Bridget Di Certo gets away from it all on Sihanoukville’s quietest beach, Otres.
Backpackers with irrelevant tribal tattoos, persistent hawkers and overcrowded beach fronts seem all too common in Southeast Asia, but many dream of escaping for a weekend of clear waters, white sand and uninterrupted serenity. In Cambodia, such dreams can be realised at Otres Beach, located just 20 minutes away from the tourist hub of Sihanoukville.
Development is still in its infancy here and, until a few months ago, the beach was only accessible by a deeply rutted dirt road. The arduous trip out to this more secluded beachfront has helped to preserve the hidden paradise from some of the more obnoxious elements of Sihanoukville’s tourist traps.
The 10-kilometre-long beach strip may not be as wide as the rival Occheuteul or Serendipity beaches, but the sand is whiter and the water clearer. Looking out across the Gulf of Thailand affords a spectacular view of some of Cambodia’s many islands. During dry season, phosphorescence sometimes gathers along the water’s edge at night, making a midnight dip a magical spin in clouds of bright green generated by movement.
Otres is essentially one road, about two kilometres long, with bungalows and bars on each side. Around two kilometres south lies Otres 2, a smaller strip of bungalows and shacks that is severed from the main beach by a large tract of land purchased for a development that has yet to start.
In terms of activities, the Gulf of Thailand is your oyster. Visitors can explore deserted tropical islands with the convenience of a local fisherman guide, who can take a private boat to secret snorkelling spots and jungle paths that capture stunning panoramic views of the Gulf. Local guides will also take budding fishermen out for night fishing excursions that leave Otres at 6pm and return after midnight — once tourists have cooked the day’s catch on a beach fire on one of the islands — or at 6am, after they have slept on the beach.
Alternatively, jump aboard your own hobbie catamaran and sail around the islands at whim. For those seeking a bit more physical exertion and adrenaline, kayaks, kite boards and jet skis can be hired to traverse the azure waters open to Otres. Parasailing and banana boat rides are also on offer, as is a daily yoga class from 4pm to 6pm at Blame Canada beach huts.
A healthy (although not harassing) number of women patrol the beach offering massages, manicures, pedicures and threading — a painful but effective hair removal process. Indulge in the greatest outdoor beauty spa Cambodia has to offer, or simply take advantage of the long stretch of beach and stroll along the sands. Every Saturday night Otres Market opens, featuring live entertainment, an open mic night, souvenirs, handicrafts, and food and drink stalls. It is a great way to indulge in a little tourist revelry.
When it comes to indulging, seafood is king at Otres. A must try is fried langoustine with pepper and lime, offered by hawkers carrying large trays on their heads as they pace the beach looking for hungry customers.
Fresh fruit is only ever a wave of the hand away and other enterprising women with hot coal buckets can freshly grill squid to order. Apart from the peddler fare, the beach shack restaurants at the water’s edge all offer eclectic and all-encompassing menus in terms of seafood and cocktails. Most places have a nighttime seafood BBQ special for about $5. A number of places also serve vegetarian and European cuisine.
Over the past two years, accommodation and waterhole options have more than doubled as entrepreneurs prepare for Otres’ growing popularity. The majority of accommodation options are fan-only bungalows and rooms with a shared bathroom that sport only cold water. Some more up-market bungalows have private shower facilities and a few have hot water connected. Expect to pay around $5 for a dorm and up to $25 or more for a private bungalow with hot water. Only Secret Garden, at Otres Beach 2, has air-conditioning and a private pool. However, it is rarely too hot in the thatched, fan bungalows by the beach.
Otres is the perfect escape from the hot rush of Phnom Penh without being bombarded by Southeast Asia’s tourist hordes. Blissful beaches, scrumptious seafood, sea breeze shacks and adrenaline-fuelled activities are all at
your fingertips in a rendezvous with Sihanoukville’s more magical coastline.
With a newly sealed road, the coastal retreat is now easier than ever to access. The cheapest way is a $5.50 bus journey from Phnom Penh with Sorya Bus Company. You will be dropped off at a bus depot outside of Sihanoukville. From here, a moto to Otres is about $4 and a tuk tuk up to $10 depending on the season. If travelling in a group, booking a private taxi is the quickest way from Phnom Penh to Otres. Cars are $50 one way, vans are $70.