Getting around in Cambodia
Not all dusty roads and crowded buses
For a country as hard-up on its luck as Cambodia, getting around is surprisingly straightforward. All the primary trunk routes are all-weather sealed roads, there is a reasonably developed bus network, a comprehensive "we can go anywhere if the price is right" taxi for hire system and, while some of the routes have faded away, it is still possible to get to some places by boat. Overall fares are very reasonable.
Start with the worst first. Cambodia goes through national airlines like there's no tomorrow. Carriers that have faded from the scene include Angkor Airways, First Cambodia Airlines, Kampuchea Airlines, Mekong Airlines, President Airlines, Royal Air Cambodge, Royal Khmer Airlines, Royal Phnom Penh Airways, Siem Reap Airways and most recently Cambodia Angkor Air -- and that list is for just the last decade or so.
If you thought the airline network was a dog's breakfast, you'd love the train system -- if it was still running. Originally there were two lines, Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh to Battambang. While goods services do run, there are currently no passengers services in Cambodia. However, the company responsible tells us that they expect short run services to start operating out of Phnom Penh by May 2015. The first planned route will be from the city out to the capital's airport at Pochentong.
Local buses and minibuses
In recent years, as Cambodia's road network has improved, so has the bus system. There are now a number of private bus companies running out of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap serving destinations across the country. The hubs are Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Key domestic routes include:
Phnom Penh - Siem Reap - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Kampot - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Ko Kong - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Battambang - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Kratie - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Kompong Cham - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Stung Treng - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Ban Lung - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Sisophon - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Poipet - Phnom Penh
Siem Reap - Battambang - Siem Reap
Sihanoukville - Kampot - Sihanoukville
Key international routes include:
Phnom Penh - Ho Chi Minh City - Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh - Bangkok - Phnom Penh
Sihanoukville - Ho Chi Minh City - Sihanoukville (via Phnom Penh)
Siem Reap - Ho Chi Minh City - Siem Reap (via Phnom Penh)
Share taxis for long distance travel are a very popular way to get around and, if you've got a small group of three or four, this is a very cost-effective and fast way to move. Generally a taxi charter is priced at six passengers, so you have to pay six passengers' worth to get the car for yourself. Hiring a car without a driver is far less common.
Cambodia is awash in motodops -- guys with a motorcycle and a baseball cap -- who'll take you anywhere on their bike for a few dollars. This is a great way to do half-day tours, such as exploring Battambang, but longer distance riding, such as Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, isn't the norm. Larger enduro-style dirt bikes can be hired long term from a number of dirt bike hire shops in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Prices are reasonable, but be sure to carefully check the bike, and whatever you do, do not use the chain and padlock provided by the shop to lock up the bike at night -- use your own. You will need to hand over your passport in order to hire the bike. You can also hire motor scooters in Phnom Penh, though it's not so easy in Siem Reap. In Temple Town, there are often a couple of bikes parked in front of Central Market that are for hire if you ring the number on the placard.
Long, with a scenic flat coastline, Cambodia can be a great destination for cyclists. Most nearly every town in Cambodia will have some lodgings, so you shouldn't struggle for a room. Make sure you pack a good supply of inner tubes and patch kits and of course, your bike -- but you probably knew that already. Cambodian bikes are of a poor standard, so absolutely bring your own.
In Siem Reap, you can now hire green e-Bikes. Rental is $10 per day, and there are charging stations both in town and around the temples.
Only two regular ferry runs still operate in Cambodia -- Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and Siem Reap to Battambang. Boats no longer run north up the Mekong to Kompong Cham and we've heard the Ko Kong to Sihanoukville boat now only goes as far as Ko Sdech, making it close to useless for travellers (other than those heading to Ko Sdech).
The Phnom Penh to Siem Reap boat is worth doing once and once only. It is expensive (when compared to the bus), the middle of the trip is boring (you're in the middle of a lake with no scenery) and, if you sit on the roof, chances are you'll get sunburnt. Do it once then catch the bus back.
The Siem Reap to Battambang trip is much more of a lucky dip -- the quality of the boats varies from one day to the next, overloading is the norm, boats run aground regularly and occasionally sink. That said the Battambang portion of the trip is spectacular -- very, very beautiful. So if you're not too fussed about taking dodgy boat trips, give it a go. In windy, stormy weather though we'd go with the bus, as the shallow lake gets a big chop on it very quickly, making for a very uncomfortable trip. This trip is really only advisable during the rainy season when the water levels are high enough, otherwise the journey can end up being interminable.
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