Thursday, January 14, 2010

Travel By Bus - HCMC to Phnon Penh

Traveling from HCMC to the Capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh has never been easier, nor cheaper.

These days you can travel quickly and efficiently by air or road. Traveling by air is still expensive unless you can snag a cheap fare on the budget airlines. But the 1 hour flight time is appealing! While air is convenient, remember you need to pay for taxi's (or transfers) each way which can easily add 15USD to your trip.

A cheaper means of travel is by road. Numerous companies now operate express buses to and from Saigon/Phnom Penh for around 10USD per person (one way). Most will offer you a bottle water, small snack box and a company representative to help you through the border crossings. Companies include Mai Linh, Mekong Express, Capital Tours and several others.

Recently I traveled with the Mai Linh Company and here are my thoughts.

Buses

The bus we traveled was large 50 seater and fairly new, clean and had a great air-con system! Seats reclined and were comfortable. Each has a little pocket for storing books or a bottle of water and there was enough leg room to stretch out (I'm 178cm). Little pillows attached to the head rest make sleeping a breeze!

Driver

I know several people that have commented on speeding Mai Linh drivers, however our green bus, as are all Mai Linh vehicles, negotiated the roads safely and at a decent speed. I felt safe the entire trip!

Staff

Each bus service has a company rep. to help you through the border crossing and to look after you through the journey. The guy we had on the bus only spoke Vietnamese, which can make it difficult for travelers if you require something, however that said, he was friendly and smiled the entire trip. At the border we were meet by another Mai Linh Rep. who looked after the border crossing. He had basic English and was efficient but not overly helpful or friendly.

Visa's for Cambodia can be obtained at the border. There are three types of Visa's as shown by Cambodia Authorities:

Tourist Visa - 20USD
Holiday Visa - 25USD
Special Visa - Free (you need official paper work for this one)

Mai Linh staff help with the visa procedure and charge 24USD per person. So while I just did my own (for 20USD), you can pay a little extra and not have to worry about waiting in line. Otherwise jump the queue and help yourself.

Stops

During the journey we stopped just short of Tay Ninh, about 1 1/2 hours, for fuel and a toilet stop. We then traveled 45 mins to border and spent about an 1 hour completing both border crossing. 5 minutes from the border (Cambodia side) we stopped for 20 minutes at a small cafe which had food, drinks and ok toilets.

From here it's about 3 hours to Phnom Penh, including a ferry crossing, where it's possible to get out and stretch your legs or grab some photo's.

The bus left the Saigon office in Pham Ngu Lao at 6.40am and arrived into Phnom Penh, behind the Central Markets around 1.30pm.

My Opinion

For this journey, I have used Capital, Mekong Express and now Mai Linh. Each company charges about the same (10 - 12USD) and travel the same routes.

While Mai Linh has great buses they have just ok service. The best company in my opinion is the Mekong Express Bus which has superior service - and they give you really nice pastries!

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