To get from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, one can take a bus or a mini-van. There are several companies offering transportation between the two cities, all at reasonable prices. We opted for the VIP van through Cambodia Post. Yup, the post office offers transportation between cities! And, all for a whopping $9 for non-Cambodians ($8 if you are Cambodian). You can book your tickets and select seats ahead of time at www.bookmebus.com. We usually prefer travel in a smaller group rather than a large bus and thought this would be a unique way to experience the Cambodian countryside. We were promised air conditioning, wi-fi, and a rest stop or two along the way. Sounded pretty good.
The van leaves the post office in Siem Reap at 9:00 am but you are asked to arrive 30 minutes beforehand. The post office was located about 0.4 miles from our hotel which in theory is a walkable distance. However, the sidewalks around Siem Reap are pretty torn up which makes rolling suitcases impossible. So, we set up a tuk-tuk ride through our hotel and for a mere $2 were delivered to the front steps of the post office. As is our usual style, we arrived a bit early so relaxed out on the front steps to watch the world go by.
We had reserved the front two seats (next to the driver) because I like to take pictures and it is much easier to do so from the front than through a side window. However, when the van pulled up, we found that the middle seat was a jump seat so extra small. Six hours in that seat would’ve been quite uncomfortable. Fortunately the van was not fully booked so we were able to move to the second row. An elderly gentleman moved to the front to sit by the driver.
In a nutshell all I can say is that it was one wild ride! We had been staying near old town in Siem Reap. In order to get to Phnom Penh we drove through the regular part of the city. Unlike the road we had driven in on, there was no subdivision for tuk-tuks and motorbikes to separate them from the cars. Our van driver was passing cars, trucks, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks right and left (and yes, on the right AND on the left). Much of the time this was accomplished by swerving directly into oncoming traffic. This style of driving continued for most of the trip. But hey, everyone drives that way here!
Though there was supposed to be wi-fi in the van, it was not functional. There was AC, but the driver kept it on pretty low so it was quite warm.
The road was lined with food stands all the way through Siem Reap. When we got out of town we passed by a stretch of road that was lined with stands selling something that looked like smoked bamboo for 750 Khmer Riel (about 20 cents). The ladies would shake the sticks at you as you passed by, perhaps to entice you into stopping. I have no idea whatsoever what they actually were but only saw them on that one stretch of road.
We wanted to see the “real” Cambodia which is why we chose this 6-hour driver rather than a flight. We passed by houses on stilts, cows and oxen roaming, schoolyards full of schoolchildren in uniform (white shirt, black pants or skirt), food stand after food stand, and as we got closer to Phnom Penh, rice paddies. I was surprised at how little of the drive was through completely undeveloped land. There were small towns all the way along. It was difficult to take good pictures from the second row of the van; by the time I spotted something to take a picture of, we were already past it! I did manage to take a few through the front window of things that caught my attention.
One thing that I noticed was how much garbage there was by the side of the road. Actually, garbage is not accurate. What I saw was plastic bags all over the place. I am not sure why that is but it was very noticeable.
We stopped for a rest stop/lunch break at 11:10. We were given 20 minutes. The elderly gentleman did not return at 11:30 though everyone else did. The driver had to go looking for him. We were on the road again at 11:37. One word of advice: this trip is not for the “weak of bladder”; we were only given the one stop for a 6-hour drive. Fortunately we brought bottled water and snacks along. The 20 minutes we were given was not long enough to buy a meal; it was just long enough to use the toilet and stretch our legs a little.
Something that took me by surprise was how many advertisements there were along the entire road. Angkor Beer was a common brand that was advertised (it’s a Cambodian brand). You Tube was advertising $1 for “free” videos. There were numerous signs that drove this former math teacher nuts: $1 = $150, $1=$$666, $1=$750. I think they were ads for lottery tickets given the pictures of happy, smiling people that were on these signs.
When we were about an hour outside of Phnom Penh, the road widened to two lanes in each direction. Theoretically, this should mean that passing slower drivers would become unnecessary because the slow drivers would drive in the right-hand lane. Right. The white line separating the two lanes was as meaningless as the yellow one that was supposed to separate the two directions of traffic. People just straddled that white line. Or, wove back and forth between the two lanes to prevent others from passing them. We actually made worse time when the road widened. Quite the paradox.
We arrived slightly ahead of schedule and were dropped off at the Cambodia Post Office in Phnom Penh. Before we even exited the van, tuk-tuk drivers were lined up waiting to offer us a ride. We found one that would take us to our hotel (less than a mile away) for $2. He loaded up our suitcases and off we went. This city reminds us somewhat of Bangkok in terms of craziness. However, there is not as much wealth and the only public transportation is buses. The streets are lined with food stalls and shops, so much so that there is no room to walk on the sidewalks.
We are staying at the Point Boutique Hotel. I am not nearly as impressed by it as the hotels in Bangkok and Siem Reap. It is located near the river, the night market, and many restaurants. However, the air conditioning is abysmal and though we are in a suite, it is nowhere near the level of the other suites we have stayed in.
We are only staying overnight and will be continuing on to Ho Chi Minh City in the morning. I was hoping to be able to visit the genocide museum but by the time we got checked in to our hotel and ate lunch, there was not enough time. Instead, we opted for yet another massage. The massages here are even cheaper than they were in Siem Reap! After the massage we headed back to the room to rest for a bit before heading back out to wander around the area.
If you turn right from the hotel you end up on the street that runs parallel to the river. There is a lovely promenade along the waterfront. If you turn left from the hotel, you end up walking past some interesting bars. It reminded me of Soi Cowboy in Bangkok except there are no neon lights. There are beautiful Cambodian girls sitting out front to entice the male tourists to enter their establishments. It was literally impossible to walk down the sidewalk so you are forced to walk in the street. I kept a death grip on my purse because it would be super easy for someone to come by on a motorbike and grab it. The staff at the hotel had warned me that theft is common and to keep a firm grasp on my purse and camera.
We walked through the night market but weren’t tempted to buy any of the goods. There was lots of clothing for sale; plenty of watches, too. We found a bench by the river and watched the boats go by before meandering back to our hotel. It was still 90 degrees out though the sun had gone down awhile ago. We will be heading out bright and early for another 6 hour drive tomorrow morning, this time to Ho Chi Minh City via the Great Ibis bus.