Our travels in Cambodia
Whilst we were travelling in Cambodia, we utilised a number of different modes of transport. Below is a summary of where we went, the mode of transport used, length of time the journey took and how far it was.
|Journey||Mode of transport||Distance (miles)||Time taken||Cost per person (USD)|
|Border to Tatai||Taxi||20||0.75||10|
|Tatai to Battambang||Shared taxi||225||8.5||22.5|
|Battambang to Siem Reap||Minivan||103||3.5||8|
|Siem Reap to Phnom Penh||Minivan||202||5.5||10|
|Phnom Penh to Kratie||Minivan||150||5||10|
|Kratie to Phnom Penh||Minivan||150||5||7.5|
|Phnom Penh to Kampot||Minivan||98||3.5||8.5|
|Kampot to Koh Rong Samloem||Minivan/boat||82||2.5/1.5||6/11|
|Koh Rong Samloem to Kampot||Minivan/boat||82||2.5/0.75||6/11|
|Kampot to Koh Rong Samloem||Minivan/boat||82||2.5/1.5||6/10|
|Koh Rong Samloem to Siem Reap||Boat/sleeper bus||369||0.75/13.5||10/18|
|Siem Reap to London||Taxi/Airplane||7658||5/16||27.5/947|
This is available to suit all budgets in Cambodia. Our experience is that you get what you pay for. We stayed in a number of different places throughout our travels. Using various booking portals to book accommodation, and sometimes booking directly with the establishment. Of our experience, the hotels, and guesthouses, we stayed in were all of a good standard
Don’t expect tea/coffee making facilities in guest houses. Hotels do provide this facility. Bathrooms have western-style toilets, with a bath and/or shower. Bathrooms will also be provided with a “bum gun”. A hand-held triggered nozzle that is located near the toilet. It delivers a spray of water used for cleaning the bottom after having used the toilet. Mainly because the Cambodian sewers cannot manage toilet paper. 🚽 🧻
Don’t panic, for westerners, the toilets have a waste bin to throw used toilet paper in. Toiletries are generally provided in most levels of accommodation.
WiFi is pretty good throughout Cambodia. Most establishments in the tourist areas have it. That includes bars, restaurants, and shops. Whilst staying in hotels in Cambodia, on a few occasions we wanted to extend our stay.
On approaching reception for their best price, they were not willing to better, or even match the price advertised on booking websites. Therefore, to extend our stay, for the best price. We had to complete on the cheapest booking website.
Currently, the train network within Cambodia is limited. Trains are operated by Royal Railways with the network being divided into two lines.
Operates from Poipet, on the border with Thailand, to Phnom Penh. Calling at Battambang, Pursat, and Phnom Penh. The service currently runs twice a week on Monday and Saturday, taking approximately 12 hours.
Operates from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. Calling at Takeo, Kep, Kampot, and Sihanoukville. The service currently runs four times a week on Friday, Saturday, and twice on Sunday, taking approximately 6.6 hours.
Trains from Phnom Penh Railway Station operate a service to Phnom Penh airport every 20 minutes. This service runs from 0700 hrs to 2400 hrs. A reduced service runs from 0000 hrs to 0700 hrs. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes.
Plans for the construction of three new railway lines in Cambodia are underway.
The first new line will link the existing Poipet to the Phnom Penh line to the Vietnam border. This will then form part of the Eastern Route of the Pan Asian Railway Network. Linking Kumming, China to Singapore. Going via Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Bangkok, Thailand.
The second line will link Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and Thailand.
Finally the last line will link Phnom Penh to Loas.
The line linking Bangkok in Thailand to Phnom Penh is fully operational. However, services are awaiting an agreement on the operation of crossing the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Hence, a train change at the border is still required, as of August 2020.
Types of trains
By 2009 railway services in Cambodia had been suspended because of a lack of funds to maintain the tracks and rolling stock. Services were resumed in 2016. Because of this passenger trains in Cambodia are very basic. Having said that, the trains are air-conditioned, well lit and the seats are padded.
Carriages have interconnecting doors, but we would not recommend sitting close to them. Cambodian passengers do not shut the doors as they go through the train and the doors do not shut automatically.
There are basically two types of seating arrangements in the carriages of the train.
This type of seating takes the form of padded bench seats either side of the aisle. Each bench is for 2 passengers and faces another bench, making a group of 4 passengers.
The whole carriage is made up of two long, well padded seats. Running down the complete length, either side of the carriage with a wide aisle between. These seats are not as common as the standard seats.
Toilets on the trains are western style, clean and spacious. Toilet roll and hand towels are provided. During longer journeys, they do tend to run out of water for the wash hand basin.
The ticket counters at most of the network’s railway stations are only open at certain times. Tickets only go on sale at the ticket office one week prior to departure. Tickets will often sell out by the time departure day arrives, so purchase them in advance. During holiday periods the trains will be busy and tickets will sell out quickly.
Alternatively, tickets may be purchased online on the following portals.
Minivans are the most popular form of intercity transport. Used by both locals and tourists throughout Cambodia they are a fast and cheap way to travel both between cities, following fixed routes. Having a fixed timetable and are general operated by private companies.
There is luggage space at the back and under the seats expect luggage and local’s bags to be stacked in the aisle.
Fares are set and displayed on boards in the operators ticket office. The same price applies to both foreigners and locals.
Be cautious when using these minibuses. Conditions of both the vehicle and the driver may not be what you are used to in the west.
Tickets can be purchased in advance. From the minivan company ticket office, these tend to be the departure and arrival points. We would recommend only using the main tourist companies, such as Virak Buntham, Larryta, Olongpich, Phnom Penh Sorya, Thang Vang, Kim Seng Express, Vibol Express, Pacific Express, Ekareach Express, Capitol Tours, Champa Mekong, Mekong Express, and Bokor Transport.
The mainstream companies are the ones who have the newer and safer vehicles. Your life is worth more than the 1 USD you might save using the backstreet companies.
The cheapest travel option in Cambodia is the bus. They are the preferred form of inter-province transport in Cambodia. The national routes are generally in good condition though there are some areas where the national roads are undergoing reconstruction.
A dozen or so companies offer regular buses between major towns and cities, as well as international routes. There are basically two types of buses used and you get what you pay for.
Firstly, is the local or city bus, which makes short distance trips. Secondly is the VIP bus, which makes longer journeys. The latter tend to be more comfortable and also offer the option to travel at night on the sleeper bus.
All are fairly comfortable and have air conditioning, which is usually cranked right down, making the bus freezing at times. Some companies offer a higher standard of service, safety, and comforts, such as Mekong Express and Giant Ibis. Expect free hotel pick-up in places like Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
With roads in Cambodia being better now the sleeper bus can be a good option if you are short on time. Despite a lot of online reports not recommending them for safety reasons. Choosing to use one from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, we found that the standard of driving to be good compared to other SE Asian countries. Feeling perfectly safe throughout the entire journey. The bus was acceptable and the bed was comfortable.
A word of warning ⚠️
Beds are arranged as doubles, either side of the aisle. Therefore, they are narrow, probably no more than 1200mm wide fine for us as a couple. If you were a solo traveller, you could have a complete stranger very up close and personal with you all night.
Either book both spaces or alternatively travel on the night bus, which has seats, rather than the sleeper bus.
Cambodian buses don’t have toilets on board. Regular stops are made every couple of hours for food/toilet breaks. Toilets are very basic, without toilet paper, so take your own if you require it. Each stop will be for 10 to 20 minutes. Listen for the bus horn, that’s the only notice you get that the bus is going. The driver won’t do a head count, he will just go.
Can be purchased in advance from bus company ticket offices. These tend to be the departure and arrival points. We would recommend only using the main tourist companies, such as, Mekong Express and Giant Ibis. These mainstream companies are the ones who have the newer and safer vehicles. Your life is worth more than the 1 USD you might save using the backstreet companies.
Tuk tuks are the most convenient way to travel around towns and cities. The drivers will do their very best to overcharge you. They think that because you are a foreigner and travelling thousands of miles away from your home you can afford it.
There are three levels of pricing in Cambodia, tourist, ex-pat, and local. Knowing some basic Khmer might move you to the second category. Don’t be afraid to haggle, but be fair. Of course, it is entirely up to you how much you end up paying. With us, it was the principle of overcharging tourists that we didn’t agree with. We always gave a tip to the genuine and fair drivers, for being just that.
Getting around the tourist areas is cheaper using the online services of the Pass App. Both cars and tuk tuks can be booked through this app. No arguments over the fare and cheaper than ordinary waving one down in the street.
Your destination is entered at the time of booking so no difficulty trying to explain where you want to go. The process of getting one can take a bit longer, but ultimately it’s worth it, in our opinion. Don’t worry if you haven’t got mobile data when you are out. All of the shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, and supermarkets have free wifi.
A moto taxi involves you riding pillion on the back of a motorcycle or scooter. In our opinion, it is the cheapest and fastest way to get from somewhere to the hospital.
As you can probably tell we are not fans of this mode of transport. Firstly, being a couple, it doesn’t cater to us. Secondly, the insane way some of the motorcycles and scooters are driven leaves a lot to be desired. Lastly, bag snatching from tourists on moto taxis is commonplace.
A good way to see the local area is by renting a scooter. As we were in Kampot during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown having transport to get essential shopping was a must. We hired a scooter for almost 3 months at a very competitive price. Already having ridden scooters in other SE Asian countries, we were aware of the pitfalls of scooter hire and use.
Hiring a scooter in Cambodia is easy, everywhere you turn, someone will be renting scooters out to tourists. Follow some basic rules to help you stay safe.
- Only rent from either your hotel or a reputable local firm.
- Ensure your travel insurance includes cover for you renting and riding the scooter.
- You will be required to leave some form of deposit. Most places will ask for your passport. Think twice about just handing over your most valuable travel possession. Check where it will be kept and that it will not get into the hand of anyone else.
- Always wear a helmet. Checking that it fits correctly and is undamaged.
- When you collect the scooter it could already be damaged. Make sure you point this out to the person renting it to you and then take pictures/videos of the entire scooter for when you return it.
- Use the horn when overtaking. It lets other drivers know you are there.
- Always be prepared for the unexpected as all traffic will pass you on both sides. When driving on the right and turning left, be ready for something to still come hurtling past you on your left.
- Secure the scooter when it’s left unattended. Preferably with your own lock. You don’t know who else has a key to the rental supplied padlock.
We didn’t experience any issues with our scooter rental from the Romantic 169 tour in Kampot.
Renting a scooter in Phnom Penh would be on another level completely. The city has far more traffic, making it more dangerous. Something we would avoid, to be honest.
Siem Reap has its own rules regarding Scooter rental. Shops in Siem Reap rent out scooters, although it is actually illegal. Unlike the other cities in Cambodia, the law prohibits the rental of scooters to tourists. The reason for this is unclear.
It has been said it’s because of the dangerous traffic and road conditions. Don’t be fooled by the many foreigners riding scooters in the town. These are probably ex-pats who live in Siem Reap, who by law, can own and ride one. An e-scooter is legal in Siem Reap they are not considered to be scooters.
Cambodian police have been known to target foreigners regardless of whether they are riding legally or not. Whilst scooters do not require a license. Don’t be surprised if you are pulled over by the police, who will then try and fine you. This is a common scare tactic. Don’t panic, just stay calm and be polite. Paying a bribe will be the fastest way out of the situation, however, do politely haggle over the amount.
Should you wish to stand your ground, do so carefully. Be patient and calm and eventually they might leave you alone. Alternatively, they might confiscate the scooter and drag you to the police station. The choice is yours.
There are scenic small boat services between Siem Reap and Battambang. Running all year round as the water level permits them. The most popular boat service is between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
The express services can do the trip in as little as five hours. Services stop when the Tonle Sap Lake Water level is too low between March and July. Services resume again between August and February. These services are far more expensive than going by road.
The other boat services popular with tourists are the ferry services from Sihanoukville to the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. With a number of companies running ferries on this route, it is easy to get to the islands.
On our trip to Koh Rong Samloem, we used Island Speed Ferry for our return trip. Tickets for these ferries are available online through Camboticket.com. Alternatively, they can be purchased from many agencies found in all tourist areas. We paid 22 USD per person for a return ticket from one of these agencies.
On our second visit, we purchased the same ticket, with the same company, at the pier for only 20 USD per person. These return tickets are open returns, so you don’t have to book a specific return date. Just get your accommodation to confirm with the company the day before you want to return. Single tickets are available at 12 USD per person each way.
Island Speed Ferry round trip leaves from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Island first, then to Koh Rong Samloem Island, before returning to Sihanoukville. Journey time to Koh Rong is about 45 minutes. It’s then a further 30 minutes from there to Koh Rong Samloem Island. This means the return journey to Sihanoukville from Koh Rong Samloem Island is a direct one, taking approximately 45 minutes.
There is nothing quite like the freedom of being able to explore a place on two wheels. Cycling in Cambodia gives the opportunity to see so much more than you would from a bus or train. We cycled a lot whilst we were in Siem Reap and this is our honest review and guide on how to get along on a bicycle in Cambodia.
Siem Reap and the surrounding area is very flat, the only incline being the bridges over the river. This makes you think cycling around is quite an easy thing to do. However, this is not the case. There are so many other factors to take into account before taking that giant leap of cycling around the country.
Firstly, it’s always hot, and we mean HOT. The temperature rarely drops below 30°C and when on the open road there is no shade. Secondly, the roads can be non-existent, just dirt tracks, which, during the rainy season become slippery, slimy, muddy quagmires, that are unrideable. Finally, the rules of the road, there aren’t any. Size matters in Cambodia and when on a bicycle, you are considered tiny. Everything else has priority over you.
Please don’t be put off by all of this it is possible to stay safe and have a great time cycling around, we did. There are however a few things that you may wish to consider, that may make life a little easier.
Type of bicycle
As we have already said, we cycled around Siem Reap and the surrounding area when we were there. In the main, this was because we had to, not because we wanted to. Our long term accommodation was 2 miles from the town centre. For us to get into town meant either a 2 mile walk each way, a $3 round trip in a tuk tuk, or use the bicycles provided by the accommodation.
We chose bicycles, a great way to get some exercise. Our bicycles were city cycles, perfect for the smooth tarmac or concrete roads found in the town. Not really suitable for the potholed dirt track to get there. For any serious cycling, a mountain bike is a minimum requirement for the road conditions.
During our first 6 weeks, we had 2 punctures, replaced 2 inner tubes, had to replace the lock provided, as we broke it and then we lost the key for the replacement lock, within 24 hours of buying it. The key got shaken out of the lock whilst riding down the bumpy road. Finally breaking 3 eggs on our way back from the supermarket along a bumpy road. So, the type of bicycle is an important factor.
It is really important to consider what time of year you are going to cycle in Cambodia. There are three seasons. The cool season, the hot season, and the rainy season. Put simply, the hot season, the hotter season, and the hot and humid season.
Cool season is from December to February. Temperature ranges from 21 to 32 °C, a good time to be cycling around, dry and not too hot. The hot season runs from March to June. Temperatures climb to 40 °C and it feels really uncomfortable. There is just no getting away from the heat.
The roads are dusty and the unmade roads even dustier. Rainy season runs from June to November. This season can come as a welcome respite from the oppressive heat of the hot season.
Heavy rain and localised flooding are to be expected. Dusty roads experienced during the hot season turn into slippery, slimy quagmires. Making cycling in these conditions very difficult.
Rules of the road
Remembering the Cambodian highway code is really simple, there isn’t one. No matter how careful you are or how much protection you wear, you are quite simply at the mercy of the other road users. Traffic lights and road signs are just a form of decoration along the road. Sometimes adhered too, sometimes not. Having said that, we found other road users respectful of us on our bicycles.
The key when cycling is to be confident, keep moving at a steady pace and don’t make any quick maneuvers. An unofficial right-of-way hierarchy exists, with one simple rule, the bigger you are, the more priority you get.
When passing parked vehicles, be aware of the opening door. Approaching any vehicle from behind it is likely that the driver will be completely unaware of your presence. At crossroads, nobody has right of way. Vehicles joining your road from the right will just merge into the traffic, usually without first stopping or even looking.
Constant vigilance is the order of the day. A beep of the horn is drivers politely letting you know they are there, not done in anger. Expect cats, dogs, and chickens to be on the road. Other road users won’t always indicate. Use hand signals to indicate your intention. Don’t go off the beaten track whilst cycling in the rural areas, landmines are still a problem in Cambodia.
On the road
In every town and village, there are roadside motorcycle/bicycle repair huts. Offering tyre inflation (usually free), puncture repair (2,000 Riel in Siem Reap), and inner tube replacement services (10,000 Riel in Siem Reap).
We don’t know and cannot vouch for other mechanical repairs or spare parts available from these huts. Certainly within Phnom Penh and Siem Reap spare parts, accessories and cycling clothing are available from cycling shops that we saw.
Little stalls on the roadside sell canned drinks and bottled water from a cooler box, should you get caught short and run out of liquids whilst out.
Cycling around Cambodia can be fun. You don’t need to do it on your own if you don’t want to. There are plenty of cycling tours available that will suit your needs, from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks. Whichever way you choose to cycle in Cambodia you will enjoy it.
The official currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel. US Dollars are Cambodia’s unofficial second currency meaning it has a dual currency system. In fact, the visa you get for Cambodia, whether it be online or on arrival, must be paid for in US Dollars.
Most prices will be given in Dollars, but Riel or a combination of both Dollars and Riel is accepted as payment. Unlike in many countries, if you pay in US dollars the exchange rate you will get is quite fair. Neither US coins nor Riel coins exist in Cambodia, only notes.
ATM’s in Cambodia dispense either US Dollars or Cambodian Riel. No matter which bank is used, there will be a 5 USD transaction fee charged for using the ATM. This is irrespective of the amount withdrawn. Note, our UK bank permits a maximum withdrawal of £300 per day when abroad.
If paying with US dollars the notes must be in good condition especially larger denominations. Check your change to ensure the notes you have been given are not marked. Marks of any kind will result in the money not being accepted. Check this is not the case with the local currency. Some of the Riel notes in circulation are in an awful condition but accepted everywhere.
Foreigners come to Cambodia with an intention to try and make a difference by doing some volunteer work. Most choose to volunteer by working with children, usually by teaching English in an orphanage.
As a result, volunteering has become a full-fledged industry in Cambodia. Orphanages attract vast amounts of financial support. The number of privately run centres rose from 132 in 2005 to 248 in 2010 and has risen even more now.
Some of these centres exist only to cater to foreign tourists. The vast majority of children who are placed in orphanages in Cambodia are not orphans. Demand from foreign tourists to work with Cambodian children is so high, parents are offered large financial incentives to place their children in these centres.
Volunteer placements can certainly cause problems. A constant stream of poorly supervised, unqualified volunteers, changing every week or two, will not help these children. Equally, a poorly supervised, unqualified volunteer on a long term placement can be just as bad.
Let’s put this into some form of perspective. Would you think it acceptable that your children or grandchildren attended a school with unqualified, unvetted staff, who were replaced every other week?
Having said all of that, volunteering can be a good thing when it is done correctly. It’s possible to have a very successful volunteer placement with children for an afternoon, doing magic shows, origami, reading poetry, doing arts and crafts, or playing the guitar.
Volunteers can be particularly beneficial in helping to develop local staff. A professional teacher volunteering to work with the local teaching staff in a school or centre, is better than teaching the pupils directly. In this way, the volunteer is less disruptive to the pupils and can pass on skills and experience to local teachers.
It’s not just working with children that are the problem. When volunteers offer to do construction work, local labour is put out of work. Local masons, painters, and carpenters lose jobs because an inexperienced foreign worker has replaced them.
When volunteering in a foreign country, guidance, and support of those in charge is paramount. Be sure that these basic requirements are in place.
- Does the centre truly understand the problems it is trying to improve?
- Does it have effective programmes to deal with the problems?
- Why does it use volunteers?
- What do volunteers do?
- How are volunteers screened?
- How are they supervised and supported?
- What impact do the volunteers have on local people’s jobs?
- What impact are the volunteers having on the local staff/children/community?
- After the volunteer has left, are local people more empowered and stronger or more dependent on the next volunteer?
Cambodia has three seasons. The cool season, the hot season, and the rainy season.
Put simply, the hot season, the hotter season and the hot and humid season.
The cool season runs from December to February. Cooling down in November, the weather is quite pleasant in December and January. The temperature can range from 21 to 32 °C.
January is the coldest month of the year. February is still pleasant, but temperatures start to rise by the end of the month.
The hot season runs from March to June. April is usually the hottest month of the year. Temperatures climb to 40 °C and it feels really uncomfortable. There is just no getting away from the heat. The roads are dusty and the unmade roads even dustier. Expect some short, sharp, heavy rainfall as it does rain occasionally during this season.
The rainy season runs from June to November. This season can come as a welcome respite from the oppressive heat of the hot season. Rain can be heavy and is predictable. Usually being preceded by wind and generally happening in the afternoons.
Localised flooding is to be expected and the dusty roads experienced during the hot season turn into slippery, slimy quagmires.
As a guest in Cambodia, it is respectful to have an understanding of Cambodian culture to avoid social misunderstandings. Here are a few things to know.
- In the Cambodian and Buddhist culture, the head is the most sacred part of the body. DO NOT touch or pat the head of people, even children.
- Similarly, as the feet are the lowest parts of the body, DO NOT use your feet to point at someone or something, to get the attention of someone, or to push an object to someone.
- If you go to a pagoda and have to sit on the floor, DO NOT sit cross-legged or with your legs outstretched.
- Buddhist monks are deeply revered and respected. Women are not allowed to touch a monk’s robe or his body.
- The Cambodian society is relatively conservative and public displays of affection, such as kissing and hugs, are considered inappropriate and offensive.
- In public or sacred places such as pagodas, and in public buildings, avoid shouting, as well as laughing and speaking excessively loudly.
Police Clearance Report
Many people enjoy being in Cambodia so much, they decide to stay awhile to soak up the culture and savor the wonderful lifestyle. Should you be one of the lucky people fortunate enough to be able to reside in Cambodia for 6 months or more, be aware.
On your return to the UK, your new employer may require you to provide a Police Clearance Report for the time that you were a resident in Cambodia, as you would have lived outside of the UK for more than 6 months.
The British Embassy in Cambodia does not issue Police Clearance Reports or carry out Criminal Background Checks. They do have an information sheet offering guidance on How to obtain Police Clearance Report.
The report is obtained from the Ministry of Justice of Cambodia, which is at:
N0. 240, Sothearuos Boulevards, Phnom Penh.
Telephone / Fax: +855 (0)23 364 119
Before going to the Ministry, a Residence Certificate must be obtained from the commune that you live in. If you have lived in more than one commune, you will need to get the Residence Certificate from each commune.
It will take up to 20+ working days to obtain a Police Clearance Report, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time when applying.