Otres Beach. I’ve been here three times now. I keep meaning to get out to the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, but somehow I end up seduced by Otres again and again.
Theres something so wonderfully compelling about this little beachside collection of tumbledown shacks. Maybe it’s the complete lack of luxury resorts, maybe it’s the assemblage of hippies and vagabonds that populate Otres Village, or maybe it’s the blend of live music, backpacker parties, and soothing beach vibes that make Otres so addicting.
This is my third (and final?) trip to Otres Beach and I think I can finally put my finger on why I love this place so much.
Relaxing Otres Beach Vibes
Contrary to most backpackers and tropical travelers, I’m actually not a huge beach person. I grew up near the ocean and I love it, but sitting on a beach isn’t my main priority when I’m traveling.
Don’t get me wrong, once I get to the beach, I can easily spend hours laying in the sand or swimming in the water. But when I’m traveling, it’s usually the mountains I head for, rather than the beaches.
Unfortunately, as I’ve previously bemoaned, Cambodia is rather lacking where mountains are concerned. So when Khmer New Year rolled around in April 2016 and I found myself with a week off from work, I reserved a private bungalow at the enchantingly named Hacienda in Otres Village and headed down for a week on the beach with absolutely no expectations.
Otres is divided into three beaches. Otres 1 is the most popular. Here, a collection of ramshackle huts, restaurants, bars, and hostels all spill out onto the beach, the buildings opening onto the turquoise waves. I have happily spent an entire day drinking cocktails and laying about on one of the many beach chairs.
Otres 2 is much quieter and less built up. It has a few hotels and restaurants but other than that there isn’t much going on. It’s far less crowded than it’s neighboring Otres 1.
Between Otres 1 and Otres 2 is a long stretch of uninhabited white sand beach. Head there at any time of the day and you’ll be able to grab a piece of shade and have a tropical beach all to yourself. Otres Village, set back 1/2 mile from the beach, is just beyond this bare stretch.
Apparently there is also an Otres 3, but I’ve never made it down that far.
Early morning walks on the beach let you appreciate the tranquility not often found in Cambodia. By midday, the sun is at its peak and you’re forced to find shelter in the shade. Some of the best days I’ve spent at Otres have been by myself, sitting under the shade of a tree, watching the waves crash up on the shore and the sun setting in fiery orange display at the end of the day.
The Chillest People
Otres Beach is one of those places where people come for a few days, but stay for a few months or years. The collection of people who have found themselves stuck on this beach are incredibly relaxed and all a bit weird.
The first time I came to Otres, in April 2016, I stayed at a hostel called Hacienda. The bar at Hacienda is a repository of people too content or confused to move on. After only a few days, I’d built up a little tribe. The temptation to stay was strong and nearly impossible to resist.
Perhaps thats why I’m back again in April 2017. I’ve kept more to myself this time, but even so, that same vibe exists. Groups of travelers and locals hang out around the bar. After only a few days in town, I’m finding myself playing a late night game of pool with some of them.
This is, I think, the best thing about the backpacker culture: radical inclusion.
Live Music on Otres for Days
The live music culture is the absolute best thing about Otres, for me. Living in Battambang for the last year, I am absolutely starved for live music. We have had exactly one show in the last year: when the Cambodian Space Project came to town. They’re awesome but a girl cannot live on one concert per year.
On Otres, you can find live music, jam sessions, open mics, or something of the sort any night of the week, as long as you know where to look.
The heart of this live music scene is in the hippie enclave of Otres Village. Built onto reclaimed swampland, this little village features winding dirt roads playing host to hostels, bars, and music venues made by the type of hippie who wants to call Cambodia home.
If you’re looking for some live music, Stray Cats is a good place to start. The owner is also a musician and they often have jam sessions or open mics.
Wednesday evenings feature Kerfluffle, the weekly jungle rave. Yeah, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
On Saturdays, the Otres Night Market is absolutely the spot. It’s not your conventional southeast asian night market, probably because you won’t find too many southeast asians hanging out in there. The market features vendors selling handmade jewelry and clothing, along with some speciality alcohols like absinth or craft beer.
Up on stage, band after band plays live music sets. Some of the bands are “locals”, mixtures of local khmer and foreigner musicians who live in Otres. Other bands are travelers just rolling through, playing for a night or two.
Otres Market night is a really good time. It certainly isn’t authentically Cambodian, but if you’ve been on the road for a few months or years, sometimes its nice to experience something that feels so familiar.
Other than that, just have a walk around. You’ll meet people, hear about things, and pretty soon you’ll be floating from one music night to the next.
You Can Check Out But You Can Never Leave
If you’re not careful, you’ll get sucked into life here in Otres and suddenly months will go by in a blur. I was definitely tempted to stay after the first time I came here, and now as I set here in an open air cafe on what it meant to be my last day, I’m contemplating buying a boat ticket out to Koh Rong Somloem, instead of the bus ticket to Phnom Penh that I should be buying…