I’m spending the month backpacking Cambodia and it’s taking a while to get used to travel in this country. Let’s just say it has not been as straight forward as Thailand! I thought I would do a Bookaway review to see if it was worth recommending this company for travel in South East Asia. Sadly, my bookaway journey from Siem Reap to Battambang ended up being a travel nightmare!
In short, a summary of this Bookaway Review is….
DO NOT USE BOOKAWAY.COM For your travel tickets in Asia and here’s why…
Bookaway Review – Overpriced Tickets
My bus for Battambang was booked via bookaway.com and the first thing to note is that they will add a couple of dollars to each journey simply for the privilege of booking through their website instead of direct with the bus company. So I paid almost $20 instead of the $16 that it would have been booking direct with Mekong Express.
Incorrect Information given on Bus Pickup Location
Now, I always allow plenty of time to make room for hiccups on the way to the bus station and getting tickets in Asia. I know that sometimes it can take a while to get through the systems.
So I left my hotel in Siem Reap at 7.15am to arrive at 7.30am for an 8am departure. Because addresses can be hit and miss in Cambodia and some things (including the Mekong Express office 2) do not appear on Google or the Grab/Pass apps.
So I jumped on instant chat with bookaway.com which seemed at the time to be a fast and good service. I told her that the Mekong Express office was not appearing on google and that the directions on the image did not work. The lady on chat (Vanessa) sent new a screenshot of where the Mekong express office was located with walking directions.
These directions were WRONG! I arrived at my location in a tuk tuk (thank God I got a tuk tuk as walking would have been an even worse stress and I may not have made it!) and when we arrived at the location given by Bookaway.com – no office, no backpackers, no bus!!!! Thankfully my tuk tuk driver was extremely helpful and checked with the locals who gave him directions to the Mekong Express bus pickup office.
The relief when we saw a load of backpackers and a big red bus – Phew!!!! My tuk tuk driver got me there with literally 10 minutes to spare and I slipped him an extra dollar for his good service!
Print your ticket!
On the email from Bookaway.com it says e-ticket and it’s not clear that you must print your ticket. However, it says it somewhere in some of the paperwork and the bus station require it in paper form (not on your phone or email) and you MUST print the e ticket out and make sure that your seat number is clearly visible if you are travelling in Southeast Asia. You then trade this print out for a Mekong Express ticket (or whichever bus company your journey is with) and THAT is what you use to board the bus in Cambodia.
When I got my ticket I only got a one way ticket, even though I’d booked a return journey. I didn’t check this at the time of boarding in Siem Reap as I presumed I must get the return journey ticket in the Battambang office for the way back. More on that later!!!!!
Police Bribes and Broken Down Bus!
All was going well as we exited Siem Reap and we were looked after with a bottle of water. There was a toilet on board and quite a decent amount of leg room.
However, things started to progress when we were pulled over at a police check point. There was some commotion and pointing at the bus. Then we saw our driver nip back to the bus, take money out of his wallet and slip the dollars literally into the policeman’s pocket! 😂
As if the bribery and corruption wasn’t enough, half an hour later we were at a roadside make shift garage having a tyre change – one of the tyres had completely blown out!!!! People were watching in amazong saying – OMG was that on our bus!!
This combined with extensive rod works meant that the time we pulled into Battambang we were two hours late. A supposedly three hour journey became 5. The Cambodians were telling us that the usual time to make this journey was four hours and not three as advertised on Bookaway.com.
Return journey from Hell – ‘You no go Siem Reap’
Who would have thought that this journey could get any worse? Again I arrived half an hour early to the Mekong bus station in Battambang. I showed my ticket with the correct date and journey and seat number 1C. There was a lot of confusion and they asked for my other ticket. Apparently my return journey was not on the system.
I asked to see the bus plan and on my seat 1C it said ‘BLANK’. I showed the booking on my phone where I had paid for a return trip. It seemed completely meaningless. I said ‘yes it’s BLANK because that seat is for me!’ I pointed out that my seat corresponded with the blank space and the date and booking was correct. I kept getting told ‘not on our system’. It seemed that bookaway had not informed Mekong express of my return journey.
The fact that I only had ONE booking reference for the journey there and back seemed to confuse things. I was giving my booking reference and they kept saying yes – Siem Reap to Battambang. I was insisting it was a return ticket and showing them my payment. She said you only pay $8 for one way. I said NO! I paid almost $20 – there and back!
Then the horror when I was told – ‘You no go Siem Reap!’
By this time there had been almost 30 minutes of commotion and the bus was now boarding! I basically stood up and said very loudly ‘yes, I am going to Siem Reap because that’s my bus and that’s my seat!’ And just got on!!!!!
My mom was in Siem Reap and I didn’t have another night at the hotel in Battambang – there was no way I was gonna be stranded.
A few of the office staff got on to see my and I just wouldn’t move and pointed to the seat number and my booking. ‘You no pay!’ I was told. ‘Yes! I have paid. There’s my receipt!’ I insisted.
I messaged bookaway.com on instant messenger and told them the problem. I insisted that someone phone the Battambang Mekong express office there and then. I think they did although some things got lost in translation. The staff went back into the office to continue to sort this all out and en my bus pulled away – with me on it. Allelujah!!!!!
The bus journey back was ok despite a few close calls with Motos and we got to Siem Reap about four and a half hours later (with one loo and food stop). When I got off the bus, a Cambodian woman was asking for me and said – seat 1C?!?! I said yes and followed her into the office to sort it all out.
When I recharged my phone I could see that bookaway.com had refunded the Battambang to Siem Reap leg of my journey. I then showed this to the woman and paid the $8 direct to Mekong Express so that my ticket had been paid for directly.
I said to the woman in the office I did pay and showed her all the paperwork – I didn’t want them thinking I’d tried to skip a fair. She confirmed ‘ok now!’ I then said ‘What was the problem? She pointed to bookaway website and said ‘many problems with this company’ I simply said that they should not use them or accept bookings from them because it has caused many problems for staff and passengers.
I finally got in my tuk tuk back to Be Happy Guest house in Siem Reap – my home from home.
What a Palarva!
In short, the recommendation from my bookaway review is do not use bookaway!
Travelling in Cambodia? Book directly with Mekong express or Sorya.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is so important as it will help you with emergencies and unexpected costs on your trip. Make sure that you declare any pre-existing health conditions so that you are covered for those. Check your cover for accidents and medical care and also lost baggage or getting things stolen. Remember to report as soon as something goes wrong on your trip because some travel insurance companies require you to report something that you want to claim for within 24 hours. Read the fine print carefully when you sign up. I always recommend World Nomads. You can get a free quote here:
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot – this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.