The Pearl of Asia, otherwise known to many as Phnom Penh is the heart of Cambodia’s culture, economic and industrial advancements. It is also the country's capital. With its imposing historical structures and exquisite architecture marvels, it is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. In 2018, a record 6.1 million tourists poured into Cambodia, a significant chunk of which were concentrated in the capital city and Siem Reap.
That brings us to Siem Reap, a resort town and the capital of the Siem Reap province. Right after Phnom Penh, it is the most visited city, with a million annual visitors on average. The majestic Angkor Wat and other temples, along with other UNESCO World Heritage sites, Siem Reap is a major magnet for tourists visiting the country of Cambodia.
Travelers who reach Phnom Penh hardly ever make the return journey without setting foot on Siem Reap. A lot of the visitors pass through the capital city to make it to Siem Reap. In the same way, a lot of visitors to Siem Reap also make the trip to the capital city. Situated 318.7 kilometers apart, the roads between the two cities experience constant major traffic throughout the year. There are different modes of transportation you could choose from; taxis, buses, minivans or buses, planes, and ferry. The mode of transportation you choose will depend on various factors like whether you’re traveling solo, in a group or a family with kids, or how fast you want to get to the destination, and of course, your budget. Further elaboration on the various modes of transport is offered below.
Easily the cheapest form of transportation available for traveling to and fro Phnom Penh and Siem Reap; the seats cost anywhere from $6 to $15 depending on whether the service is old or new. The service is exactly what you pay for; many of the cheap buses can turn out to be backbreaking rickety rides. Coupled with an occasional driver who drives like the cast of fast and the furious, it can be a hair-raising experience.
Traveling these parts of the country allows you to have glimpses of the country life. Expect to see rice paddies, water buffaloes and cows as well as traditional wooden Khmer houses along the way. A bus journey can take anywhere from five to six hours to reach the destination in both directions.Many bus companies ply their buses between the two cities. Two of the most popular companies are Giant Ibis and Mekong Express.
a. Giant Ibis
Bus journeys in Cambodia have been notorious for two reasons - their numerous stops along the way, either to pick or drop passengers and lack of safety. For the later, it was not just the treacherous roads but the errant drivers and the rickety buses.But ever since the introduction of the Giant Ibis buses, it has witnessed a drastic improvement. It is safe to say that these giants have revolutionized the bus journey between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It is because of the following reasons.
· The Giant Ibis buses have a GPS controlled speed limit of 95 km/h for day buses and 60 km/h for night buses. The speed limit is transmitted
to the management via the GPS, and erring drivers are kept in check.
· It is the only fleet of buses that have working seatbelts in the country.
· There are two drivers aboard every bus during the night journey for extra safety measures.
· Individual seats have a power outlet that accommodates the UK, US, and European chargers.
· All the buses have onboard free Wi-Fi which is available on 3G and 4G networks, depending on the connectivity in the region you’re passing through.
· Passengers can watch a movie onboard with volume controls attached to their seats.
· The night buses have an onboard toilet facility.
· The Giant Ibis buses that ply at night have bunked style beds.
· The buses do not make sporadic stops along the way. They are only limited to the scheduled stops at 1.5 hours and 3.5 hours.
· Passengers are provided a free bottle of water and a pastry.
· The staff communicates in English.
· Booking and seat reservations are available online.
· Seats are available for $15.
· The buses make three separate trips during the day and two trips during the night.
· They do not cancel their buses.
b. Mekong Express
Another popular bus company is the Mekong Express which the longest running company in the country. It has its network spread across the country. Mekong Express has long been regarded as the favorite due to their concern for safety. However the major irk that many people have is the numerous stops they make along the way. This has not abated even after the introduction of the new fleet of buses.
Unlike the depilated old buses, the new fleet is equipped with an onboard free Wi-Fi, a USB outlet for charging, and an English speaking staff. They also provide the passengers with a towelette, a bottle of water and pastries much like the Giant Ibis buses.The bus journey is around five to six hours, and the seats cost $12. They have also introduced an online seat reservation facility. The buses ply five separate times during the day and once during the night.
2. Minibus and Minivan
It offers a faster service than the buses completing the journey in about five hours. However, it can be cramped and is not a good option if you have a tendency to get car sick.A lot of companies ply between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in both directions. Some of the best companies that have made it on our list are:
The service is jointly owned by the postal department and the Cambodian government and is among the elite service providers. The automobiles are Toyota HiAce vans which are very comfortable and roomy compared to other vans. Space is further elaborated because the last two seats have been removed, so it seats a total of 13 passengers. The two places in the back are not made available for booking to fit any last minute anticipated mail. However, if there is no mail, the seats are made available for passengers. The space in the back accommodates the mail.
The company takes the safety of the passengers into due consideration. The drivers are cautious in their driving, and additionally, both passengers and the vehicles are insured by a company called Caminco Insurance.
The booking and reservations are available online as well as at the main postal office. The seats are $9 which is the same for both domestic and foreign travelers, but they do not provide hotel pick ups. However, in both the cities, the post office is centrally located which makes it easily accessible by walking.
The minibuses make two trips each day between the two cities in both directions with two scheduled stops on the way.
b. Larryta Express
It is one of the travel services that ply the most frequently between the two cities both ways. Availing a ticket on the same day is even possible because of the many trips they make in a day.These Ford Transit vans are relatively new and comfortable. The tickets have a dual pricing system, $9 for domestic travelers and $11 if you’re foreign. They are available for booking and reservations online but can also be purchased at the central office.
The drivers stick to the two scheduled stops; one for attending to nature’s needs and another for lunch or dinner. After reaching the destination, expect to take a Tuk Tuk to take you to the hotel or wherever you’re lodging as the offices of Larryta Express is not in the town’s center. We suggest walking a few distances away from the main stop and hail a passing Tuk Tuk as the ones at the main stops can charge ridiculous amounts.
c. Seila Angkor
No other travel company makes as many trips between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap as Seila Angkor. They make a total of 18 trips, both ways between the two cities.
Similar to the Larryta Express, they run a fleet of Ford Transit vans. The seats cost $9 if you’re locals and $11 if you’re a foreign traveler. Onboard the minibus, you will be offered a towelette and a bottle of water. The bus makes two stops along the way. The tickets are made available online at BookMeBus.
Flights are another option to travel between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap if you are pressed for time and you don’t mind paying for the tickets. It is the fastest service as you can reach the destination between 45 to 60 minutes.Currently, three airlines operate between the two cities.
a. Cambodia Angkor Air
It is a government-owned service and was quite expensive until recently. The tickets can cost anywhere between $70 and $100 for one way. The primary reason was cited to be the lack of competition as the other two airlines were granted a license only very recently. Seat reservations through travel agents are generally cheaper than booking directly through the airline's website.
The planes that fly in the Phnom Penh- Siem Reap route is the French Italian ATR72 turboprop planes which are considered very safe. They fly four to five times a day depending on the flow of passengers. It is advised to check their flight timings as they tend to be very flexible.
b. Bassaka Air
Until very recently, Cambodia Angkor Air was the only airline service between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, which explains the exorbitant ticket prices. Although relatively new in the skies, the Bassaka Air has given the existing airline a stiff competition in terms of rates and services.
Flight ticket on a Bassaka Air ranges from $50 to as low as $20. The airlines operate with two planes, A320, and A200 Airbuses. The flight time is 45 minutes, and they fly once a day in both directions. Passengers must report 45 minutes before boarding.
c. Cambodia Bayon Airlines.
Also a new airline service, they offer daily service between the two cities. The tickets are cheap at $32 for a one-way ticket, and they fly once a day, both ways.However, Bayon Airlines operates with the Chinese manufactured MA60, a Soviet-style turboprop plane, which has raised questions about their safety. Tickets for the flight can be booked online on their website or through an agent and passengers are required to check in 30 minutes before boarding. The flight time is 50 minutes from take off to landing.
The ferries depart from Sisowath Quay at Phnom Penh and Chong Kneas at Siem Reap and docks on these ports on arrival. The ride costs anywhere between $18 to $32 per passenger and the seats need to be booked one day before the journey.
The ferry service that caters to the tourists is mostly during the wet season when the waters levels are considerably higher. The journey can be between four and six hours.Traveling on a ferry can be a wonderful experience and a photographer's delight. However, we do not recommend this mode of transportation at the moment. It is because the company that operated with life jackets is currently not in service. And our priority is your safety during your travels.
5. Shared Taxi
Another mode of transportation available between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is the shared taxi. It is basically where you share a cab with other strangers.
They are available on the southwest corner of Phsar Thmei or the Central market in Phnom Penh. The seats can cost anywhere between $6 to $12 and the journey for five to six hours. The automobiles are five seater Camrys, but the drivers will be determined to fit in at least nine passengers along with their luggage. It can be a suffocating and claustrophobic experience which can be a nightmare if you tend to get car sick.It is always better to use other modes of transportation. If however you are compelled to use a shared taxi, offer to pay for the two seats near the driver so you will not be squashed along with other passengers.