Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach is a Shithole

“I don’t know what I expected.”-  Michael Bluth, Arrested Development

I had heard the complaints of Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach before I arrived for the first time: loud, dirty, loads of hawkers and full of race-to-the-bottom bars catering exclusively to the cheapest of backpackers. After spending a couple days there between Christmas and New Year’s, my brother and I are inclined to agree with some of those complaints. Next time he visits, this area will not be on our itinerary.

By far the worst part of the Serendipity Beach area are the identical bars, with many of these staffed almost exclusively by backpackers being paid in beer and lodgings. Walking along Serendipity Beach Road, you’re just as likely to be approached by a tuk-tuk driver offering marijuana as a foreigner hawking drink specials at one of the many cookie-cutter bars on the waterfront. But they’re offering free beer, so what’s so bad about that?

Looks nice enough from here (Flickr user Damien).
Looks nice enough from here (Flickr user Damien).

Many of the flyers the backpackers hand out offer a free beer during a certain hour, which would be somewhat worthwhile if beer wasn’t normally 25 cents. The price – even if free – is still a rip off considering how watered down the drafts we had were. I’m not a beer snob and have willingly purchased barely-beer brands like Miller 64 and Michelob Ultra Lite. The stuff these foreigners poured was more watery than that and a terrible way to spend 25 cents.

It’s been six or seven years since I’ve properly backpacked around SE Asia, but the vibe in backpacker-staffed establishments struck me as totally bizarre. Girls offered passers-by free shots and guys danced in place, as if trying to will a party to start. Alas, in most the places we passed these temporary bar workers were the only people inside. I’m not sure what the workers were trying to make happen, but whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t happening in these strange bars.

The beach itself is pleasant and didn’t seem particularly dirty to me, whether in the congested Serendipity Beach area or further along Occuetal Beach. Some of the BBQ joints are quite good, with a variety of fresh fish and other seafood goodies available for just several dollars a plate. The atmosphere goes out the window if you’re near one of the handful of extremely loud places.

One of the many Sihanoukville beachside bars. Might not be Serendipity since I pulled this from Flickr user Tiddle, but it's similar to all the others.
One of the many Sihanoukville beachside bars. Might not be Serendipity since I pulled this from Flickr user Tiddle, but it’s similar to all the others.

I know I sound like an old man (get off my lawn, back in my day, etc.) but the outdated pop music blaring from these couple bars was startlingly loud even from within our hotel room on Serendipity Beach Road with the windows closed. The music went to 4 a.m. both nights we were there. While the bars might be pleased with this, I can’t imagine the hotels –  and especially the newer, more expensive ones – are thrilled at this externality. The people staying in these hotels sure weren’t happy.

On the way back to Phnom Penh, a fellow expat told me that the paved walkway along the beach is a fairly new development and that the place is almost unrecognizable from what it was four years ago. I can’t vouch for that, but these new additions to Serendipity Beach must be why the fortunes of Otres Beach and Koh Rong Samloem seem to be on a sharp rise. I’m not strongly anti-development and I’m also a bit of a free market enthusiast. Unfortunately, the unpleasantness of Serendipity Beach represents those ideals in the worst possible way. Hopefully the pleasant places in the area can hold out and retain some of their charm while Serendipity receives the brunt of the development, but that sounds too optimistic.

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Karge

Karge

I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?