A half a century ago, Cambodia's main port city, Sihanoukville, was a sleepy backwater called Kampong Som. Then a series of world-shattering events overtook it and gave rise to the busy industrial center and coastal resort now prominent on every tourist map.
The French laid the foundations of Kampong Som back in the mid-1950s, before they lost control of the Mekong Delta and its ports following their retreat after the French-Indochina War. The town was renamed Sihanoukville in honor of the then king. A decade later, Sihanoukville received a further boost when it became an important transit post for weapons destined for American forces fighting in the Vietnam War. In the mid-1970s Sihanoukville itself came under American attack and suffered heavy casualties after Khmer Rouge forces captured the SS Mayaguez, a United States container ship.
Today Sihanoukville presents a relatively peaceful face to the world as Cambodia's seaside playground. It has seven primary tourist beaches, all easily accessible from downtown by motorbike taxi or even a rented bicycle.