This week, I’m excited to be travelling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. The journey from Cambodia’s capital to Siem Reap for the world famous Angkor Wat temple complex is well worth it, and one that I have wanted to make for a long time!
Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Capital
Phnom Penh is the lively bustling capital of Cambodia. Situated at the convergence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap, what was once considered the ‘Gem’ of Indochina. The capital city still upholds substantial charm with plenty to see. Phnom Penh is an absolute oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. A combination of Asian exotica, the well-known Cambodian hospitality anticipates the visitors to the capital of Cambodia.
Here in Phnom Penh there are many exciting touristy sites. Apart from the Royal Palace, the National Museum, the Silver Pagoda, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, Wat Phnom and the Phnom Pehn Killing Fields tour, there are multiple marketplaces selling carvings, paintings, silk, silver, gems and even antiques. It is certainly an ideal destination for a leisurely day tour. The entire area including the outskirts of Phnom Penh is around 376 square kilometres large. There are presently 2,009,264 people living in Phnom Penh.
The city takes its name from the re-known Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which was built in 1373 to house five statues of Buddha on a man-made hill 27 meters high. These five statues were floating down the Mekong in a Koki tree and an old wealthy widow named Daun Penh (Grandma Penh) saved them and set them up on this very hill for worshiping. Phnom Penh was also known previously as Krong Chaktomuk which means “City of Four Faces”. This refers to the confluence where the Bassac, Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers cross to form an “X” where the capital is located.
Phnom Penh, like many other Asian-City tourist spots, is in the midst of swift change. Over the past years the number of hotels and restaurants have grown significantly and in the last year there had been a massive rise in the number of visitors. Come to see a real original as it won’t be similar in a few years.
How do you get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Over the past year there have been some massive changes in how to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh). From fanciful new bus companies, to the very top taxi services, to a lot more convenient flights, it has never been this easy to get from one city to the other.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by Bus
There are multiple bus companies offering VIP and economy buses between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Although companies such as Mekong Express and Giant Ibis used to be the only suggested services a few years ago, there are now way more fantastic (and even better) options such as Seila Angkor and Bayon VIP. These bus companies are a lot better than the typical Cambodian bus services – they make less stops, are less crowded and drive more carefully. Overall, an economy bus ranges from $5-$6 on average and sits around 50 people. VIP buses are more comfortable and smaller, sitting around 15 people. They are slightly more expensive at $9-$12 one way.
I took the Mekong Express bus on the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and although the bus itself was comfortable, the ride was a little bouncy and the air was not very nice as people in the countryside burn their rubbish (there are no rubbish collections) and the smoke infiltrates into the bus. There were also some mozzies on the bus – so make sure that your feet are covered. The total journey was around 5-6 hours in total. On the return journey, I decided to take a flight for comfort and to save a day of travel.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by Taxi
If you’re trying to find a bit of comfort during the trip, then a private taxi is your ideal option. The journey will take around 5 hours in total and there is some completely spectacular scenery along the way. On average a private taxi from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap will cost in the region of $75 (that’s usually the quote from Phnom Penh airport to Siem Reap).
You’ll be given the option of stopping for coffees, toilet breaks and even sightseeing if you want to. The improved services provide nice comfortable cars (e.g. a 4 x 4 Lexus) and the drivers will pick you up from the airport, your hotel or any other location which is convenient for you. One thing that is recommended is to book your taxi in advance. It’s cheaper, and also Cambodian traffic can be very hectic, so the taxi rides may be frightening and daunting if you don’t know the driver.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by Plane
There are now many airline companies that fly directly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, including Lanmei Airlines, Cambodia Angkor Air and JC International Airlines. Of these, Cambodia Angkor Air (which is the national carrier of Cambodia) inclines to be the best reviewed. The airline uses an ATR 72 for flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. On average, the flight will take approximately 45 minutes and will cost $160 return (though as with all flights, there are usually special offers on depending on the booking company, time of year, etc.)
I actually managed to get a flight going back from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh for just $30! The flight was at 7am and I was through in Phnom Penh by 8.00am! My flight was with Lanmei airlines and it was very comfortable and a smooth landing.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by Ferry Boat
If you fancy a little bit of adventure during the trip, there is another option of taking the ferry boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Although the journey will be a lot longer (8+ hours), it will be a unforgettable experience for sure, with some truly stunning scenery along the way.
The ferry boat services are active throughout the majority of the year, closing during April, May, and June (height of peak season), where the water levels are a bit too low. There are now multiple companies providing the trip, including a few speed boats services. Of these, the recommended company is Mekong Explore, as it is one of the few companies that enforce life jackets on its boats. The Mekong Explore sets off at 7.30am from both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and costs about $35. Most people tend to sit on the top for a better view, so be sure to bring plenty of suntan lotion with you and enjoy the ride.
What you can do and see in Siem Reap
As the home to Angkor Wat, the awe-inspiring and mind-blowing collection of ancient temple ruins, a visit to Siem Reap may just be the highlight of your trip. Outside of the mystifying temple tours, this northern city has a lot to offer in terms of culture, history, and wild holiday antics.
Mysterious, magical and absolutely mesmerizing, Angkor Wat is one of those bucket lists places that every human should experience before they die. Here is the largest Buddhist temple on earth, which took 30 years to build during the 12th century and spans over 500 acres. As you stroll through one of history’s lost civilizations, climbing marble stairs and ducking through stone-structured archways, you’ll get an architectural glimpse into a world long forgotten.
Dive into cooking classes and pottery-making lessons, visit war museums to learn about the areas affected by landmines, and then mingle with other travellers on Pub Street where you can get some lovely Western food and cheap draft beer. Siem Reap offers extremely comfortable accommodation options spanning from new budget hostels to luxurious hotels with pristine pools. You will comfortably spend a week or so just discover all of the great features that Siem Reap has to offer.
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.