Wide leafy boulevards, exquisite Buddhist temples and a beautiful riverside promenade – even if Phnom Penh cannot boast a lot of large-scale tourist attractions, it possesses its own special charm. Easily one of the least developed capitals of South East Asia, Phnom Penh is changing rapidly nowadays; new Western-style shopping malls and high-rises make their way to the city, and there are even air-conditioned public buses cruising its streets. You can have a look at the darkest years of Khmer history in Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or venture further afield to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. But you can choose just to enjoy Phnom Penh’s – alas! – rapidly vanishing French flavour, indulge in world-wide cuisine offered in its fancy restaurants at half the price you pay anywhere else or absorb the local colours visiting markets and people-watching. There is an abundance of worth-seeing places of interest around Phnom Penh, easily explored during a day trip, including Phinom Chisor, a stunning example of the Angkorian period temples, or Koh Dach, the Silk Island, where you can witness the process of silk weaving and buy some of the finest textiles in Cambodia. All in all, architectural wonders, busy nightlife venues and shopping opportunities galore in Phnom Penh. It may not become your favourite city in Asia, but Phnom Penh definitely deserves a closer look.
How to get from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh
Nearly every guesthouse in Ho Chi Minh and all the travel agencies in the city will be ready to sell you a ticket to almost any destination throughout South East Asia; no wonder that Ho Chi Minh–Phnom Penh route is no exception. You can get to the Cambodian capital either by plain or by bus. The former way is considerably more expensive but quicker; the latter is cheaper but takes longer.
From Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh to by bus
Giant Ibis Transport is one of the leading operators serving the route between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh. Cambodia-based bus company boasts excellent safety record and provides a level of service you could have hardly expected to get in Cambodia a couple of years ago. They provide complimentary pick-up from their partner accommodation in Ho Chi Minh (require in your hotel or guesthouse), serve snacks and water during the trip and even offer free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets for charging your gadgets on board their buses. For Ho Chi Minh–Phnom Penh route the company uses full-sized comfortable buses; tickets from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh with Giant Ibis cost USD18.
In Ho Chi Minh, Giant Ibis buses depart from their ticket office in Pham Ngu Lao Street in District 1, which lies within walking distance from many budget digs in Pham Ngu Lao–Bu Vien area.
Giant Ibis operates at least one daily bus from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh. It departs at 8.30am and gets to the destination some six hours later. The total distance between the two cities is 240 km. Travel time depends greatly on the time spent at the immigration on the Vietnamese and Cambodian sides and on ferry crossing. In certain periods there is one more bus leaving Ho Chi Minh at 12.30pm.
There is a lunch stop half the way between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh at Banyan Tree Restaurant located in the duty free zone after you have done with immigration formalities on the Vietnamese side. Note that lunch in not included into your ticket price; expect to pay USD3-4 for a dish.
In Phnom Penh buses bring their passengers to Giant Ibis bus station in 106 Street close to the night market and riverfront. You can connect to other Giant Ibis buses there and leave your luggage for a few hours to take a stroll around the city while waiting for your next bus. Tuk-tuk drivers welcome every arrival, so you will not have any problem with getting to any part of the city in case you are planning to spend some time in Phnom Penh.
From Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh by air
There are direct flights between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh performed by regular and low-cost airlines. Travel time is about one hour, but it is often impossible to find tickets under USD100 – if only you do not hit a great sale period. Cambodia Angkor, Vietnam Airlines and Qatar Airways all operate direct flights from Phnom Penh to Saigon. If overland travel is not your thing, consider this option, then.
Where and when to obtain your Cambodian visa?
Before buying your ticket to Cambodia, check visa requirements for your passport. Though you can apply for VOA right at the border, it is still advisable to arrange for your visa in advance – just to be on the safe side. You can do it directly thought the Cambodian Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh located in No 41 Phung Khac Khoan. Visas are processes the same day and generally there are no queues. Another option is to obtain your Cambodian visa online as E-Visas are accepted at the Svay Rieng–Bavet border crossing which the buses heading from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh use. Tourist E-Visa cost USD30 plus USD7 for processing.
Note that whatever way for obtaining your Cambodian visa you choose, if travelling with Giant Ibis buses, at the border you will be charged additional USD5 for batch processing of passengers’ passports.
Connecting to other Giant Ibis buses in Phnom Penh
The only destination to which you can connect travelling from Ho Chi Minh the same day is Siem Reap. In this case you need to take either morning or afternoon bus from Ho Chi Ming to Phnom Penh (USD18) and then to hop onto the night bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (USD15). If the amazing Angkor complex is the next entry in your must-visit list, you can buy a joint ticket directly from Ho Chi Minh to Siem Reap. You will have enough time to make a brief tour of Phnom Penh before the departure of your night bus to Siem Reap.
For morning travel to Siem Reap as well as travel to Sihanoukville and Kampot from Ho Chi Minh you need to buy two separate tickets – first from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and then from Phnom Penh to your destination – and spend a night in Phnom Penh to proceed your journey on the following day after your arrival from Vietnam.
If you have traveled at least a bit anywhere in Cambodia, you may have noticed that the Khmers know no modesty as far as the width of their roads is concerned. This local love for expansions makes Phnom Penh tough for covering on foot. Tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis are ubiquitous and plentiful; they are an affordable and easy way to get around the city. Expect to pay from USD1 to USD3 for a tuk-tuk ride, even less for a motorbike taxi.
Renting a scooter is also an option in Phnom Penh. Daily rates are about USD5. Note that helmets are a must, traffic is chaotic and accidents with casualties are not unheard of. Rent only if you are an experienced rider – we mean with some experience in Asian countries.
There are public buses in Phnom Penh. Tickets cost less than USD0.5 per trip. The most useful route is Line 03 which stops at the International Airport, Central Market and Night Market. Line 01 combined with some walking brings you to the Royal Palace and National Museum.
Further afield from Phnom Penh
Located literally in the heart of the country, Phnom Penh has good transport connections with all the other cities and towns around Cambodia and in the neighbouring countries. Apart from the already mentioned Kampot, Sihanoukville and Ho Chi Minh, some of the destinations which you can reach overland from Phnom Penh, include Poi Pet, Battambang, Koh Kong, Preah Vihear and Mondulkiri in Cambodia; Bangkok in Thailand; Vientiane and Pakse in Laos.