Photo: Burning incense at a Cholon pagoda.

Saigon and Siem Reap are relatively close; as the plane flies only a little more than 400 kilometres separate the two cities. But looks can be deceiving, and travelling between the two cities can be complicated, expensive and time consuming. Here are your options.

You take a pretty small plane.

You take a pretty small plane.

The simplest way to get to Siem Reap is by plane. From Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat you will have a short, two-hour flight to Angkor International Airport, the second largest airport in Cambodia. Cambodia Angkor Air and Vietnam Airlines are the only two carriers currently flying the route directly, so tickets are not as affordable as other flights in Southeast Asia — expect both airlines to be similarly priced, with tickets starting at just under 2,000,000 VND each way.

Getting from the airport into Siem Reap is relatively painless as it’s only seven kilometres away. If your hotel doesn’t provide you with a free airport pickup, head to the prepaid taxi booth just outside the terminal where a taxi ride can be purchased for $7.

This was where I actually sat on the bus ride.

This was where I sat on the bus ride.

If you’re short on cash, and have time to spare, you can get to Siem Reap from Saigon by bus. The ride is budget friendly, starting at around 350,000 VND each way, but in exchange for the low price you sacrifice time. Currently, no bus services Siem Reap directly; all now go through Phnom Penh.

It’s a gruelling drive, taking upwards of 20 hours when you factor in the border crossing, the bus switch in Phnom Penh and a few rest stops. Buses depart on this journey almost hourly but be wary of overnight buses from Saigon, as the border crossing into Cambodia closes at night. You may think leaving at midnight will get you there faster but the time you think you’re saving may be spent waiting at the border. Instead, take an early morning bus at around 04:00 or 05:00; this should put you in Siem Reap by around 22:00.

You can get tickets at any travel agency in Pham Ngu Lao through a variety of different, similarly priced bus companies, the best being the Mai Linh Group, a big company that can also be used if travelling to Dalat or Nha Trang. Depending on the company you choose, the quality of your bus in Cambodia may vary.

The view from the inside of a speedboat.

The view from the inside of a speedboat.

Although it isn’t the most common way to travel, Siem Reap can be reached from Saigon mostly by boat. This is not a trip that can be done in a single day and there is no boat that makes the trip direct. You will really have to travel the waters over a three-day, two-night trip on hydrofoil-type speedboats.

The first problem is the boats won’t leave directly from HCMC; instead, you will have to head to Chau Doc, around five hours outside the city by bus. Speedboats from Chau Doc leave only in the early morning, so you will be forced to stay the night at one of the local guesthouses unless you can get there on one of the few overnight buses. Leaving between 06:00 and 07:00, the boat ride from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh will take around six hours; once in Phnom Penh you will again have to stay overnight. Early the next morning, departing everyday at 07:30, you will take a speedboat from Sisowath Quay the remaining 250 kilometres and seven hours to Chong Kneas, about a 15-minute tuk tuk ride from Siem Reap.

This last boat leg may actually be the trickiest part of your journey, as the ride can be cancelled due to low water levels or lack of customers. Tickets can be purchased individually along the way or as a package from one of the many Pham Ngu Lao tour companies; at the low end the boat ride will cost around 1,500,000 VND and packages, which may include several nights worth of lodging or day-tours of the Mekong Delta, can cost considerably more.

Last updated on 11th July, 2012.

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