Once a quiet beach destination, Sihanoukville and its surrounding areas have been transformed by international investors who ushered in lavish casinos and luxury resorts, as well as cruise ships pulling into the active port. Tracing the region’s cultural heritage means seeking out temples and shrines, and meeting locals who can share their traditions.
Wat Leu (Upper Wat) is one of several Buddhist temples within Sihanoukville itself — and is perhaps the most visually stunning. Trimmed in gleaming gold leaf, it sparkles under the sunlight as monkeys scamper around the grounds and views of the surrounding city are on display. Marvel over the statue of a three-headed elephant topped with three Buddhas and the colourful interior displaying religious depictions.
Closer to the seaside is Wat Kraom (Lower Wat), a temple dedicated to Yah-Mao — a locally beloved deity who is believed to provide safe passage for sailors, fishermen and travellers.
On a short stroll around Independence Square, you’ll spot a lotus-shaped monument honouring Cambodia’s fight for freedom from French rule. Locals often come to relax in the small park, and the area lights up as the heart of ceremonial celebrations.
A journey to more rural areas will lead you to the seaside provinces of Kampot and Kep. While sprawling plantations and national parks are the main attractions, there are plenty of cultural sights to explore as well. Don’t miss Kampot’s Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple, an ancient complex of intricately carved caverns and underground chambers.
As you explore Sihanoukville and the region around the city, it’s worth venturing beyond the popular beaches and casinos and getting to know the culture. If you only have a day in port, go with a guide to the nearby temples and markets. If you have more time to spend, a homestay is an ideal way to immerse yourself with a local’s point of view.