Airlines in Cambodia
Domestic flights offer a quick way to travel around the country. The problem is that the airlines themselves seem to come and go pretty quickly as well. There are currently five domestic airlines in Cambodia, operating flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. There are up to 10 flights a day between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and it is usually possible to get on a flight at short notice. Book ahead in peak season. There are currently about five flights per day between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville in peak season.
Bassaka Air Offers at least one flight daily between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Cambodia Angkor Air Offers several flights a day between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and up to two flights a day between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Prices are generally higher than the competition.
Cambodia Bayon Airlines Has at least one flight daily between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and one or two daily flights between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
JC International Airlines New airline with daily discounted flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Sky Angkor Airlines Has several weekly flights between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
There are two private helicopter companies offering scenic flights over the temples of Angkor and charter flights for high-flyers.
Helicopters Cambodia Has offices in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and is affiliated with Helicopters New Zealand.
Helistar A reliable helicopter company with offices in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Cambodia is a great country for experienced cyclists to explore. A mountain bike is the recommended set of wheels thanks to the notorious state of the roads. Most roads have a flat unpaved trail along the side, which is useful for cyclists.
Much of Cambodia is pancake flat or only moderately hilly. Safety, however, is a considerable concern on the newer surfaced roads, as local traffic travels at high speed. Bicycles can be transported around the country in the back of pick-ups or on the roof of minibuses.
Guesthouses and hotels in Cambodia rent out bicycles for US$1 to US$2 per day, or US$7 to US$15 for an imported brand such as Giant or Trek.
Top bikes, safety equipment and authentic spare parts are now readily available in Phnom Penh at very reasonable prices.
PEPY Tours is a bicycle and volunteer tour company offering adventures throughout Cambodia. PEPY promotes ‘adventurous living, responsible giving’ and puts funds put back into community education and other projects.
Cambodia’s 1900km of navigable waterways are not as important as they once were for the average tourist, given major road improvements. North of Phnom Penh, the Mekong is easily navigable as far as Kratie, but there are no longer regular passenger services on these routes, as buses have taken all the business. There are scenic boat services between Siem Reap and Battambang, and the Tonlé Sap lake is also navigable year-round, although only by smaller boats between March and July.
Traditionally the most popular boat services with foreigners are those that run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The express services do the trip in as little as five hours. The first couple of hours out of Phnom Penh along the Tonlé Sap River are scenic, but it becomes less interesting when the river morphs into the Tonlé Sap lake, which is like a vast sea, offering little scenery. It’s more popular (and much cheaper) to take a bus on the paved road instead.
The small boat between Siem Reap and Battambang is more rewarding, as the river scenery is truly memorable, but it can take as long as a whole day with delays.
The range of road transport is extensive. On sealed roads, the large air-conditioned buses and speedy express minivans are the most popular choices. Elsewhere in the country, a shared taxi or local minibus is the way to go.
All major cities are now well-linked by bus to Phnom Penh along sealed roads, but if you're travelling from one end of the country to the other you may have to change buses in Phnom Penh or another hub.
While it doesn't cover all bus companies, bookmebus (www.bookmebus.com) is a reliable bus-ticket booking site, including for more obscure routes (Ban Lung to Siem Reap, anyone?) and cross-border trips.
Buses are reasonably safe but accidents can happen on Cambodia's dicey roads, and there have been several big accidents involving buses or express minivans where tourists were killed.
Express minivans, which usually take the form of modern Ford Transits or Toyota Hiaces, operate a one seat/one passenger policy and are reasonably comfortable, but they are sometimes driven by maniacs, so check the reviews.
Older local minibuses serve most provincial routes but are not widely used by Western visitors. They are very cheap but painfully slow and often uncomfortably overcrowded, with people spilling out the back and kids vomiting everywhere; only really consider them if there is no alternative.
Car & Motorcycle
Car and motorcycle rental are comparatively cheap in Cambodia and many visitors rent a car or bike for greater flexibility to visit out-of-the-way places and to stop when they choose. Almost all car rental in Cambodia includes a driver, although self-drive rentals are also available in Phnom Penh.
Many more people are now killed and injured each month in traffic accidents than by landmines. While this is partly down to landmine awareness efforts and ongoing clearance programs, it is also due to a huge increase in the number of vehicles on the roads and drivers travelling at dangerous speeds. Be extremely vigilant when travelling under your own steam and take care crossing the roads on the high-speed national highways. It's best not to travel on the roads at night due to a higher prevalence of accidents at this time. This especially applies to bikers, as several foreigners are killed each year in motorbike accidents.
Cambodia has some of the best roads (read worst roads) in the world for dirt biking, particularly in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri and the Cardamom Mountains. Only experienced off-road bikers should take to these roads with a dirt bike. There are several specialised dirt-bike touring companies in Cambodia.
Novice riders should stick to riding smaller semi-automatic mopeds. Drive with due care and attention, as medical facilities and ambulances are less than adequate beyond Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang. If you have never ridden a motorcycle before, Cambodia is not the ideal place to start, but once out of the city it does get easier. If you’re jumping in at the deep end, make sure you are under the supervision of someone who knows how to ride.
According to official rules, to drive a car you need a Cambodian licence, but the law is seldom applied. Local travel agents and some motorbike renters can arrange a Cambodian licence in less than a week for around US$35.
When it comes to renting motorcycles, it’s a case of no licence required. If you can drive the bike out of the shop, you can drive it anywhere, or so the logic goes.
Fuel & Spare Parts
Fuel is relatively expensive in Cambodia compared with other staples. Fuel prices are generally much higher in central Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (4000r to 5000r, or US$1 to US$1.25, per litre) than elsewhere because of high rents. Highway petrol stations in the provinces are a good bet for cheap fuel (as low as 3000r per litre for gasoline, or 2200r per litre for diesel).
Fuel is readily available throughout the country. Even the most isolated communities usually have someone selling petrol out of Fanta or Johnnie Walker bottles. Some sellers mix this fuel with kerosene to make a quick profit, so use it sparingly, in emergencies only.
When it comes to spare parts, Cambodia is flooded with Chinese, Japanese and Korean motorcycles, so it's easy to get parts for Hondas, Yamahas or Suzukis, but finding a part for a specialist make is another matter. The same goes for cars. Spares for Japanese cars are easy to come by, but if you are driving something obscure, bring substantial spares.
Car hire is generally only available with a driver and is most useful for sightseeing around Phnom Penh and Angkor, and for conveniently travelling between cities. Some tourists with a healthy budget also arrange cars or 4WDs with drivers for touring the provinces. Hiring a car with a driver is about US$30 to US$35 for a day in and around Cambodia’s towns. Heading into the provinces it rises to US$50 or more, plus petrol, depending on the destination. Hiring 4WDs will cost around US$60 to US$120 a day, depending on the model and the distance travelled. Self-drive car rentals are available in Phnom Penh, but think twice about driving yourself due to chaotic road conditions and personal liability in the case of an accident.
It is possible to explore Cambodia by motorbike. Anyone planning a longer ride should try out the bike around town for a day or so first to make sure it is in good health.
Motorcycles are available for hire in Phnom Penh and other provincial capitals. In Siem Reap motorcycle rental is still technically forbidden, but of late authorities are taking a relaxed view and a growing number of places now hire out motorbikes to tourists. It is usually possible to rent a 100cc motorbike for between US$4 and US$10 per day; costs are around US$15 to US$25 for a 250cc dirt bike.
If you are travelling in a tourist vehicle with a driver, then the car is usually insured. When it comes to motorcycles, many rental bikes are not insured and you will have to sign a contract agreeing to a valuation for the bike if it is stolen. Make sure you have a strong lock and always leave the bike in guarded parking where available.
Do not even consider hiring a motorcycle if you are daft enough to be travelling in Cambodia without medical insurance. The cost of treating serious injuries, especially if you require an evacuation, is bankrupting for budget travellers.
Road Conditions & Hazards
Whether travelling or living in Cambodia, it is easy to lull yourself into a false sense of security and assume that down every rural road is yet another friendly village. However, even with the demise of the Khmer Rouge, odd incidents of banditry and robbery do occur in rural areas. There have also been some nasty bike-jackings in Sihanoukville. When travelling in your own vehicle, and particularly by motorcycle in rural areas, make certain you check the latest security information in communities along the way.
Be particularly careful about children on the road, as you’ll sometimes find kids hanging out in the middle of a major highway. Livestock on the road is also a menace; hit a cow and you’ll both be pizza.
Other general security suggestions for those travelling by motorcycle:
- Try to get hold of a good-quality helmet for long journeys or high-speed riding.
- Carry a basic repair kit, including some tyre levers, a puncture-repair kit and a pump.
- Always carry a rope for towing on longer journeys in case you break down.
- In remote areas always carry several litres of water, as you never know when you will run out.
- Travel in small groups, not alone, and stay close together.
- Don’t be cheap with the petrol, as running out of fuel in a rural area could jeopardise your health, especially if water runs out too.
- Do not smoke marijuana or drink alcohol and drive.
- Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the road; Cambodian potholes eat people for fun.
If there are road rules in Cambodia it is doubtful that anyone is following them. Size matters and the biggest vehicle wins by default. The best advice if you drive a car or ride a motorcycle in Cambodia is to take nothing for granted.
In Cambodia traffic drives on the right. There are some traffic lights at junctions in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, but where there are no lights, most traffic turns left into the oncoming traffic, edging along the wrong side of the road until a gap becomes apparent. For the uninitiated it looks like a disaster waiting to happen, but Cambodians are quite used to the system. Foreigners should stop at crossings and develop a habit of constant vigilance. Never assume that other drivers will stop at red lights; these are considered optional by most Cambodians, especially at night.
Phnom Penh is the one place where, amid all the chaos, traffic police take issue with Westerners breaking even the most trivial road rules. Make sure you don’t turn left at a ‘no left turn’ sign or travel with your headlights on during the day (although, strangely, it doesn’t seem to be illegal for Cambodians to travel without headlights at night). Laws requiring that bikes have mirrors and that drivers (not passengers, even children) wear helmets, are being enforced around the country by traffic police eager to levy fines. Foreigners are popular targets.
Phnom Penh has several public city bus routes that are proving popular with local students, but are not yet widely used by visitors. Elsewhere there are no public bus networks.
As in Vietnam and Laos, the cyclo (bicycle rickshaw or pedicab) is a cheap way to get around urban areas. In Phnom Penh cyclo drivers can either be flagged down on main roads or found waiting around markets and major hotels. It is necessary to bargain the fare if taking a cyclo from outside an expensive hotel or popular restaurant or bar. Fares range from US$1 to US$3. There are few cyclos in the provinces, and in Phnom Penh the cyclo has almost been driven to extinction by the moto (motorcycle taxi).
Motos, also known as motodups (meaning moto driver), are small motorcycle taxis. They are a quick way of making short hops around towns and cities. Prices range from 2000r to US$1.50 or more, depending on the distance and the town; expect to pay more at night. In the past it was rare for prices to be agreed in advance, but with the increase in visitor numbers, a lot of drivers have got into the habit of overcharging. It’s probably best to negotiate up front, particularly in the major tourist centres, outside fancy hotels or at night.
The Moto Burn
Be careful not to put your leg near the exhaust pipe of a moto (motorcycle taxi) after long journeys; many travellers have received nasty burns, which can take a long time to heal in the sticky weather, and often require antibiotics to recover. If you unwittingly acquire a 'Southeast Asian tattoo', we recommend immediately slathering it in zinc oxide, but toothpaste also works in an emergency.
Outboards (pronounced ‘out-boor’) are the equivalent of Venice’s vaporetto, a sort of local river-bus or taxi. Found all over the country, they are small fibreglass boats with 15HP or 40HP engines, and can carry up to six people for local or longer trips. They rarely run to schedules, but locals wait patiently for them to fill up or you can charter the whole boat and take off. Another variation are the longtail rocket boats that connect small villages on the upper stretches of the Mekong. Rocket is the definitive word and their safety is questionable.
The remork-moto (tuk tuk) is a large trailer hitched to a motorcycle and pretty much operates as a low-tech local bus with oh-so-natural air-conditioning. They are used throughout rural Cambodia to transport people and goods, and are often seen on the edge of towns ready to ferry farmers back to the countryside.
Most popular tourist destinations, including Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the South Coast, have their very own tourist versions of the remork, with a canopied trailer hitched to the back of the motorbike for two people in comfort or as many as you can pile on at night. Often referred to as tuk tuks by foreigners travelling in Cambodia, they’re a great way to explore temples, as you get the breeze of the bike but some protection from the elements.
Remork Vs Tuk-Tuk
So just what are those motorbikes with the cute little carriages pulled behind? Remork-motos? Remorks? Tuk tuks? The debate rumbles on. Officially, Cambodians call them remork-motos, which is often shortened to remork. In Thailand, the high-octane three-wheeled taxis in Bangkok are known as tuk tuks, and this moniker has hopped across the border into common usage in Cambodia. However, some Cambodians take offence at the use of the name tuk tuk, so for the time being we are opting for remork. Remorkable.
Rotei means ‘cart’ or ‘carriage’ and ses is ‘horse’, but the term is used for any cart pulled by an animal. Cambodia’s original 4WD, ox carts, usually pulled by water buffalo or cows, are a common form of transport in remote parts of the country, as only they can get through thick mud in the height of the wet season. Some local community-tourism initiatives now include cart rides.
Taxi hire in towns and cities is getting easier, but there are still very few metered taxis, with just a handful of operators in Phnom Penh. Guesthouses, hotels and travel agents can arrange cars for sightseeing in and around towns. Big online players such as Uber have now entered the market.
Mothballed for years, Cambodia’s rail system has been rehabilitated in recent years and limited passenger services resumed in 2016 through national carrier Royal Railways. Currently the only service links Phnom Penh with Sihanoukville via Kampot, with departures on weekend mornings. Plans call for plugging the Cambodian line into the Trans-Asian Railway network, which will link Singapore and China, but connecting Phnom Penh with Ho Chi Minh City via a Mekong bridge will take a few years yet. The 385km northwestern line, which links Phnom Penh with Pursat and Battambang and was built before WWII, is next in line to open.