dreadlocks, hangovers or welcome Jager shots in sight, this place was simple, beautiful and perfect for me. I spent my time reading, yoga-ing, walking the water's edge, eating and breathing - no seriously this was one of those places that reminded you sometimes it's okay (and smart) to just sit and breath, soak it all in.
Having visited for only 3 days and bypassing both Sihanoukville and the Islands I don't feel qualified to make a definitive vote on the "worth it?" question. My few days in Otres could not have provided more of a contrast had I tried, from the blissed-out hippies in the village to the serenity I found on the beach, both provided me with great memories. My short visit just goes to show that this is a place of uniqueness, offering something for every traveling type. So, just as I had to do, it's probably best for you to pay it a visit yourself.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.