How to Get from Phnom Penh Airport to Siem Reap
Lying at opposite ends of the country, getting to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, the nation’s capital, can be done in one of several ways, as well as a combination of different methods of travel, depending on how fast you want to get there or how long you want to stop in places along the way. Lying around 300 kilometers apart, the journey to the north of Cambodia is one that many people who land at Phnom Penh’s International Airport make, to visit the stunning ruins of the Angkor Archaeological Park.
Set in the far north of the country, just a short distance from Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap is one of the most popular destinations in Cambodia, and is the gateway for the Angkor Temple Complex. 300 kilometers to the south, the Cambodian capital is one of the most stunning cities in the world, lying on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, one of the longest rivers in Asia. Travel between the two cities can take anywhere from one hour to eight hours, or even a couple of days if you are not in any hurry.
On average, there are around five direct flights a day from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, and if your budget can stretch to the cost of a flight, it is the fastest and most efficient way to travel the length of Cambodia. Three airlines operate the flights from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, which includes Cambodia Angkor Air, the national carrier, as well as Cambodia Bayon Airlines, and relative newcomer, Bassaka Air.
The choice of airline for most people is normally based on cost, and for this trip, Cambodia Bayon Airlines (CBA) is way out of the usual price range. Flights with CBA cost from around 100 US dollars per person for an economy one-way ticket, making it one of the most expensive flights in Asia for the distance flown.
Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA) is the nation’s flagship airline, and has long been a favorite for travelers in Cambodia, with excellent service and top-notch safety standards, a real concern in some of Southeast Asia’s up and coming tourist destinations. The company is still partly government owned, and is completely policed by the government, making it one of the safest airlines in Indochina. Flights to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh cost around sixty dollars, and are well worth the price.
Bassaka Air has only been running for a short while in Cambodia, and is making some waves in the country, with cheap flights on superior aircraft. Renowned over the last four years for their punctuality and friendly staff, Bassaka are fast becoming the company to ride with for many flights around Southeast Asia. And at only 40 US dollars for the flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, it is definitely the cheapest around.
Flights to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh take around an hour to cover the 300-kilometer distance, and flying is by far the easiest and most convenient way to travel. However, if time is not an issue, or you are concerned about budget, then there are plenty of other options to choose from.
The bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is another option for pretty cool travel, and the route is popular amongst backpackers and other international tourists. The roads from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is in fair condition, which means the buses can get a good speed going, reducing the overall travel time a little. The bus also gives you a little insight into the life of the average rural Cambodian, as you pass through rolling rice paddies with grazing buffalo on the long drive north.
There are a number of bus companies that run buses to Siem Reap, which takes around six hours, including stops for the bathroom and something to eat. The bus drivers have conductors on all buses in Cambodia, who will be able to give you information on the route you are taking, any sights you might want to look out for along the way, and advice on when you will stop to eat and use the washroom. Most of the buses that run this route are air-con buses for tourists, though you can find a few buses that run the road to Siem Reap carrying locals, without air-con and with no conductor, just a driver that does not speak English.
Bus to Siem Reap
The cost of the air-con buses starts at around 15 US dollars per person, and the buses depart from Phnom Penh at around 8:45am, and every hour until 11:30pm. If you fancy braving the local buses, which tend to do the trip in stages, with different buses taking over for different stretches of the trip, then you can get to Siem Reap for as little as eight dollars. However, you are looking at a trip of around 10 hours, with no air-con, in a hot country, on a regular bus that also has goats and chickens for passengers.
Travel by Minibus
Smaller and faster than their larger cousins, the minibuses that run the route from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap are a good way to travel to the north, and are not as costly as many people think. While the service is good, and the time to get there is much lower than the larger buses, the mini-vans they use are often overfilled, making the trip a little cramped and uncomfortable. If you want the best trip in the minibuses, then you should get to the departure location early to get the front seat.
Minibus to Siem Reap
Tickets for the minibus trips cost from 8-10 dollars per person, and the trip takes around four hours with favorable traffic, and the vans stop at least twice en route to the Gateway to Angkor. On average, there are probably more than fifty different minibuses from more than ten companies that run the route, and you can find their departure locations all across the Cambodian capital. The first vans usually leave Phnom Penh at around 6:00am, with the last leaving around midnight.
Travel by Train
Despite what you might think, Cambodia does have running trains, they are just not used much by tourists, as they do not usually go where tourists want to travel. Trains actually leave Phnom Penh Station every 30 minutes for Krong Pursat, on the western shores of lake Tonle Sap. The train costs around 30 dollars per person for a second-class ticket, and takes just 3 hours 45 minutes to reach Pursat. However, from there, you will have to get a private hire vehicle or taxi to get to Siem Reap, as there is not further railway.
Train to Siem Reap
Travel by Boat
If you are looking for a more adventurous way to get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh, then you can always try the boat service that runs from the capital to the top end of Tonle Sap Lake. However, the downside is that this unique way of getting to Siem Reap is only available when the lake is high enough to accommodate the boats. In the driest part of the dry season, from March to May, the lake’s water level is too low, so the boats stop running.
Boat to Siem Reap
The cost of the cruise up to Siem Reap, crossing the vast Tonle Sap lake, costs around 30 dollars per person, although there is no food or drink included. However, the boats have a bar and snacks, which are not that expensive, or you can bring your own. The trip takes from four to eight hours, depending on the season and time of year, and there is nothing better than kicking back on the sun deck and downing a cold beer while you watch the banks of the waterways pass by, and cross the lake that is the center of northern Cambodia.
Travel by Car
If you are feeling brave, you can always travel the 318 kilometers from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by car. However, you cannot drive the car yourself, as you will need an international driving license in order to apply for the Cambodian license that you need to drive, which takes around three weeks to procure and costs around 40 dollars.
Car to Siem Reap
Drivers with vehicles can cost from around 80 to 100 dollars for the trip to Siem reap, which can be shared with others if you have friends to travel with. However, the drivers are part of the hire companies, and the companies often ask for your passport as security, and then keep it in the event of an accident, to claim the damages against your travel insurance. Ideally, taking a taxi for around 60-70 dollars is a much better option, and the drivers will agree to the fare before leaving, so you can get it cheaper if you bargain a little.
Traveling in Cambodia can be done in many forms and ways, though the best ways are not always the cheapest, and vice versa. If you are on a severe backpacker budget, then be prepared to put up with some poor service to save money. Local buses run a network across Cambodia, from town to town, and you can get most short trips really cheap, but may be sat next to a man with a basket of vegetables, or get your bag chewed by a traveling goat. Taking one of the more secure options is often the best way, even though it may be a little more than you expected. Safety is a primary concern in Cambodia, and while crime is not high against tourists (the locals respect where the economy gets its funding), there is always the chance that someone might not see it that way.