Getting about Cambodia can be challenging; however, it is best achieved by bus. There is also an art to Cambodian bus travel. Cambodian buses access nearly all destinations in the country, and they’re cheap and regular. There are, of course, drawbacks to bus travel. Cambodian buses aren’t truly regulated, so most buses bump and grind about the Cambodian countryside with little concern for anyone’s safety. Breakdowns happen too regularly, and theft is a problem on the buses. However, there are some bus companies considered better than others. And, at the end of the day, if you want to get somewhere then a bus will get you there.
Cambodian Bus Travel
Cambodian Bus Travel Needs Patience
Some people look at a map of Cambodia and think they can get from this town to this place in no time: think again. Bus travel is slow, bumpy and often bone-rattling. There is ongoing road construction and other delays, but, the truth is, the buses will get you there despite their problems. So, bring a cushion and be on your way.
It seems that buses will always stop along the way. This is usually a bus-company restaurant. These numerous stops can confuse a traveller, especially if your stop is along the way. Make sure you know how to say your drop-off point or destination and don’t hesitate to ask a fellow passenger. On longer trips, there seems to be an awful lot of these stops – remember you are on an a Cambodian adventure. A Khmer friend once said: “The stops are a chance to use the conveniences, okay.” Most buses don’t have toilets.
Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham
Even on short trips, Cambodian buses stop with alarming frequency. One such trip is the three-hour Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham route, a 120-kilometre trip. The bus stops at Skun, which is only 50km from Kampong Cham. You’ll wait there for 30 to 40 minutes while people scoff food and use the toilet. I know, you’re thinking “We could get to our destination in that time”. You’re right, but this is Cambodian bus travel and people like to eat as well as other things. Oh yeah, the Skun stop has vendors selling fried tarantulas, apparently, Skun is famous for this local delicacy. So, sit down, relax and have a bit to eat.
The Good, the Bad and Downright Nasty
There is a slew of bus companies operating in Cambodia. The two best known and biggest are Capitol and Sorya bus services. Between these two companies, you can get to most destinations in Cambodia and further afield. Sorya is the lesser of two evils. Having travelled with them many times, it is the preferred company. In Phnom Penh, the Sorya terminal is conveniently located next to the Central Market. From this location, buses get out on the road quickly. And when you are outside Phnom Penh, Sorya appears to have ticket desks that are easy to find, even in the most remote places.
The other outfit, Capitol, is next to Orussey Market. This is a bustling place and when buses are coming and going they get stuck in the traffic and crowds. Security is a problem with Capitol Bus Company.
There are several other companies near the Olympic Stadium. One is famous for whisking you off to Vietnam while another is notorious for whisking you off the road! Be careful in your choice.
Next to the Night Market on Riverside, there are several bus companies. Of these, Giant Ibis is the best followed by Mekong Express. Lots of good reports about these companies and they have good and speedy services to Cambodian destinations and abroad.
There is a Phnom Penh to Bangkok service that leaves from here.
Cambodian Bus Types
Most Cambodian buses are the coach variety with no toilet, so take precautions. These services offer the best value for money and perhaps some discomfort.
There are also minibuses which are faster. They are faster because the driver thinks he is formula one driver and he is crash invulnerable. However, minibuses are good alternative if you want less travel time.
Phnom Penh to Poipet and Bangkok Night Bus
There are night sleeper buses plying the route from Phnom Penh to Thailand via Poipet. The Cambodian night buses rarely stop, unless they break down. Ensure that you are prepared for overnight travel. Check out our essential items for things you might need.
Another popular night route is Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and vice versa.
Cambodian Bus Travel Etiquette
Many passengers unfamiliar with Cambodian bus travel become unspooled at the start with what to do at the reservation desk: know your place inside the bus. An important part of travelling by bus is choosing the right seat. This is where booking a seat in advance comes in handy. You might be lucky and get a good seat on the day, but unlikely.
Plan for the time of day and how long you will travel. If your seat winds up in the blazing sunlight, then the journey could be like sitting in a microwave oven.
So, you need to know where the sun will be during your journey and plan your seat for the opposite side of the bus. The Cambodians are right onto this, so when you make a booking look at the reservation sheet behind the counter. The side that is quickly filling up with these wily passengers will be Cambodians, and that is the side of the bus you want to be on.
Ask the booking agent to allocate a seat on the shady side of the bus – and smile!
Leg room in Cambodian buses
Another downside is that Cambodian buses and minibus seats are often foreigner-unfriendly in terms of leg room. However, the seats at the very front have a bit more leg room: grab them if you can and on the shady side. The seats at the very back also have more leg room, but there is also a downside to the rear seats on buses – difficult to get off in an emergency. Maybe an extra dollar or two can help reserve the best seat for you. Always keep in mind that most hotels will be able to book for you; ask the hotel receptionist what they can arrange for you. They receive a commission from the bus company, which is appreciated.
Babies throwing up, people snacking on Prahok, and garbage rolling around the aisle can bring some nasty experiences your way. Try not to get stuck in a rear seat because everything comes from the front to the rear: smells, empty bottles, and seats. Some busy bus routes plonk people on stools down the middle of the bus. A bit awkward if a hasty exit is required or even just getting on and off at stops for the conveniences. It is what it is.
Don’t arrive late, as your seat could be sold to another passenger who is chafing at the bit to get home to relatives or escape them.
CamboTicket is the cheapest and most convenient way to book bus tickets online in Cambodia.
Bus Stations in Cambodia
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It is often baffling why a bus will stop where it does. This can make it confusing when trying to find your bus stop, especially outside the bigger places. Usually, there will be sign with a bus company promo on it, and in some places, there will be a ticket desk next to the sign.
Other towns have sheds for bus stops and the only way to tell that it is a bus stop is if a bus is in it. Sometimes by just waiting by the side of a road you can catch a bus, especially on busier routes.
Beware the Tuk Tuk Driver
A bit of a nuisance is the Tuk-Tuk scrum at your destination. These eager fellows will swarm about you and shout “Where you go?” or simply “Tuk Tuk”. This can be a bit overwhelming, especially for first-timers. If you must choose one, negotiate a price and go. Some hotels and guesthouses will organise a Tuk Tuk driver to meet you. This should be a courtesy Tuk Tuk but beware of these chaps as they sometimes try to charge you.
Ot Teh (ot-tei)/ No
Learning how to say no will come in handy for turning down the heckling tuk tuk drivers, or just smile and walk away.
Watch Your Wallet on Cambodian Buses
We hear lots of stories about things going missing on a bus trip. Unfortunately, the perpetrators could be the people working for the bus company, and some companies are worse than others.
Baggage handlers rifle through bags and take anything of value. Bags on buses are gone through when it stops for a break. Sometimes, the bolder thieves will nick something while the bus is on the road. One person we spoke with had his camera stolen, and the camera bag replaced with bottles of water, so the weight appeared to be the same. Laptops, cameras, mobiles are all lifted from bags in the bus’s storage compartments. Be smart, always keep valuables on you. Travel with a friend to share the risk.
If something does get pinched, don’t expect much assistance from the bus company. Company employees will simply point to a disclaimer. The police aren’t interested either. If you want them to file a report then expect to pay a fee. No money, no report and most insurance companies will want a report translated into English, and the police won’t do this.
Final Word on Cambodian Bus Travel
After reading this article you may be scared off Cambodian bus travel for good. However, at the end of the day, bus travel is typically unproblematic and adventurous. You will meet locals and enjoy the true Cambodia. Booking tickets is straightforward. Most journeys will cost you between $5 and $10 to any destination in Cambodia, plus a charge for any large luggage you have, such as a motorcycle. Just remember to be patient, be safe, and enjoy the ride.
Make sure you have all your kit with you for a lengthy journey or unexpected overnight stays somewhere exotic!
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Cambodian Travel Visa
If you are heading out of or into Cambodia remember to ensure you have a proper visa, valid passport and USD. You can obtain a visa on arrival into Thailand or Cambodia. However, other destinations might require a visa before arrival and there might not be an ATM. Enjoy the adventure.
Cycle in Cambodia
If you have enjoyed your bus adventure get onto a bicycle. Cycling in Cambodia can be lots of fun. There are lots of places you can rent or buy one and give it away at your destination!
Recommended Cambodian Bus Companies
Mekong Express, Phnom Penh Night Market
Giant Ibis, Phnom Penh Night Market
Capitol, Phnom Penh Orussey Market
Online Cambodian bus travel tickets, CamboTicket