Best Way to Get Around Phnom Penh
Created by Colleen Sims * 11 March 2023 * Updated 15 August 2023
Phnom Penh is a large city and not easily navigated on foot; you’d spend you’re whole day walking.
Expats and tourists tend to rely on tuk-tuks which are plentiful and easy to use. Most journeys within the city cost between 1 and 4 USD. A 4 four kilometre back to our hotel cost us just 1$.
Getting Around : Does Phnom Penh have Grab?
If you are walking you will find yourself frequently accosted asking if you want a ride. The drivers are happy to accept a cheerful no thanks. But if you do decide that you need a lift then you are faced with the issue of negotiating price and explaining where you want to go. Surprisingly many tuk-tuk drivers have a poor knowledge of the city geography and don’t use satnav even if you are able to enunciate your destination clearly with them.
Download the Grab App
The best solution for us was the app Grab. The Everyday Everything App. There is no UBER or LYFT in Cambodia but this is the equivalent with the option to book tuk-tuks, taxis, takeout food and other services. Like UBER you can choose your destination, agree a price and the driver comes to the agreed pickup point. You can choose to pay by cash (we did) or add a bank card or paypal to cover the fare automatically.
We chose not to add a payment option out of an abundance of caution but it would save you needing to have USD or Riels handy in the correct denominations. Interestingly the only time we felt ripped off by a tuk-tuk driver was when we didn’t use the app and only had a large note to offer – he insisted on taking a generous tip!
Tips about GRAB and Tuk-Tuks.
You may want to delete your profile once you leave SE Asia so that your personal data and card details don’t remain. And we were warned about bag snatchers reaching in to tuk-tuks so always keep your bag inside between you or on the floor.
GRAB is available throughout Cambodia though less often in smaller cities but is widely used across SE Asia so it is a good idea to keep the app if you are travelling further. We used it in Siem Reap but it wasn’t an option in Mundulkiri.
Does Phnom Penh have bad traffic?
As well as using tuk-tuks we did walk a fair bit in Phnom Penh (of course we did) and I have to say it was actually enjoyable. However, the traffic is terrible, there are thousands of motorbikes weaving along the streets, the pavements are in poor condition and crowded with bikes, cars, stalls and people but the experience of seeing the city up close was great.
Do be careful crossing the streets. Crossing points (the very few) and traffic lights are treated as advisory so don’t rely on drivers stopping. Pick a spot with good visibility (for you and the drivers), wait for a lull and walk purposefully with your hand up. Be decisive but not reckless; the bikes will swerve around you and the cars slow down. It’s an art but we never saw anyone knocked over !
Car and Bike Hire
We’ve been asked about hiring a car in Phnom Penh. Personally I would never hire a car or bike here unless I was very experienced driving in this kind of traffic. The tuk-tuks are so omnipresent that there really is no need.
Public Transport | Trains Planes and Buses
There are taxis in the city and they operate 24/7 but they are not widely available and you need to order. There is also a nascent city public bus service. We didn’t use it but they are cheap and mostly with air conditioning. Again, as they are not widely available it is an option for a longer journey but stick to tuk-tuks in the city. Trains are not widely used in Cambodia so we would suggest buses, flying or even boats for longer journeys.
Phnom Penh’s international airport is located 45-60 minutes from the city centre, depending on traffic. You can take a taxi or a tuk-tuk though the former is probably more comfortable.
But beware, as with many airports, the taxi situation is rife with scams. Ideally the driver will speak English and you will be given a ticket in advance. This should be no more than USD 20 and less for closer areas of the city. However, I would suggest booking a private taxi in advance. You’ll be met at arrivals, the price is agreed and the driver will know where to take you. Your hotel can do this or Booking.com offer a taxi booking service ; we use this for many of our airport runs.
Bus Journeys from Phnom Penh
The city has great bus transport links to outlying destinations such as Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Sihanoukville, Mondulkiri and almost any reasonable sized town as well as destinations outside Cambodia.
We used the buses from Virak Buntham and took the Virak Buntham Express . As you will see they also offer a speed boat service but we used their bus from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri and Mondulkiri to Siem Reap. These were long journeys, Siem Reap was in excess of 9 hours and cost about €20 each. The website is good for finding and booking tickets and if you enter your departure point it shows all of your destination options.
If you prefer you can also book your tickets using 12Go, a booking site for all forms of transport across SW Asia and Australia.
Top Tip : if on the bus don’t book the seats in the front row behind the driver. We did and hot air pumps out around your feet from the engine and there is limited leg-room !
The bus station for us was basically a street corner crowded with Toyota minivans. The address was on our ticket so our tuk-tuk driver knew where to take us. We turned up, showed our ticket to a driver who told us to wait in the seating area. At the appointed time we were called and made our way to our allocated seats (don’t choose the front row behind the driver… it gets hot!) The van was relatively comfortable and the driver professional. There were frequent stops for toilet breaks, pickups, dropping parcels and food. There was a good selection of snacks, drinks and quick meals at the stops en route although it wasn’t always obvious how the long the stop was for. Just follow the locals or ask !
There are other buses such as the giant IBIS night bus which may suit better but we liked being able to experience the journey in daylight. I would not recommend any other night bus for safety reasons although we met travellers who had and they were happy. IBIS also do day buses and have a good network as do Cambodia Post VIP, Larryta Express, Bayon VIP, and Seila Angkor.
Flights from Phnom Penh
If you have visited Phnom Penh and are travelling on to Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) or Sihanoukville you may want a faster, more comfortable option. In that case there are 2 airlines who make the short journey (there may now be others but very poor quality domestic airlines come and go frequently in Cambodia so we won’t bother with those)
- Cambodia Angkor Air – the classic option for these routes
- Cambodia Bayon Air – this Chinese airline operate low quality turbo-prop flights so this would be second choice
Ferry From Phnom Penh
Another slightly more exotic option is to take a ferry boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. The trip is about 8 hours but you can experience great scenery along the way but beware they can be bumpy ! The boat will not operate in low water season (April, May, June) though. There are a few boat operators but to be honest we would suggest Mekong Explore as their safety record and rules are better.
The Mekong Explore boat operates both ways from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and costs about USD 40. We’ve not done this but met a chap who had booked; maybe we’ll try next time! You can purchase these tickets on the 12GO website.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few of the most common questions that we asked ourselves or others have asked us. The list isn’t definitive because transport options are changing but we hope they give you the starting point to find more.
Is Uber available in Phnom Penh?
No. When we visited Uber just wasn’t a thing in Cambodia. However, GRAB is. This app works like UBER and you can use it to order tuk-tuks and taxis (and food). You can download the app and use it on your smartphone much as you do Uber.
What is the Cheapest way to get around Phnom Penh?
Tuk-Tuks are by far the cheapest most reliable form of transport in the city. Use the Grab App to order your tuk-tuk.
Is There an Airport Bus in Phnom Penh
There is a bus, but no train. However, all that we’ve read suggest that the bus service is a little hit and miss. You might prefer to check with your accommodation in advance or book a taxi with GRAB. We use Booking.com but you can also use 12GO, Viator and Get my Guide to book airport transfers.
Is it Safe to take the Bus in Phnom Penh?
We didn’t use the city buses but we read nothing or heard nothing to suggest that there is any problem. The only issue was reliability and times.
How do I book Bus Tickets
We booked our onward bus travel with Virak Buntham but you can also you the all encompassing 12GO website to book tickets.
What is the Best way to Travel from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri, Cambodia?
We used an Express Bus. There are other options but this bus was at the time we wanted, within a reasonable time frame and very inexpensive. We used Virak Buntham and would use them again.
What is the Best way to Travel from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville
Our kids shared a taxi with two others but if they hadn’t done this they would have travelled in one of the Express Buses like we used.
What is the Best way to Rravel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
There are a range of options for Siem Reap. You can fly, ideal if time us short and you have the budget. You can also take an Express Bus or use the later IBIS coach. Or there is a ferry or speedboat option, but this is not for the faint hearted. If you have the budget you can also arrange for a private transfer.
And as Phnom Penh is on the Mekong River you will also find that you can take a boat to Siem Reap.
Is there a Boat to or from Siem Reap
I was tempted to use this service but we travelled to Mondulkiri first so it made no sense to back-track. I did read various reviews on this, some great and some awful and I do wonder if time of year and water levels impact on the journey. If you are thinking of this option make sure you ask in advance how much time in the water and clarify what kind of boat… and read the reviews.
Travelling Onwards from Phnom Penh to Vietnam or Thailand
We flew from Cambodia to Thailand. There are buses that take you in either direction. Indeed on our way to Mondulkiri we passed the VIetnam border and on our way to Seim Reap we passed the Laos border. We really enjoyed using Virak for our journeys and they had an extensive network. Also look on 12GO for land options. Bus travel is very reasonable and you get to see a lot of the country as you travel.
The Last Word : Getting Around Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh can be hot and chaotic and not pedestrian friendly. That’s not to say that you can’t walk; we did and if you go carefully you get to see a lot. But if you want to cover a lot of ground quickly tuk-tuks are the way to go. There are taxis and buses but these are harder to navigate and for short trips a ride in a tuk-tuk is much more fun. And you may meet a really helpful driver. Use the taxi/bus network for your longer journeys.
I also recommend the GRAB app as it is easy to use, the price is agreed up front and you can pay by card or cash.