09 Sep A Guide to Transportation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
If you need to know how to get around Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this post breaks down your transportation options and shares some important do’s and don’ts for safe travel in and around Phnom Penh. Special thanks to friend and fellow intentional traveler, Karen Bortvedt, who lived and worked in Phnom Penh for nearly four years, for contributing this practical guide!
“Tuktuk, Madam? Tuktuk, Madam? Do you need a taxi? Where are you going?”
Exiting the airport in Phnom Penh – or any new city, or even trying to navigate from any point of entry – can be overwhelming, especially if you are coming off of an international flight tired and jet-lagged. Just the thought of these situations can be enough to make you never want to leave home or your hotel room.
Here are a few tips for navigating the many transportation options in Phnom Penh (and throughout Cambodia). Remember, it is still a cash-based system so bring US dollars, in small bills, along with you. There is no need to have Riel but be sure your dollars are new without stains, rips, or tears.
Taxis in Phnom Penh
If you are traveling from a distance, have a lot of luggage, or are coming to Asia for the first time. I definitely suggest using the curbside taxi service at the airport. This is new to Phnom Penh but it is not overly expensive and it is worth the comfort of an enclosed vehicle and AC. Plus, your luggage is secured in a trunk or inside the vehicle so you don’t need to be trying to keep a hand on multiple bags. Also, if you get caught in traffic, at least you are comfortable for the long ride to your hotel.
Tuktuk is the most important word you should know in Cambodia. These will get you anywhere you need to go and in Phnom Penh will likely be faster than taxi options for day-to-day use. Traffic is unique and tuktuks are smaller, thus better at navigating.
There are now some apps that will allow you to request tuktuks, but really you need only walk out the door. Make sure you agree upon a price prior to getting into the tuktuk and make sure the driver actually knows where you are going. If it is not a common tourist destination, it helps to show them on a map (though map reading is not a skill set that is widely possessed and street signs are a new addition to much of the city so don’t expect them to know that). The best way, is to ask your hotel to help explain or to know what wat the destination is near. If you are going to a non-tourist destination, you can always call from your phone and have them explain to your driver (if you have a local SIM Card).
While in tuktuks, be sure to keep your bag toward the middle of the seat, never on the outside. Keep bags attached to your body (keep a leg, arm, or your body through the bag at all times). Never hold your phone/camera outside the tuktuk to take pictures or leave bags unattended. Most crime in Cambodia is crime of opportunity, don’t give anyone the opportunity. If you want a Karen-Endorsed driver, two of my regulars were Dani (097-790-4869) and Sam Bath (011-581-628).
Travel Agent Recommendation in Phnom Penh
If you are looking to travel around the country or the region, the most important name to know is Mr. Lorn Ngeun at MB Travel Cambodia (firstname.lastname@example.org ). There are many travel agents in the country, and I have worked with a number of them, but this guy was my guy. He can help get visas to other SE Asia countries. He does plane tickets, bus tickets, private cars, pretty much anything you need and he will pick up your passport (for visa) and drop off tickets/visas to you. He is easy to communicate with and in the words of a friend: “If he doesn’t respond in 10 minutes, you should probably be concerned something terrible happened to him.” One time he delivered tickets to me at 9 pm at the restaurant where I was having dinner because I was in a bind!
Bus Options in Phnom Penh
There are a wide range of buses/vans in Cambodia. From the vans where you just show up and wait until they are full, to the tourist vans/buses that feed you a snack and speak fluent English.
If you know it stresses you out to not be able to communicate in English while on the bus, Giant Ibis is probably the company for you. They are the ‘luxury’ option, much slower than other options, but they do speak English.
If you are more adventurous, there are a number of other options van companies such as the Kampot Express or Seila Angkor will be faster than the big buses but slightly more expensive – tickets can be purchased through a travel agent or in person.
If you are a big bus person (some see this as a safer option), I suggest Capitol which goes anywhere in Cambodia. They pick up by the Oressey market and can be a bit overwhelming, if you don’t speak the language and are not a regular SE Asia traveler. But they are reliable. Any tuktuk driver would know them and could help with ticket purchase. The ticket sales folks speak some English but the drivers do not.
Sorya is another large bus company, which picks up near the New Market, price wise they are about the same but I have been told by Cambodians they are not as safe as Capitol. I would not suggest taking the vans that just wait until they are full unless you speak Khmer. Their safety records are also not great so probably would be worth the splurge of a few extra dollars for a bus company.
Private Van Recommendation
If you are traveling with a group of five or more people, a tuktuk may be a squeeze to get around town. I highly recommend Taxicab Cambodia (http://www.taxicabcambodia.com/), Mr. Mao Vibol. He speaks great English. His van is always clean. He is a remarkable driver and charges fair rates. He also can take you all around the country and knows even more obscure places in Phnom Penh. If you are doing any kind of group travel, he is the way to go! Tell him Karen sent you!
These are an option throughout Cambodia, but I would not advise using them if you do not have a helmet. Unlike in Thailand, most moto dupes do not carry extra helmets. Also, it is not advisable to use moto dupes after dark. Traffic accidents are common in Cambodia so splurge on the tuktuk.
… is not common in Phnom Penh. If you are down on the Phnom Penh waterfront or just going a short distance, by all means, walk. However, if you are going any distance, I would advise against travel by foot because drivers do not expect or respect pedestrians. And if you are unfamiliar with the traffic patterns, you are endangering yourself and others. Outside of Phnom Penh, walking is much more ‘normal’ but in Phnom Penh, sidewalks are not common and if they do exist, they are used as motorcycle short cuts or extra display space for local shops.
Getting around can seem overwhelming, but don’t let that stop you from seeing all this city has to offer. If all else fails, ask the tuktuk driver (they know everything -or at least come up with creative answers).
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