The talesofasia guide to travel in Siem Reap and Angkor
Updated May 19, 2011
Reap index page
Arrival by air - international
Siem Reap is served by the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport which opened a flash new terminal building in July 2006. It's still not the end-all but it will do until the people responsible for whathever it is they are responsible for fulfill their dream of building a brand new airport capable of handling direct long-haul flights from around the world, a project they've been babbling about for well over a decade now. They've gone so far as to have chosen a plot of land, conveniently located about an hour from Siem Reap We think the determining factor was not so much where the airport would be located, but upon whose land it will be built. We don't even want to begin to imagine what transport to and from this airport is going to cost but the mindset will be along the lines that foreign tourists are rich and they can pay, which also flies in the face of ubiquitous $8 A/C rooms with free breakfast and 50 cent draft beers, but such are the contradictions of life in Cambodia.
Air schedule information is always volatile and no sooner do people like us put information on the internet that an airline comes along and changes its schedule making us look dumb, trust us, we don't need help. So don't assume absolute truth in anything we tell you in reference to who flies from where and when without confirming first with the airline or a travel agent or someone who is capable of actually giving you a reservation and putting a ticket in your hand. We're just a website.
Up to date information that might be accurate can be found at the Cambodia Airports Webpage: http://www.cambodia-airports.com/siemreap/en/, which is about the slowest loading website on the planet, but anyway, these are more or less your options:
To and from Saigon: Vietnam Airlines, several flights daily.
To and from Bangkok: Bangkok Airways, five to eight flights daily.
To and from Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia Airlines, three flights a week.
To and from Singapore:
JetStarAsia, three flights a week.
To and from Pakse and Vientiane, Lao Aviation, daily
To and from Yangon, Myanmar Intl Airways, two flights a week.
To and from Taipei, Angkor Air (codeshare with Far Eastern?), five flights a week.
To and from Kunming, China Eastern Yunnan, daily.
To and from Seoul, Inchon, and Pusan, Asiana Airways and Korean Air, daily flights.
The most popular route is to/from Bangkok and Bangkok Airways is the only carrier running this route and the cost is predictably expensive. Plan on around $170 USD one way and $340 USD return (all taxes included) for what is all of a 45 to 60-minute flight (depending on whether you're on a turbo-prop or a jet. At this point we remind you that we're not supposed to talk about the Open Skies policy and why is it, when a policy states that anyone can fly in to Cambodia from anywhere, we have but a single carrier running a monopoly on the most popular route? But as we said, we're not supposed to talk about that so it wasn't us who brought it up. But if you're interested to know there was a deal made back in 1997 awarding this route on an exclusive basis to Bangkok Airways. Well, actually the national carrier was allowed to fly it too, but more often than not there has been no national carrier. Well again, 2009 is done and past and there is presently a national carrier... so.... why then still is this route the sole domain of Bangkok Airways. But we're not supposed to ask, so we didn't.
In high season (November to April, especially December to February), many flights book out, especially on the Bangkok - Siem Reap route, but it's still possible sometimes to turn up at the airport and get a ticket out on the next flight as many of the advanced bookings are made by tour companies who really don't know how many people they will be actually flying in. Low season (May to October) there are seats available more often than not.
Visas are available on arrival from anywhere for anyone except those nine countries in the Cambodia Axis of Evil for visa-on-arrival: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Sri Lanka. Alternatively, Malaysians, Filipinos, Singaporeans, Laotians, Vietnamese, and Thais do not need visas for short stays. For everyone else they cost $20 USD and require a passport photo. If you forget the photo they usually charge you a dollar and may or may not make you wait until they've processed all the other passengers who remembered their photos. The visa application form is easy to fill out and takes but a minute. Don't stress yourself over proof of onward travel or anything like that. They don't care. Your $20 is proof enough. For more information on visas see FAQ, specifically the Legalities page.
Historically, visa on arrival at the airport is a scam free process though we have heard a few recent reports of "1000 Thai baht only" nonsense, which seems particularly ridiculous given that a majority of flights don't come from Thailand and therefore the passengers can't be expected to have Thai baht. Still, some passengers on flights from Bangkok have been duped into paying the overcharge.
Children under 12 get free visas and Malaysians, Filipinos, Singaporeans, Laotians, Vietnamese, and Thais don't need visas. Don't allow yourself to be duped into paying for what you don't need. It does happen. Also, although the aforementioned nationalities enter visa-free, in some cases, i.e. Thais, the length of stay is less than that permitted for visa holders.
The next thing you have to sort out is transportation from the airport into town. If you have a reservation somewhere it's pretty much standard procedure to get picked up at the airport - surprisingly most of the cheaper places offer the ride for free, while with some of the higher end establishments, well don't be too surprised if later a charge for the service appears on your bill. If you have no reservation somewhere then you'll have to get a taxi and that means dealing with the Tourist Transport Association, the group with the exclusive contract to offer taxi services at the airport. The drivers all carry identification and every vehicle has a number painted on the door, for example B-52. Yes, there really is a driver designated B-52 and the irony of this designation is not lost on him. You should make a note of the driver number before you get in.
The word "association" is ubiquitous in Cambodia tourism and for the most part the connotations should not be taken as cooperative. Hence, that there is an organization with an exclusive contract to operate taxi services is in itself an unremarkable fact, except that while the drivers pay a nominal fee to be members of the TTA, the spaces are full and a slot in the TTA now resells for a minimum of $2000. That's a bit of an investment from the drivers to recover and thus simply getting a ride to your chosen destination is not always a priority for some.
Generally, the first pitch is to have you hire them for your transport around the temples (which you need anyway) and virtually every driver will try this on and there's really nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you wanted a car to drive you around you just saved yourself the trouble of trying to hire one. The second pitch will be to get you into a hotel or guesthouse that pays a commission. Again, if you have no booking anywhere and no place in mind, you just saved yourself the trouble of looking for a hotel.
But if you didn't need a driver and/or you had a place to stay in mind which isn't one of the commission paying places, then this is where problems can develop. Most of the time, you won't get anything more than a lot of selling with a bit about how your chosen hotel or guesthouse is dirty, is in a bad location, the staff is no good, bad for Cambodia (if it's foreign owned) but eventually you'll end up where you wanted to go and he gets his $5. But there are a few bad apples among the taxis who at this point won't take you any farther (though they may have tried, probably unsuccessfully, to call your chosen non-commission paying hotel or guesthouse and inform them they have a customer, but won't bring them in unless they get a commission, and I know several places who can confirm this happening to them) and will eject you on the spot. Fortunately, this is not a common occurrence and seems to some extent to have been dealt with by the association itself, but if it does happen, well, now you know why I told you to remember the driver's ID number. Take it to the tourist police. They are located near the Angkor ticket plaza.
While I wouldn't suggest that the behavior of a few crazy drivers would be reason not to take a taxi, tuk-tuk, or moto from the airport (you're going to walk????), keep in mind that because of past problems with some of the drivers most hotels and guesthouses will be delighted to pick you up at the airport, and as I said earlier, often for *free*.
Arrival by air - domestic
All domestic flights originate from Phnom Penh and are covered by the national carrier, Cambodia Angkor Air which is affiliated with Vietnam Airlines. If you can catch a promotion, fares can be pretty cheap. Bangkok Airways which once operated domestically as Siem Reap Airways were booted off the route shortly after the formation of Cambodia Angkor Air back in 2009. The demise of Siem Reap Airlines a couple of years ago was one more in a long list of aviation failures in the past decade here.
Some other airlines now in the aviation junkyard in the sky:
PMT (Progress Multitrade), yes the airline was really called PMT!, tried from time to time to fly domestic routes and occasionally did using an ancient Russian-built AN-24... eiyahhhhhhhh!!!!!! until they crashed it into a mountain flying between Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. They also flew to Banlung in Ratanakiri province and sometimes managed to even put the plane on the ground.
Royal Khmer Airlines (who?) - back in April 2004 some people (who?) got their hands on a jet (what?) and flew a few times between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (when?) and then disappeared. They never advertised, promoted, or did much of anything. When we asked a couple of travel agents about this airline, they said, "who?". We said "Royal Khmer Airlines". They said, "what?". We said, "an airline in Cambodia.". They said, "when?". We said, "apparently not anymore."
Angkor Airways - In 2005 some outfit calling itself Angkor Air issued a press release announcing service between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The issuance of the press release was for some period of time the company's most successful endeavor. They did later establish an office and a schedule but we never heard of anyone actually flying with them. Apparently they went the charter route before landing on the great tarmac in the sky
President Airlines - they suspended operations in May 2005 though spent a good year or so insisting they would fly again before finally succumbing to reality.
Royal Phnom Penh Airways - they were around for awhile, flying first, Antonov 24s and then Chinese-made Y7s - a copy cat of the Antonov 24 (eeeeeiyyaaahhhhhh!!!!) - on domestic routes and sometimes to Bangkok. But the owner of the company, a prince and head of his own political party, spent all his money on the 2003 election, and all during the SARS scare and that was the beginning and the end of both his airline and his political career. Even when his own airline was flying to Bangkok he was spotted flying President Air to the same location... hardly an endorsement of a carrier we want back.
Another new upstart, First Cambodia Air, offered some international routes to/from Phnom Penh, but they suspended service after only three months in business and over a million dollars in losses. Seeing as one of Hun Sen's daughters had a 51% share in this outfit it does make one wonder what if any influence the fine PM has on the aviation industry in Cambodia.
International - see outline above, domestic - see above, several flights daily on anywhere from two to three carriers. Departure taxes are $6 domestic and $25 international and are now buried in the cost of your ticket so you have no one to complain to when you pay it.
Arrival by road from Thailand
Flying too expensive? Sure is. So take the bus or something. We have another section on this website which will tell you everything you could ever possibly need to know about coming and going by land from Thailand through the Aranyaprathet / Poipet border crossing. And this is the link.
But a quick summary:
1.) Tourist bus. ALL PRIVATE BUS SERVICES TO CAMBODIA SOLD BY TRAVEL AGENTS IN BANGKOK ARE RIP-OFFS AND RIFE WITH SCAMS. ALL OF THEM. NO, NOT SOME OF THEM. ALL OF THEM. Most originate on Khao San Road. Prices are in the 200 to 600 baht range. Very very slow, full of scams. 10-16 hours no matter what time of year. Beware the visa scam (overcharging you for the visa) and money changing scam (forcing you to change money at outrageous rates). These scams are detailed more thoroughly on this page.
One change now is they are no longer selling passengers to guesthouses - the completed road and reduced travel times made this more complicated - instead, buses stop at an empty lot about seven to eight kms from Siem Reap where you are essentially forced to purchase transport into town from tuk-tuks who have paid for the privilege of having access to you. Of course if you agree to hire the driver for your temple visits and/or agree to stay at his "brother's" guesthouse, and trust us he's not his brother, the driver might waive the fee. Of course you have to hassle the whole way with this when all you really want to do is get to your pre-chosen guesthouse and deal with transport tomorrow...
We do not in any way shape or form recommend Bangkok to Siem Reap bus tickets (or Pattaya to Siem Reap, or Koh Chang to Siem Reap, etc.). This has been our position for ten years now and little has changed. Where Thailand and Cambodia are concerned, conventional wisdom is to deal with Thailand in Thailand, and Cambodia in Cambodia and don't mix the two on one bus ticket.
2.) On your own. Bus to the border from Bangkok 4-4.5 hours, departures from Morchit (Northern) Bus Terminal every 30-60 minutes from 3:30 am to 6 pm and several departures from Ekkamai (Eastern) Bus Terminal as well as Suvarnabhumi Airport, or take a slow train (5.5 hours) from Hualamphong, departures at 6 am and 1 pm. From Poipet take a Toyota Camry taxi (about $48 for the whole car through the "associations", $25-35 off the street). Road is now a fully surfaced proper road, all the legends of horrendous road conditions are just that, legends. A taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap is about two hours. It is possible to make Bangkok to Siem Reap in six hours or less, but you should plan on about eight to nine hours just to be safe. There are a few border hassles to beware of and these are detailed on the Overland section referenced above.
If returning to Thailand, again, skip the bus and take a taxi to Poipet and from there sort yourself out with onward transport to Bangkok, Koh Chang, or wherever. Although the bus trip to the border is less scammy, it's still a backpacker bus.
While the bus services between Siem Reap and the border/Thailand are backpacker scam buses, the rest of the bus services in Cambodia as well as to Vietnam are all fine.
There is now a so-called night bus to Bangkok leaving at around 2:00 am. Don't get excited. It's about two hours, two and a half at most, to the border which doesn't open until 7:00 am. Think about that one a moment.... We asked an agent in Siem Reap to explain this one. The answer was "special arrangement with the border". That they could bribe a Cambodia immigration officer to stamp a few backpackers out at 4:30 am I can believe, that they could bribe a Thai immigration officer to stamp a few backpackers in at 4:30 am, not a chance. We'll believe it when we see it.
Again see, the Overland section of this website for full details on road conditions, border crossings, pricing, etc.Other border crossings (all offer visa on arrival services):
Along the northern border there are two crossings offering access to the Isaan region of Thailand as well as Vientiane, Laos. They are O'Smach (west of Anlong Veng) and Sa-ngam (Si Saket province in Thailand) / Anlong Veng crossing.
The other two border crossings are in Pailin and in Battambang province. The Pailin checkpoint carries the name Phsa Prom Border Crossing and the Battambang checkpoint in Kamreang district will be known as the Daun Lem Border Crossing. Both of these crossings connect with Chantaburi province in the Pongnamron district.
Poipet is the best border crossing for going to Siem Reap and has the most transport options. If coming from southeast Thailand (i.e. Rayong, Chantaburi, etc) you might look at using the Phsa Prom crossing near Pailin and certainly if you want to visit Battambang before Siem Reap. The only real drawback with Poipet is the immigration queues, especially on the Thai side, can be horrendously long.
Border hours at all posts are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., but I do not recommend being in Poipet after dark. It's not a very nice place and you probably won't be able to get any transport at this hour anyway.
To/from Phnom Penh
Plane (see above), boat, bus, truck, or taxi.
Boat: I do not recommend using the boat service between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It's a massively over-priced tourist rip-off. Decent buses run on a perfectly good road for $9-12. If you want to see the lake, book a lake trip in Siem Reap.
Still, if you must... Boats depart each morning (if they have enough passengers and these days often they don't) from Phnom Penh (or Siem Reap going the other way) at 7:00-7:30 a.m. Transport to the boat docks should be included with the cost of your ticket and this is particularly important departing Siem Reap as the boat docks are half an hour from town in the port village of Chong Khneas.
Tickets for foreigners are $35 (!!!!) and this is indeed a special foreigner price. Locals go for considerably less if they can even find a Cambodian to buy a ticket.
Most boat trips are about six hours, sometimes more. In the event of a breakdown or as sometimes happens in the dry season, a boat gets stuck, the ride can take ten hours. Although neither scenario happens very often, such unplanned events do happen from time to time and as such you ought to bring some water and a snack with you became you won't be getting any onboard.
Road: Bus or taxi. If you choose to travel by road, you'll probably take the bus as it's only $9-12 and now takes as little as five hours, from either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh there are departures throughout the day and several night buses. You can also hire a taxi (Toyota Camry). Prices are around $60 for a whole car and you can make the trip in as fast as four hours. Now, if there are two or more of you, go back and look at the boat ticket price... and consider the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle with your own private driver. Enticing, isn't it? Taxis can be obtained from around Central Market in Phnom Penh and Psah Leu in Siem Reap, or ask your guesthouse or hotel to arrange one, though this option often results in a higher price.
Buses: This is an industry that has evolved from predominantly dodgy tourist services to proper bus services running on schedules and departing/terminating at central locations that have nothing to do with someone's guesthouse. And even a couple of the guesthouses that do offer bus services are targeting anyone, Khmer or foreign, looking for a ride, and not just someone they can put into their Siem Reap-affiliated guesthouse.
We've given up for now trying to keep track of all the bus companies and schedules as everyone and their uncle is jumping into the business and a company and schedule posted today could be gone tomorrow. That said, bus departures in either direction are fairly regular from 7:00 am to late afternoon and there are a couple of night buses. Best place to sort out a bus ticket and get the most update information on schedules is from a hotel or guesthouse and many of the bus companies will pick you up from there and bring you to the station. Better companies include Paramount Angkor Express and Mekong Express though the latter is a bit pricy for reasons that aren't too clear as they are no longer the only bus that offers drinks, on board toilet, etc.
Night buses are growing fast in popularity, but do keep safety in mind. Cambodia highways are hectic enough in the daytime, now throw in darkness, drunks, motos without headlights, cows without headlights, bicycles without headlights, well, you get the picture. The most recent mishap occurred only this week (May 2011) when a Virak Bunthan bus collided with a broken-down truck sending quite a few of its passengers (half foreign nationals) to the hospital. Fortunately there were no fatalities. We've driven a few times at night on this road and it can be hair raising. The one saving grace is that you are on a bus and an encounter with a moto will, for you, be nothing but a slight bump that might cause you to wake up for a few moments. You probably won't think much more about it since the bus certainly isn't going to stop... Yes, we just said that.
Although there is a main bus station in Siem Reap most bus companies use their own private lots instead. If you're traveling to Siem Reap and expecting a pick-up by your hotel or guesthouse it is imperative that they know the name of the bus company and your departure time from Phnom Penh so they will know how to find you.
If you don't have a prearranged pick-up then you can expect the usual song and dance from the tuk-tuk drivers, though compared to the taxis at the airport, the guys here are marginally better at taking you where you want to go, but beware offers of "free ride to any guesthouse" as what they really mean is "free ride to any guesthouse that pays me a commission or if you hire me to take you to the temples", if neither you'll be looking at about $3 for a ride which should only be a dollar.
Several companies now offer bus service between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville and Siem Reap and Saigon (Mekong Express, Mai Linh, Sapaco), though you will change buses in Phnom Penh.
There is a speedboat service that costs around $20 and can be a bit dodgy. The good point is that the wetlands scenery down the Sangker River is spectacular. The bad point is the service is poor. It simply isn't good transport. Boats sink - well, they fill up with water and everybody jumps out and stands in water up to their waist until they either plug the hole or find you another boat; boats get stuck in the mud; breakdown; sometimes never finish the journey forcing everyone into the back of a pick-up truck for the last two hours... And no matter what the person selling you the ticket says - there is no guarantee or even consistency in respect to the type/size of boat you will get or how long the trip will take, but you do very well to do it in less than seven hours.
If you're taking this boat solely because you think the road from Siem Reap to the border is too much, well, that is absolutely stupid. The road was finished two years ago. Paved. Done. Don't be silly. Take the boat to Battambang because you want to go to Battambang and/or see the views, not because you think the road is too much to handle.
The boat is the kind of thing you do once for the experience. Alternatives to the boat are buses and taxis.
Siem Reap index page
Arrival by air-international
Arrival by air-domestic
Departure by air
Arrival by road from Thailand
To/from Phnom Penh
Eating and drinking
Other things to do and places to go in and around Siem Reap
Additional stories on the Siem Reap area
restaurants, tours and more
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2010 talesofasia.com. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.