There’s a great choice of beaches in and around Sihanoukville; indeed at a stretch you could visit a different beach every day for a week. Ochheuteal and Serendipity are incredibly popular and have toilets, showers, beach umbrellas and restaurants that put on fantastic nightly barbecues where you can choose the pick of the day’s catch and watch them grill it for you, for only a few dollars. Other beaches, like Sokha and Hawaii, have been leased off to private developers. However, midweek at least on the public end of Independence, and Otres Beach, you can still find a little seclusion. On the downside, most of the beaches are pretty narrow, with barely enough space to lie stretched out at high tide.
For Khmer, a visit to Sihanoukville is an excuse for an eating and drinking binge, with a dip in the briny as a fringe benefit. Their conservative nature, coupled with a concern – verging on paranoia for the women – about maintaining whiteness, means that shade is everything. Accordingly, the most popular beaches have a plethora of beach parasols and deck chairs for rent at a nominal sum, and men, women and even the young take to the sea fully clothed. Consequently, many will stare in amazement at foreigners stripped off and baking in the blazing sun. For women, bikinis are just about acceptable, but going topless is a definite no-no.
You may find yourself almost bullied into buying massages, manicures and leg-hair threading from the women who patrol Ochheuteal Beach hour after hour, telling you that your nails are dreadful and must be tended to – men are targeted just as much as women and it takes nerves of steel not to buckle under their relentless attention. A $5 massage is not bad value for money, and usually turns out to be a rather relaxing experience, but buying bracelets and trinkets from the children that patrol the beaches only encourages them to stay out of school or work late into the evening when they should be in bed, so maintain a firm resolve if you can.