Photo: Just a hop skip and a jump.

Though Saigon and Siem Reap are relatively close (as the plane flies it’s just 400 kilometres), travelling between the two cities can be complicated and time consuming. Here are your options.

The easiest, most straightforward way to travel from Saigon is to Siem Reap is by plane. From Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport, it is a 1.5 hour flight to Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport. As of 2017 there are daily flights with Vietnam Airlines and Cambodia Angkor Air. Both airlines are similarly priced, with tickets starting at under 2,000,000 dong each way.

In a hurry? Here is the solution.

In a hurry? Here is the solution. Photo: Stuart McDonald

At Siem Reap airport, the Cambodia visa process is relatively smooth and hassle free. Getting from the airport into Siem Reap is also painless as town is only seven kilometres away. If the hotel doesn’t provide a free airport pickup, head to the prepaid taxi booth just outside the terminal where a taxi ride can be purchased for US$8.

The budget conscious can go from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap by bus. Tickets start at 400,000 dong, but the trade off is time as there is the land border crossing, rest stops and almost all require a break/bus change in Phnom Penh. Be wary of any one offering an overnight bus from Saigon to Cambodia as it is only three hours to the border, which is closed at night. The time you think you’re saving may actually mean wasting time waiting for the border to open.

The best option is usually taking an early morning bus. Even with a two-hour bus change in Phnom Penh, it should put you in Siem Reap by 23:00. However, do check what the journey entails. Some companies have many departures from Ho Chi Minh City throughout the morning but their Phnom Penh to Siem Reap service is an overnight sleeper bus, departing late at night. Check on arrival/departure times to spare yourself a long layover.

On the positive side, buses to Cambodia depart right from Saigon’s backpacker hub Pham Ngu Lao (meaning you don’t need to travel to the bus station) and the roads on the Cambodian side to both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have greatly improved in recent years. It’s still a long drive and will likely take longer than companies quote, but the journey is less gruelling than it once was.

Bus companies to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap include Sorya, Giant Ibis Transport and The Sinh Tourist.

Sorya Transport has one direct bus from Saigon to Siem Reap and a few via Phnom Penh. The direct sitting bus departs at 06:45, costs US$25 and takes 13.5 hours, arriving in Siem Reap around 20:00. Via Phnom Penh, a sitting bus departs at 08:00, with a 2 hour layover and bus change in Phnom Penh. It’s then a sleeping bus to Siem Reap, arriving at 23:00. This trip costs US$20 and takes 15 hours. Other sitting buses depart at 11:30 and 13:45, with 1-2 hour layover and a bus change in Phnom Penh. It’s then a sleeping bus to Siem Reap, arriving at 06:00. This costs US$22 and takes 18-20 hours.

The Sinh Tourist sitting bus to Siem Reap departs at 07:00, costs 598,000 dong and takes 13 hours. There are also frequent departures to Phnom Penh from 06:30-15:30. These cost 230,000 dong and takes 7 hours.

Yes, the buses do run in both directions.

Yes, the buses do run in both directions. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Giant Ibis Transport offers a sitting bus to Phnom Penh departing at 08:30 and 12:30. The sleeping bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap then departs at 22:30, 23:00, 23:30. To avoid a six hour layover in Phnom Penh, take the later 12:30 departure. The bus costs US$18.

Several companies also offer services from Ho Chi Minh City (departing from Pham Ngu Lao St) to Phnom Penh only. The Kumho Samco sitting bus departs at 07:00, 08:00, 09:30, 10:30, 12:00, 13:30 and 15:00, costing 230,000 dong. The Sapaco sitting bus departs at 06:00, 08:00, 10:30, 13:00 and costs 230,000 dong.

Although it isn’t a common way to travel, part of the journey from Saigon to Cambodia can be done by boat. The entire journey does require time and effort to carry out. You’ll have to make your own way to Chau Doc by bus, around six hours from Ho Chi Minh City, then take a boat to Phnom Penh.

A speedboat run by Hang Chau departs at 07:30 and takes 5 hours, arriving to 103 Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh around 12:30. It is 570,000 dong or US$25 per person, and you need to book at least a day in advance. Since the boat departs early in the morning, either overnight in Chau Doc or take an overnight bus with Phuong Trang—not a lot of shut eye but it does save some time. The bus at 23:00 is estimated to get you into Chau Doc around 05:15. Phuong Trang usually includes free shuttle from the station to wherever you need to go in the city, otherwise inquire with Hang Chau about pick up from the station.

Moneychangers at the border greet the speedboat to Phnom Penh.

Moneychangers at the border greet the speedboat to Phnom Penh. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Once in Phnom Penh you will need to stay overnight and it is another early departure the following day. There’s sometimes a speedboat from Sisowath Quay departing at 07:30, and the remaining 250 kilometres taking six hours (or more depending on lake conditions) to Chong Kneas, a lake port and village about 12 kilometres south of Siem Reap. The boat costs US$35. Buy the ticket in advance and arrive at least an hour before the actual departure time. This boat leg is the trickiest part as the ride can be cancelled due to low water levels or lack of customers. Finally, it’s a 30-minute tuk tuk ride to Siem Reap.

Tickets can be purchased individually along the way or as a package from one of the many Pham Ngu Lao travel agents. Be aware that this isn’t a common request and the travel agent will likely be blindly throwing something together and padding it with extras like accommodation. It’s easy enough to arrange a Phuong Trang bus to Chau Doc and Hang Chau boat to Phnom Penh yourself. Once in Phnom Penh, a travel agent or guesthouse can book the boat to Siem Reap.

Clearly boat is not the cheapest, efficient or easiest, though certainly a more interesting journey than by bus.

Giant Ibis Transport: 237 Pham Ngu Lao St; T: (12) 0890 2333;
Hang Chau: T: (296) 562 771;
Kumho Samco: 239 Pham Ngu Lao St; T: (08) 6291 5389
Sapaco: 325 Pham Ngu Lao St; T: (08) 3810 1466;
Sorya Transport: 301 Pham Ngu Lao St; T: (090) 2575 765;
The Sinh Tourist: 246-248 De Tham St; T: (028) 3838 9597;


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