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 Phnom 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.
From Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh by bus
You can make a four-and-a-half hour bus journey from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh with a number of companies. The majority of them operate from Sihanoukville new bus station located on the Victory Hill, about five km from Serendipity and Ochheuteal beaches. Expect to pay from USD3 to USD6 for a tuk-tuk ride up to there.
There is also Giant Ibis Transport serving the same route. Their buses depart from the company’s ticket office on 2 Thnou Street, some 200 m from the Golden Lions Circle. If you stay in one of Giant Ibis’ partner hotels in Sihanoukville (inquire in your hotel or check through the company’s web site), they provide complimentary pick-up. Giant Ibis sell tickets at a higher price than some of the operators you can find in Sihanoukville, but they have the best safety record among all the other bus operators in Cambodia and have all their passengers covered with insurance. They also offer free Wi-Fi and electrical sockets on board and serve a snack or a bottle of water.
Note that there are no toilets in Giant Ibis’ buses, but they make a stop half way between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh at a restaurant for some snacks, souvenirs and toilets.
Tip: For short haul daytime trips Giant Ibis uses smaller buses which are not very spacious – especially for a Western traveller. To make your trip as comfortable as possible, choose your seat in advance and try to avoid the front row if you can. All the ‘C’s are jump seats, but they are also ok. Opposite to many other Cambodian buses, in Giant Ibis’ ones there are never more people than seats.
Currently there are three buses a day from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh with Giant Ibis. They depart at 7.30am, 9.30am and 1.30pm. Arrive to the bus station half an hour prior to departure.
In Phnom Penh, Giant Ibis Transport buses leave from the company’s office in 106 Street, close to the night market and the riverfront. If you are heading to the airport, ask the driver to drop you off there – normally they will happily do.
Connecting to other Giant Ibis buses
If you are connecting via Phnom Penh to other Giant Ibis buses to Siem Reap or Ho Chi Minh, you can leave your luggage at the company’s office in 106 Street and have a short tour of the city, if you have time.
Technically it is possible to get from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap the same day: you have to opt for the first bus from Sihanoukville, which departs at 7.30am and arrives half an hour prior to the 12.30pm departure from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. In reality is it a bit risky as in case of even a minor delay you may loose your next bus. Taking a 9.30am or 1.30pm bus from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh enables you to catch one of the three night buses to Siem Reap leaving at 10.30pm, 11pm and 11.30pm.
There are only two buses a day from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Similarly to the ‘Sihanoukville to Siem Reap’ case, it looks possible to cover the whole distance between Sihanoukville and Ho Chi Minh within one and the same day if to jump onto the first bus from Sihanoukville at 7.30am, which arrives to Phnom Penh around midday, and then change for a 12.30pm bus to Ho Chi Minh. 12go.asia system, though, does not offer this option – if you still wish to do it, you can choose two separate tickets at your own risk. A more secure variant is to take any of the three buses from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh and stay overnight in the capital, continuing your journey to Vietnam the following day.
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. Some of the destinations which you can reach overland from Phnom Penh, include Poi Pet, Battambang, Koh Kong, Preah Vihear, Mondulkiri, Siem Reap, Kampot. The last two are served by Giant Ibis Transport, too.