Jun 09 2011
The cheapest and easiest way to travel around Cambodia is by bus. Flights out of Phnom Penh can be ridiculously expensive, so if you’re headed to Siem Reap or Saigon, the bus is a much more affordable alternative. Other local destinations are only accessible by bus, such as Sihanoukville and Battambang. Most of the major roads are sealed these days, making bus journeys fairly painless.
Those who are bus-phobic can rest easy — buses in Cambodia are not too bad. Most destinations have a few bus companies servicing the route at varying prices. On many routes, the difference that a few dollars in price can make is substantial.
For example, on the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route the cheaper buses cost $5. These often are over-crowded and have people and luggage in the aisles. They also do not have a toilet, and can stop four or five times along the way and as such, the journey can take an extra hour or more.
The most expensive $11 ticket on Mekong Express buys a ticket on a old-but-clean Japanese bus with a toilet and only just as many passengers as there are seats. The ticket price includes a snack and bottle of water, and the bus stops just once along the way. The difference between the cheap and expensive is not life-or-death, but it’s definitely worth paying the extra for the added level of comfort if you aren’t on a tight budget.
The more expensive buses, particularly Mekong Express, have the best reputations and are generally filled with tourists and a few locals. The cheapest companies are used for transporting locals and cargo and have a reputation for over-crowding and breaking down often — the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap trip is one that can end up taking 10 hours or more with the wrong bus company. Rith Mony is one better avoided.
Some buses will play movies on them, usually dubbed in Khmer, but sometimes they will be in English. Although you aren’t always guaranteed a movie, you can count on getting to see at least a few, and possible a few hours, of Khmer karaoke videos. If you’re not interested in this level of cultural immersion, bring earplugs. Also bring a sweater as some of the drivers are overly-enthusiastic about air-conditioning.
Depending on which route you take and with which company, you’ll have between one and 10 bathroom breaks. The buses usually stop at designated rest stations with public bathrooms. Most will have squat toilets and no toilet paper so bring your own if you require it. Not the best toilets you’ll find in Asia, but certainly not the worst, either, as they are generally clean. The rest areas will also usually sell snacks such as fresh fruit and boiled eggs as well as cold beverages. You’ll be given 10 to 15 minutes at each stop. Be sure to keep an eye on the bus, because although they will make sure to look for the barang before they leave, people have been known to be left behind.
Night buses run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, and are better avoided. Last month two night buses had serious accidents, and in general, the roads in Cambodia get increasingly less safe as the night wears on.
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