Long-distance buses

If you’re looking to travel around Cambodia, do as the locals do and hop on an inexpensive long-distance bus.

A couple of Cambodian buses parked in the bus yard, waiting to transport passengers.

Long-distance buses in Cambodia are cheap and moderately cheerful.

The buses in Cambodia are not the best in the world, but you’ll be relieved to know that they’re not the worst, either. There are around a dozen bus operators sending buses all over the country at any given time. Many are owned by the same companies and some have dubious safety records. The company with the best safety record is Mekong Express, which goes between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Rith Mony and Angkor Express have the worst safety records and are best avoided.

The rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for–the more expensive companies such as Mekong Express and Giant Ibis cater to tourists and have better safety records. Rith Mony, on the other hand, charges less but breaks down more often and packs many more people into each bus than there are seats.

These days most of the major roads are sealed, so the bus journeys are relatively short, with a trip between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap taking less than six hours.

There are also international routes going from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, to the Laos border via Strung Treng, and to the Thai border via Poipet.

Most buses in Cambodia play movies in various languages or Khmer television. It’s likely that you’ll also be treated to a few hours of Khmer karaoke videos, a true window into the culture of Cambodia. If this is a window you’d rather keep closed, bring a pair of ear plugs.

Most buses are air-conditioned, often to an extreme, so bring a sweater as well. Some buses do have bathrooms on board, but most do not. The ones that don’t will stop every hour or two at rest stations that have toilets–they are usually squat-style and do not have toilet paper, so bring some of your own if you require it. Rest stations also sell snacks, including fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and prepared Khmer food. Each stop will last 10 to 20 minutes, but keep your eye on the bus, as the driver won’t necessarily notice if you haven’t made it back to your seat before he takes off.

The night buses in Cambodia are not recommended, as they seem to be very prone to accidents. Overall, though, the buses in Cambodia are a pleasant and inexpensive way to see the country.

The Canby Guide has a good summary of domestic and international bus routes in Cambodia, although be sure to check with the bus operators, as they do change regularly.

This is an excerpt from Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder. To learn more about 100+ topics that pertain to Cambodia expats, please consider buying the book.