Traveling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by Bus

Posted on
Sep 11, 2014

We were originally going to fly from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We had booked our flight, but Nicci told me she wanted to see more of the countryside, and suggested that we take the bus instead. Tickets were $15, and they picked us up from directly from our hotel and took us to the bus depot.

The condition of the road on which we traveled. These children took it to and from school.

The vehicles, part of the Giant Ibis transport fleet, were newer (“We just got them from Korea,” someone explained), supposedly air- conditioned and outfitted with WiFi, though I can’t properly endorse either claim. Our seats were at the very back of the bus, where the cold air did not reach. From my vantage point I could see a sea of heads in front of me, all of them bent in frustration over their handheld devices, in hopes of being able to check their email or send a single tweet.

Now that I am back on my home continent, where the Internet is lightning quick and the air conditioning in my hotel room is glacial, that bus ride strikes me as unpleasant, unnecessarily long. At the time, though, it felt rather opulent, the broken amenities not withstanding. It was spacious and clean; the seats were comfortable, and they reclined generously. There were power outlets for every seat.

I soon gave up on my email (I am prone to motion sickness, anyway), and instead sat in the stuffy air, squinting at the tiny TV screen at the front of the bus that played X-Men: First Class and, later, The Lone Ranger with no discernible volume. It was a peculiar moment, the sort that you remember fondly because of how bizarre and singular it was. A hot bus rumbling on a broken and dusty road across Cambodia, while a diamond crusted January Jones watched over us.

It took us seven hours to travel the 200 miles between Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, stopping briefly at a cafe (run by the bus company) for lunch. It was by far the worst meal I would have in Asia.

And while I would not want to repeat this component of our trip (take the plane, particularly if you are pressed for time), I am nevertheless grateful for the scenes of the country that it afforded. Nicci was right about that – we did get to see Cambodia as it passed by our window, hour after hour, from sun to haze to torrential rain.

Had we just hopped on a flight between the two major cities, we’d have missed it.


The road occasionally took us by the river, and past flooded rice paddies.


We cut through dusty villages, drove through neighborhoods where sprawling homes stood precarious balanced on stilts, often right across from crumbling shacks.


We saw the country: poor and broken, beautiful and heartbreaking. There were countless times that I wanted to cry during the week we were there, and but as soon as we left, I wanted to go back.

School had just gotten out. Many of the little ones stared up at us, and waved.

This is the condition of the road they walk on to get to school and back.


I stared out the window, until the view was obscured by the pouring rain.


And then I closed my eyes and dozed. And when I opened them again, after lunch, and two movies, and so many miles crossed, I looked at my watch.

We still had two hours to go.


Giant Ibis bus ticket information can be found here. The Move to Cambodia website also has a great breakdown of the different travel options between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Leave a Comment

  • I remember doing that bus trip – stopped at a roadside cafe and market selling deep fried tarantulas, couldn’t have made me feel more sick than I did already! Driver turned up volume on our TV soooo loud too -….we flew back!

  • Sounds like your experience on that route was a little better than mine! We took the cheapest nightbus option and it was boiling hot, people were packed on, sitting in a rock-the-boat style in the aisles, and I was sitting on top of the engine and my oants got soaked with sweat and I looked like I had wet myself when we stopped for food!
    Thanks for reminding me of the scenes out the window though! 🙂

  • Anna

    Ah, Cambodia. Love it so much there, have not been back in years. We took the express boat between PP and Siem Reap – I can recommend that one for speed and also for watching life on the river and lake. The boat was in good condition but it was small. But at least you could sit outside on the roof if you fancied some fresh air and stretching your legs. Loving your Cambodian stories, please keep them coming! 🙂

  • I loved Cambodia despite the blatant corruption and over development of tourist areas. If Cambodia makes you want to go back then get to Burma as well. It will give you the feels.

  • We flew from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap. Our Siem Reap hotel was down a dirt road—AC and a swimming pool, but some views like the ones you shared from our hotel window. What is it with the emaciated oxen? There was one grazing in a nice field of vegetation that we could see out our window, but s/he also had protruding ribs.

  • Chloe

    Got bedbugs (or should I say seat bugs) in a night bus between Kampot and Siem Reap…
    Haha fun times!

  • Aaaand bookmark, I was thinking about this the other day (my sister lives in Cambodia, and I’d love to visit her before she moves back, but we shall see)!

    I could probably hack the ride if I could nap between scenery 😉

  • so well written, as always! Really interesting photos I just couldn’t imagine looking at all of that. Bet your glad for the bus in the end

  • I stumbled on this post. I’m glad I discovered your blog. Your photos and writing style moved me (“We saw the country: poor and broken, beautiful and heartbreaking”), brought back memories…
    A couple of years ago, I took the night bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. A pain-comical experience… I shall write about it now.

  • Neil Harrison

    Good post mate ! I do agree that journey between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is not one of the best ones but this is something one could always expect while travelling in Cambodia. There are many bus companies which offer wi-fi but it NEVER works. For air-con, I have also seen many travellers complaining otherwise where it was too cold to sit down or sleep (in night buses). I would suggest fellow travellers to consider mini-buses if they want to travel faster. There are some operators who have spacious and comfortable mini-vans (VGS and Citylink) which takes about 6 hours. Giant IBIS, Orient and Mekong’s big buses are among one of the best ones in Cambodia.

    For buses, you can find complete schedule and book online here ..

    Some new flight operators have also popped up in recent times which are not very expensive when compared with most expensive bus trips. Hence, if you are ok to fly for between 35$-50$ one side, then check Bayon Airlines, Bassaka Air or Apsara Airways. Unfortunately none of them offer the option to pay and book online but they do allow customer to send a booking request and pay at the counter while boarding, which doesn’t sound very reliable but it’s working fine right now.

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