Our bus left Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in the early morning and we set off to cross the border into Cambodia. Visas to Cambodia for US citizens cost $20 but as soon as we boarded the bus, we were encouraged to pay $25 each so the bus manager could secure our visas and expedite the border crossing procedures for us. He explained that the border would be very busy due to the Cambodian New Year, but we didn’t succumb to the pressure of the bribe and when we rolled up to the border, it was completely empty! We filled out all the necessary paperwork, paid for our visas and hopped back on the bus with the others and were well on our way to Cambodia.
Our first destination in Cambodia was Sihanoukville, a beach town on the southern coast comprised of a half dozen different beaches. Once our bus arrived, we hopped into a tuk tuk and drove to the farthest and most secluded beach in the area – Otres Beach.
Of all the beaches in Sihanoukville, Otres Beach is known to be the most laid-back and have the most beautiful beach in town. It’s comprised of two main areas…Otres 1 and Otres 2 separated by a mile stretch of untouched government beach mainly used by the locals. We stayed on Otres 2 the entire time and I’m glad we did. When we walked down to Otres 1, it just seemed a little bit crowded for us and there was hardly anyone on Otres 2. Just off the beach are a dirt road and about 10 different places to stay, most with a kitchen acting as a restaurant and bar. Almost all of the rooms are fan only and because it’s so secluded on Otres, power outages are common. The fact that there are no ATMs, convenience stores or shops all adds to the beach life experience.It just so happens that our timing worked out well to meet up with some of our favorite travelers Kristin and Matt…the TITs (Texans in Transit). We met them in Brazil and also saw them in Thailand just over a month ago! It was nearly 9pm when we were dropped off right on the beach at Footprints Guesthouse where they had booked a bungalow for us (thanks, Kristin!). We spent the evening catching up and having a few beers before hitting the sack.
We woke up and were excited to hit the beach. It was a bit overcast from the morning showers but it cleared up throughout the day. The water was so warm – Chris thinks the water temperature was upwards of 90 degrees. We literally spent all day playing in the Gulf of Thailand. Last time we saw the TITs, we were drinking Changs in Thailand and now we were on to Klangs in Cambodia. Klangs were 50 cents at happy hour and just like Changs, have an elephant on the label and are ridiculously STRONG. Good times led to an early bedtime. The next day, the weather and beach were beautiful! It was the perfect beach day to spend with our friends before they had to leave that evening. We walked down the beach to Otres 1 for lunch and while we waited for our food, a local lady approached us selling large unknown crustaceans that looked like a cross between a shrimp and crawfish. We ordered 10 pieces of the mystery seafood. We could only eat the meat of their back, but they were tasty little things! We bid goodbye to our friends as they left for Vietnam, their last country on their round the world tour. We’ve seen them in three countries across two continents now and hope to meet up sometime when we are back in the States!Once the Texans left, we stayed one more night at Footprints. The plan was to head to Koh Rong Island for the next few days but when the time came to leave Otres Beach the next morning, we couldn’t do it. Several months ago, we met a guy on our first night in Bangkok who was finishing up six months in Asia. His one piece of advice to us: if you find a nice beach that you like… stay there – don’t spend time traveling from one nice beach to another nice beach. He had a point so we took his advice. We cancelled our plans to stay on the island, switched guesthouses (because Footprints was fully booked) and enjoyed staying in one place. After five days on Otres Beach, we still wanted more. We moved down to the far end of Otres 2 into a beautiful bungalow at the Secret Garden. This place completed our beach paradise. The Secret Garden on Otres 2 is the perfect place for a beach getaway. Each tastefully decorated bungalow boasts a private patio, outdoor shower and spacious bedroom with bone-chilling air conditioning, free tea and coffee and mini-fridge. After five nights without air con, we were in heaven! The Secret Garden is comprised of a village of bungalows, a beautiful and incredibly clean pool (the only pool on Otres Beach!), signature restaurant and a prime beach front location with loungers and sun chairs. They have everything you may need and more. We settled into our bungalow and hit the beach. We only moved a quarter mile down from where we were previously staying but I swear the sand became nicer and even softer the closer you got to Secret Garden.After cleaning up in our outdoor shower, we made our way to the restaurant and bar area. Every reservation includes a free welcome drink of any cocktail on their menu. Chris has been craving a White Russian for a few months now and I chose a rum and coconut frozen drink. They were both strong and delicious! We ordered a few Angkor draft beers during happy hour to wash it all down as we ordered dinner.The Secret Garden has a few owners, a handful of which are from Texas so we (especially Chris) were very excited to see that the menu included a few Mexican dishes. That night, we had our first taste of Mexican food in more than seven months. The next morning, we were back at the restaurant for breakfast. Breakfast is included in your stay and you can choose from four or five different options. Naturally, we chose the biggest – the American breakfast…ham and cheese omelet with Texas toast and a choice of two sides out of eight different selections. Yum!That day was by far the most beautiful beach day we had during our entire time at Otres Beach so we spent the whole day swimming and relaxing on the beach.After a full week on the coast, it was finally time to say goodbye to the ocean and our beach bungalow. If you find your way to the beaches in Cambodia, we highly recommend staying on Otres Beach and better yet, the Secret Garden. We stayed in three different places on Otres 2 so we can vouch that this place takes the cake for the best piece of beach and the nicest accommodation! We should mention that the overall service we received at the Secret Garden was wonderful. Unfortunately, we had an issue during checkout due to miscommunication with the management which tainted our very positive experience, but overall, it was an amazing stay in an absolutely incredible location. For rates and booking information, visit their website.
We were bummed to leave the beach but are looking forward to our next destination, Cambodia’s pride and joy: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat!Disclaimer: We received a complimentary stay at The Secret Garden in exchange for sharing our experience. These thoughts and opinions are completely our own.