Getting around Cambodia is an adventure

Amy Stewart

Famed for its temples, jungles and beaches, Cambodia is a relatively compact country, making it quite easy for travelers to navigate. Roads have improved massively in recent years, but conditions can vary widely from the dry to the wet season, and getting around is cheap rather than quick.

Buses and minivans are the most popular form of transport for travelers, connecting all the major towns, cities and tourist hubs. Renting a private car or 4WD with a driver is an affordable option for those who value time over money while renting a motorcycle is a highly rewarding way to explore for experienced riders.

There are domestic flights linking Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, but you’ll miss out on the adventure of traveling by road. Boat travel is less common than it used to be, but there are lots of fast speedboat services to the islands off the South Coast, as well as boats along the Tonlé Sap and the Mekong and Sangkae Rivers. There are also train services linking Phnom Penh to the coast and the Thai border at Poipet in the northwest, but departures are infrequent.

However you like to travel, here are our top tips for getting around Cambodia.

Air travel is a good way to save time and avoid uncomfortable journeys

While there’s a carbon cost, domestic flights offer a great way to avoid Cambodia’s unpredictable roads. The country’s three functioning airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville are well connected to each other by shuttle flights, and air travel in Cambodia is generally good value unless you book at the very last minute.

Airlines tend to come and go in Cambodia, with many of the newer carriers oriented to serve the booming Chinese market. Reliable options include Cambodia Airways, Cambodia Angkor Air and Lanmei Airlines, all with a mix of domestic routes and international services to other hubs in Asia.


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Buses and minivans are the backbone of local transport in Cambodia

The range of options for traveling by road in Cambodia is extensive. On sealed roads, large and comfortable 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 of Cambodia’s major cities are now well connected to Phnom Penh by modern express buses, following sealed roads, but if you’re traveling from one end of the country to the other you may have to change buses in Phnom Penh or another hub, which can add to the overall journey time. While it doesn’t cover all of Cambodia’s bus companies, bookmebus is a reliable bus-ticket booking site.

Unlike the crowded local buses, express minivans operate a one-seat/one-passenger policy and are reasonably comfortable. However, some drivers seem to think they are taking part in a Formula 1 qualifier – wear a seatbelt if you have the option. Older minibusses serve most provincial routes but they are not widely used by tourists, as they are painfully slow and often uncomfortably overcrowded.

View of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
Boats, buses and planes connect Phnom Penh with Siem Reap and Angkor © Guitar photographer / Shutterstock

Share taxis supplement some regional routes

In these days of improving roads, share taxis – where each passenger pays for a seat and the vehicle leaves when it’s full – are losing ground to express minivans. When using share taxis, it’s an advantage to travel in numbers, as you can buy up spare seats to make the journey more comfortable. It is important to remember that there aren’t necessarily fixed prices on every route, so you may have to negotiate a fare. 

Renting a car or motorcycle offers maximum freedom

Car and motorcycle rental is comparatively cheap in Cambodia and many visitors appreciate having the flexibility to visit out-of-the-way places and to stop when they choose. It’s more expensive than traveling by bus or minivan, but costs fall if you can share the cost with a group.  

Cars can generally only be hired with a driver in Cambodia. This can be a useful way to explore Phnom Penh and Angkor, and travel between cities at convenient times. Some tourists with big budgets also arrange cars or 4WDs with drivers for touring the provinces. Hiring a car with a driver will cost US$40–50 for a day of driving in (or around) major towns, rising to US$60 or more, plus fuel, for travel in rural areas.

It’s also possible to explore Cambodia by rented motorcycle, though anyone planning a longer ride should try out the bike around town for a day or so first to get used to the traffic conditions and make sure the bike is in good working order. Motorcycles are available for rent in Phnom Penh and most other tourist towns – a 100cc motorcycle will cost US$4–6 per day (or double that on the islands), while a 250cc dirt bike will cost US$15–25.

According to official rules, to drive a car you need a Cambodian driving license, so self-drive hire is rare. When it comes to renting motorcycles, no license is required for motorcycles under 125cc. Fuel is readily available throughout the country – even the most isolated communities usually have stands by the roadside selling petrol out of reused Johnnie Walker or Fanta bottles – but it’s relatively expensive at US$1–1.50 per liter.

Women on a scooter eating street food in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Motorcycles are the vehicle of choice for people across Cambodia © Russell Pearson / 500px

Trains trundle to the Thai border and the coast

Cambodia’s rail system has been rehabilitated in recent years, with limited passenger services operating at weekends, run by Royal Railways. The southern line links Phnom Penh with Sihanoukville via Kampot and Takeo, with departures on weekend mornings. The northern line runs from Phnom Penh to Poipet on the Thai border via Pursat and Battambang. 

Boat rides are the way to reach the southern islands

Given the major improvements to the road network, Cambodia’s 1900km (1180 miles) of navigable waterways are not as crucial as they once were for travelers. The Mekong River and Tonlé Sap are navigable year-round, meaning boats are an option for the trip from the capital to Siem Reap. There are also scenic boat services between Siem Reap and Battambang. However, most inland transport is by road these days.

The boats most commonly used by visitors are the speedboats that zip from Sihanoukville and other coastal towns to the Southern Islands, including the high-speed catamarans that run to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. Sunset boat cruises on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh are another essential experience when passing through the capital.  

A tourist cruise boat in Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Tourist boats of all shapes and sizes buzz along the Cambodian coast © Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Exploring by bicycle is a rewarding adventure

Cambodia is a great country for experienced cyclists to explore, though be cautious about cycling off-road because of landmines. A sturdy mountain bike is the recommended vehicle thanks to the unpredictable state of the roads. Most roads in the countryside have an unpaved but flat walking trail along the side, which is also useful for cyclists. Bicycles can be transported around the country on the roof of minibusses, cutting out long rides on major roads.

Local Transport in Cambodia

You’ll find a wide range of local transport in Cambodia from the iconic cyclo to the popular tuk-tuk. 

Local buses are a cheap option in the capital

Phnom Penh has several public city bus routes that are popular with local students but are not yet widely used by tourists. Elsewhere there are no public urban bus networks.

Cyclos offer maximum nostalgia

As in Vietnam and Laos, the cyclo (bicycle rickshaw or pedicab) is a cheap way to get around urban areas, but these vehicles are an endangered species these days. If you can find one, fares range from US$1 to US$3; passengers sit up front, with the driver behind, like a giant pedal-powered pushchair.

A view from the back seat of a tuk-tuk, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tuk-tuks zip around towns and villages all over Cambodia © Westend61 / Getty

Tuk-Tuks offer airflow and atmosphere

There are two main types of tuk-tuks (motorized auto-rickshaws) in Cambodia and both can be booked using ride-hailing apps such as Grab and PassApp. The agreeably old-fashioned remork-moto is a canopied trailer hitched to the back of a motorcycle, allowing two people to travel in comfort. These are a great way to explore temples, as you get a refreshing breeze and some protection from the elements.

In recent years, a sizable fleet of Indian-made auto-rickshaws has invaded Cambodia’s urban landscape. They are faster than their remork-moto cousins, but generally much smaller and with less airflow as there’s a wraparound cab.

The moto is the fast way to get around downtown

Motos, also known as motodups (meaning moto driver), are motorcycle taxis that cover short routes in towns and local hops in the countryside. They are a useful way to quickly cover short distances around towns and cities, but rides in traffic can be scary. Prices start from US$1 or US$2, depending on the distance traveled. It’s best to negotiate a fare upfront to avoid unexpected overcharging, especially at night.

Taxis are handy for sightseeing trips

Hailing a taxi in large towns and cities has become much easier thanks to ride-hailing apps such as Uber, Grab and PassApp. Guesthouses, hotels and travel agents can also arrange cars for sightseeing in and around towns at a reasonable rate. Airport taxis are available at Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville airports. Some Phnom Penh taxis have meters – elsewhere (or if the driver won’t use the meter) agree on a fare before you start your journey.

Travelers cycling at the gate of Angkor Thom, Cambodia
Rented bikes are a great way to explore huge historic sites such as Angkor © sharptoyou / Shutterstock

Accessible Travel in Cambodia

Congested pavements, potholed roads and steep, uneven steps at temples and historic sites make Cambodia a tricky country to get around for people with mobility issues. Few buildings have been designed with accessibility in mind, although flagship projects such as the international airports at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have wheelchair-accessible ramps and toilets, as do most top-end hotels.

Buses and minivans are often very overcrowded, but renting a taxi for the day or for point-to-point transfers is an affordable option. On the plus side, Cambodians are very helpful towards foreigners, and hiring local assistance is cheap if you need someone to accompany you at all times. Most guesthouses and small hotels have ground-floor rooms that are easy to access. For more information, check out Lonely Planet’s free Accessible Travel Resources.  

Why motorcycle is my favorite way to travel in Cambodia

Motorcycle is the most common form of transport in rural Cambodia and it is the best way to get up close and personal with everyday life in the countryside. I have ridden motorcycles around Cambodia for more than 25 years and still get a buzz, whether I’m traveling for 5km or 500km. 

The freedom to stop when and where you want is unrivaled. Novice riders should stick to short rides around smaller towns such as Siem Reap and Kampot, rather than diving into the tangled traffic of Phnom Penh. Experienced riders can hit the road on a dirt bike and experience the gnarly roads of the Cardamom Mountains for a truly epic dirt bike adventure.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/getting-around-cambodia

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