This information is for those who will take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to Phnom Penh thru the Vietnam-Cambodia border at the Mocbai-Bavet Border Gates.
We included insights for a more pleasant anticipation of events that may surprise tourists traveling on this route for the first time. Please go to Table of Contents of this page by clicking the link just under this advertisement below. Please scroll down.
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Table of Contents
The Highway Route from Saigon To Phnom Penh in Map
Appearance and Condition of Buses
The buses that carry passengers to Phnom Penh City (Cambodia) from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) are not much different from tourist buses in developed countries. The buses are all airconditioned. They have two reclinable side-by-side bucket seats per row, with armrests. There is overhead rack for handcarried bags and a huge baggage storage compartment at the side of the bus below the passenger deck. Most have toilet onboard. Many are equipped with wifi connection and wide flat screen TV at front for onboard movies.
Please scroll down to continue reading, for more information about buses that travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Bottled water and moist tissues in sealed sachets are distributed to passengers free of charge. In some buses (for example, in the buses of the company that operate the Giant Ibis bus lines), eats, like cinnamon bread in sealed plastic wrapping, are distributed to passengers at no cost.
The composition of passengers in a Phnom Penh-bound bus, in terms of nationalities, vary widely but could be usually about 10% westerners (Europeans, Americans, Hispanics, Australians), 20% asian tourists and about 70% Vietnamese and Cambodians. Sometimes there are also visitors from the African nations
Where to Board Your Bus
In Ho Chi Minh City: You board your bus at the central bus terminal in Pham Ngu Lao Street.
Pham Ngu Lao Street is about 8 to 10 kilometers (more or less 5 miles) from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), going the general direction of south. Travel time from the airport to Pham Ngu Lao Street by taxi is, more or less, 20 minutes, depending on traffic density.
The taxi drivers in the airport, when they approach you...
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The taxi drivers in the airport, when they approach you in the arrival area, will usually ask US$15.00 for the trip. By taxi meter the cost actually comes up to only about US$10.00 or less. The more trusted taxi cabs are the green colored Mai Linh taxi cabs and the white colored Vinasun taxi cabs. They charge you only with what appears in the taxi meter.
Currently, taxi companies have set up "taxi-counters" just outside the arrival area at the Than Son Nhat International Airport where you can pay, over-the-counter, for a taxi-cab to bring you to your hotel in the city. You pay US$10.00 at the counter. The counter-clerk will give you an Official Receipt for your payment. Your destination is written in the Receipt. You will be asked to wait awhile near the counter and after a few minutes your taxi arrives and the counter-clerk helps load your luggage to the taxi-cab. The taxi-cab driver checks his copy of your Official Receipt and makes sure that he knows where you want to go. The "taxi-counters" can be found in the lobby of the arrival area and are situated at the foot of several building pillars standing in the lobby.
The currency of Vietnam is the Vietnam Dong. The generally accepted exchange rate with the US Dollar is US$1.00 = 20,000 Dong.
Most bus companies that bring tourists to Phnom Penh...
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Most bus companies that bring tourists to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and vice versa have their ticket offices in Pham Ngu Lao Street. In the past (before 2016) their bus passengers are also loaded and offloaded just on the sides of this street in front of their ticket offices. Currently, passengers need to go to the bus terminal at the western end of Pham Ngu Lao. The bus terminal is about 10 minutes leisurely walk from the other extreme end (eastern end) of this street. Along the way, on one side, Pham Ngu Lao is lined with hotels, restaurants and convenient stores. On the other side of the street is a public-park with plenty of trees and park benches.
Almost all bus lines that have buses that ply the Saigon-Phnom Penh highway route have ticket offices in Pham Ngu Lao Street. Photo above shows the ticket office of the Kumho Samco Bus Line. Its large white sign is visible, at center of the photo (pointed by arrow), through the window of this bus that is still parked and loading passengers just across the street. This photo was taken at the time when the buses are still allowed to park along the side of Pham Ngu Lao Street to load and offload passengers. Currently (beginning 2016) they are now required to use the bus terminal at the western end of this street.
The street of Pham Ngu Lao, as well as the side roads intersecting it, is lined with hotels and restaurants. Across the street is a tree-shaded public park.
Parallel to Pham Ngu Lao and just next to it is Bui Vien Street which is also lined on both sides of the street with hotels, restaurants and convenient stores.
This area is near the famous Ben Than Market, the old and traditional public market in the city, and Saigon Square, which is the more recent bargain shopping center in the area.
Staying in hotels near the area of Pham Ngu Lao makes it easier to board your bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Where do you get off the bus when you reach Phnom Penh?
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Where You Get Off in Phnom Penh
If you have taken the buses of Kumho Samco or SAPACO, you get off your bus at the Preah Sihanouk Boulevard (near the Olympic Stadium) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
If you have taken a Giant Ibis bus or the Mekong Express bus, you will get off at their stations which are located along the Riverfront (Sisowath Quay), in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh has no central bus terminal. Each bus line has its own parking spot beside the street in front of its ticket office, or it has its own parking compound that serves as its bus terminal and waiting station.
The ticket offices and waiting stations of Kumho Samco Buslines, Sapaco Tourist Company and other bus lines that serve the Saigon - Phnom Penh - Saigon route are just beside one another in Phnom Penh, at the Preah Sihanouk Boulevard. Passengers board the buses and also disembark here.
Other popular bus companys, such as the Giant Ibis Transport and the Cambodia Asia Travel Company that operates the Mekong Express buses have ticket offices, waiting stations or bus terminals along the Riverfront (Sisowath Quay) of Phnom Penh.
Another prominent bus company is the Sorya Transport Company. Its ticket office and bus terminal is located near the Phnom Penh Central Market.
Please scroll down or click link below for information about cost of bus ticket.
Cost of Bus Ticket and Trip Schedules
Ticket: Saigon to Phnom Penh, and vice versa, is US$10.00 up to US$15.00, depending on bus company.
Seat assignment: Written in your bus ticket is the number of the seat you have chosen when you bought your ticket and which has been reserved for you. If you buy your ticket early (a few days before your planned departure or at least a day before) there is usually still enough unreserved seats to enable you to choose and get the particular seat that you want.
Be aware: It is not a good idea to purchase two tickets...
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Be aware: It is not a good idea to purchase two tickets for two side-by-side seats if you are alone, with the purpose of having more space for yourself. When the bus is on its way other passengers, especially the locals, will take note of that and though no one will say it to you outright on your face, the matter can be perceived and misunderstood as another westerner's way of either flaunting wealth or simply throwing financial weight around while in poorer developing nations. The locals are typically friendly to foreigners but they can resent behaviors that seemingly show blatant display of national or racial superiority.
Time of bus departures from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): 7am, 8am, 9:30am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm. Please be aware that the time may vary a little with different bus companies, for example, it might be that the 7am to one bus company would be 7:30am to another bus company. The clerk at the ticket selling counter will always inform you what the departure time is and he will loudly emphasize what time you are supposed to be already there at the waiting station before the time of departure. If you will buy your ticket online, try to be at the waiting station at least 15 minutes before the indicated departure time of your bus.
There is a 20-minute stop-over for rest and food at an eating place at a point just about a kilometer from the border after entering the Cambodian territory.
Bus arrives in Phnom Penh 6 hours after leaving Saigon. Sometimes it takes longer.
Be aware: Your passport will be taken from you during the bus trip. Why?
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What Happens To Your Passport When You Ride a Bus From Vietnam to Cambodia?
Be aware: Passports of all passengers are gathered by the bus steward as soon as the bus leaves.
If you are a passenger in a bus going to Phnom Penh from Saigon, the bus steward of your bus will ask you to give your passport to him.
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Photo shows a bus steward gathering the passports of passengers bound for Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This is part of his routine as soon as the bus leaves its parking space in Pham Ngu Lao Street, at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
Please scroll down to read why he is doing this.
Why Is Bus Steward Taking Passports of Passengers?
The bus steward cannot speak a word of English and most probably can understand very little of what you will say in English. He will just make a motion with his hand and try to make you understand that he wants your passport.
You may naturally not like this idea of giving away your passport to a stranger. If you look around, however, you will see that others (those who look like they are locals and even those who are obviously non-locals) are giving their passports to the bus steward like this is a matter that is normal and routine. Well, this practice has actually already become exactly that -normal and routine- in buses travelling from Saigon to Phnom Penh and vice versa. The purpose?
The bus steward will be the one to give all your passports to the Vietnamese immigration officer at the passport checkpoint when you reach the border exit gate in Mocbai, the last town of Vietnam at the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
The bus steward will give all the passports, in just one handover, to the Vietnamese immigration officer for the stamping of the exit date. They have obviously found that this procedural matter is more efficiently done when it is the bus steward that is handing over all the passports to the immigration officer instead of the passengers presenting their passports individually.
Possibly, the bus lines and the Vietnamese immigration officers must have already established their own routinary procedures over this matter. It could be that this method of preparing the passports of passengers in a bus for clearing in the passport checkpoint was established with the best of intentions to save time and effort.
Indeed, constant travellers of this route find it less troublesome to simply trust the bus steward with their passports in his hands (within the duration of the trip up to the Vietnam-Cambodia border), than to make a fuss about the matter. So far, no complaints about any untoward incident related to this has been heard or formally registered.
The bus steward gathers the passports of all passengers in his bus, as soon as the bus departs. You can observe that he does this as a natural part of his every day responsibilities.
This practice can be rather odd, and well, very unusual, but remember, you are in Southeast Asia.
Be aware: If you are not visa-exempted and you still do not have a tourist visa for Cambodia, this is the time to let the bus steward know that you need to get a visa-on-arrival at the Cambodian border passport checkpoint. He will be glad to facilitate it for you. He is usually given US$5.00 for his service.
What Happens at the Vietnam Border-Exit Passport Checkpoint?
Upon reaching the Vietnam Border Exit Checkpoint at Moc Bai, you will have to get off from the bus and wait inside the building, where the Vietnam immigration passport checkpoint is located, while the passports are being stamped with the exit date. The length of wait varies. Sometimes it is less than 30 minutes. Sometimes more.
Please scroll down to continue reading, for more information about passing through the Vietnam border exit checkpoint.
Earlier in the trip your passport was taken from you by the bus steward. How do you get it back? Please scroll down.
How You Get Your Passport Back
Your passport will be returned to you as your name is called by the bus steward after this is handed to him by the immigration officer. For this purpose he stands beside the immigration officer's elevated counter, making sure that you get your passport back.
Be aware: The Vietnamese bus steward may have a different way of pronouncing your name, as he reads it in your passport and calls it out. Try to be very attentive while the names are being called.
As soon as you are reunited with your passport you can immediately walk through the immigration bar gate and exit the building and get back to your bus. The bus would be parked just a few meters away.
Be aware: Often times there are other buses parked near the exit door of the passport checkpoint building that have similar appearance to your bus. Be sure to take note and to remember the plate number of your bus when you get off so that you can identify your own bus and not make the mistake of boarding another.
More information below. Please scroll down.
After all its passengers are back on board, the bus that is usually parked beside the immigration building will move forward for about 300 meters and leave the compound of the Vietnamese immigration authority. By doing this, it crosses the imaginary territorial border or boundary line between Vietnam and Cambodia with you on board.
Book your hotel in advance for no-hassle arrival. Find your hotel now. Search box, below, is provided for your convenience.
What Happens at the Cambodian Border-Entry Passport Checkpoint?
After leaving the territory of Vietnam your bus enters the Cambodian side of the border, into the border-town of Bavet. The bus will enter the compound of the Cambodian immigration authority in Bavet and stop at the building where the Cambodian passport checkpoint is located.
This time you yourself will need to present your passport personally to the Cambodian immigration officer for the stamping of your entry date.
Sometimes fingerprint scanning is required. Sometimes the immigration officer simply checks out your passport and identity in his computer without requiring fingerprints to be scanned.
As of this year, 2016, no x-ray machine scanning of luggages is required, so you need not even bring down your bag from the bus if you choose not to carry it with you as you go through the Cambodian immigration desk.
Be aware: If you are from a country whose passport holders are required to have a visa to enter Cambodia and you still do not have a tourist visa while on the bus from Vietnam, you can apply for one in the Cambodian immigration office right there in the passport checkpoint in Bavet.
Be also aware: If you are from a country that is given visa-free privilege (visa-exempted) in Cambodia, you do not need to get a tourist visa. Click here for more information about tourist visa-exemption.
If you need a visa you may let your bus steward know, at the time he was getting your passport in the bus early in the trip, that you need to get a visa-on-arrival. He is willing to direct you where to go and even to facilitate the issuance of your tourist visa. For his services he expects to be given at least US$5.00. The actual cost of the Cambodian tourist visa is US$30.00 (effective October 1, 2014, from previous rate of US$20.00).
Be aware: There have been reports that visa-issuing officers, in points-of-entry in the border, sometimes ask for US$8.00 additional payment for "service fee". What is this service fee?
You actually do not need to pay any "service fee". There is nothing more to pay after you have paid the cost of the visa you are purchasing.
Tourists who have experienced being asked for this additional payment report that when they inquired (with politeness and smiles) what the "service fee" is for, the officer who asked for it did not pursue the matter any further. So many issues like this one that have been often heard in the past years seem to have been significantly minimized. There is no guarantee, however, that this anomaly in the immigration services at points-of-entry in the borders of Cambodia has been completely irradicated. In a more optimistic note, the Cambodian immigration service at the Saigon-Cambodia Bavet point-of-entry seems to be free from this issue. A situation like this is practically avoided when you let your bus steward facilitate the visa-application for you. Of course, you will also need to give something to the bus-steward for his effort. Usually, it is not more than US$5.00.
Be aware: When applying for a visa you must provide a colored or black-and-white passport size (40cm x 30cm) photo. Without a photo prepared, an immigration officer will get your picture with his camera, or scan your passport photo in his scanning machine, and you will need to pay him USD1.00 for that.
Be aware: You can get a Cambodia tourist visa online (the Cambodian Electronic Visa, or "e-visa") for only US$37.00 (effective October 1, 2014). The rate is US$30.00 for the e-visa plus US$7.00 for processing fee. You get the tourist visa direct from the Ministry of Foreign Relations and International Cooperation (MFRIC) of Cambodia, online, wherever you are in the world. You can have your visa in three days. It is sent to you online in PDF format. You will need only to print it out and bring with you to Cambodia. No hassle. Click here for more information about the Cambodian tourist visa online.
Be aware: If you must get a visa-on-arrival, there in the passport checkpoint at the border in Bavet, make sure that you tell your bus steward to wait for you if for some reason your passport and visa takes some time to be returned to you (as it happens sometimes).
There were times (though rare) that bus passengers waiting for their visas were left behind by their bus when it drove off before they can get back onboard. Most of the time the bus steward and the bus driver make a visual check of all seats to see if all passengers are back on board before driving off, but sometimes, particularly when not all seats have been taken when the bus left Saigon, an unoccupied seat may not be interpreted as the seat of a passenger that has not yet come back aboard.
The Stop-Over Point On Your Way to Phnom Penh
There are 285 kilometers (177 miles) between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Phnom Penh. Travel time is about 6 to 7 hours.
There is one 20-minute stop for rest after the bus has travelled about 1 or 2 kilometers away from the border, upon entering the territory of Cambodia in the border town of Bavet.
What to do during the "pit-stop"?
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The bus stops at a "cafeteria" or "restaurant" of sort. Here you may buy a meal or something to eat and drink. There are also toilets and handwashing facilities.
A plate of boiled rice and a dish cost at least US$3.00 in all. There are softdrinks and bottled water for sale.
They will accept US dollar, Cambodian Riel (US$1.00=4,000 Riel) or Vietnamese Dong (US$1.00=21,000 Dong). There is also a money-changer right there in the cafeteria.
The travel time from the stop-over point to Phnom Penh is at least 4 hours.
The bus does not stop anywhere after this point. It is advisable to relieve a full bladder during the stop-over time. The cafeterias and restaurants in the stop-over area have toilets and urinals.
Please be aware, however, that while these toilets and urinals are practically usable for their main purposes the maintenance of their cleanliness may not always be as consistent as we may expect it to be. We continue to hope that the Cambodian government will soon strictly enforce regulatory rules addressing the better maintenance of the condition of this vital aspect in the country's tourism industry.
For women or those who may need to use the toilet bowl, if you can bring with you a disposable toilet-seat cover, which you can lay over the toilet-seat before sitting on it, using the toilet would feel less forbidding.
Crossing the Mekong River at Neak Loeung On Your Way to Phnom Penh
There is now a bridge that spans the Mekong River at the place called Neak Loeung. The crossing of the river by roll-on roll-off (RORO) ferry, like how it was, is now a thing of the past. Photo below shows the bridge when approaching from the west side (going to Vietnam).
Before this bridge was built, the crossing of the River Mekong at Neak Loeung by bus on board a roll-on-roll-off ferry was a bit more cultural and rustic in color, as might be seen in the photos below.
To those who are interested in history, Neak Loeung is the town that was accidentally bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam War (in the early 70s), killing hundreds of Cambodian civilians. The US Air Force was bombing the Viet Congs who were hiding and regrouping in the Cambodian side of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. Miscalculation caused one US air force plane to drop its bombs in Neak Loeung. This incident is recounted in the movie "Killing Fields", and in books relating war experiences and events in Cambodia and Vietnam.
Be aware: If your bus leaves Saigon at 10 in the morning, you will most likely arrive in the city of Phnom Penh around 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
If this is your first time to visit Phnom Penh, going around the city to look for a good place to stay, where your preferences or budget can be satisfactorily met, can become a challenging task when this is done within the time that is moving fast towards evening. This is especially true when your bags, backpacks and luggages are still fully loaded, and you have to carry them around. There is much to thank your inner wisdom if it had prompted you, prior to your trip, to make sure that your hotel or guest house in Phnom Penh has been chosen and booked in advance.
Arrival and Transportation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Riding the Tuktuk
Motorcycle-pulled carriages, called "tuktuk", converge on bus stations and wait for passengers arriving on buses from Saigon, Vietnam.
This is how a tuktuk looks like.
The tuktuk is standard public transportation in Cambodia. It functions like a taxi cab.
In their early years, the motorcycles that pull them make loud "tuktuktuk" noise (using the old 2-stroke engines). Now their (modern 4-stroke) engines are quiet, but the "tuktuk" monicker stuck and they are still called by that description.
Sedan cars (Toyota Camry) taxicabs are beginning to operate in the city, but there are only yet a few of them at this time. Many don't have taxi meters, and they charge up to US$10.00, depending on distance travelled. Tuktuks are still the most readily available and cheaper means of transportation.
The tuktuk will bring you anywhere in the city of Phnom Penh.
The fare from any bus station in the city to your hotel should not be more than US$3.00. All hotels in the city are all within a 4-kilometer radius from any bus station, with many of them as near as only a little over than 1 kilometer from a bus station.
Be aware: As soon as you are recognized as a foreigner, the tuktuk driver will usually try to ask for fare of US$5.00 or even more.
It is really dependent on your judgement of his service how much would be a fair amount to pay the tuktuk driver. If you are pleased with his service, and you feel that he should be rewarded for it, you may give him as much as US$5.00. That amount would already be a very generous payment.
Here is what you can use as good basis of what would be a fair amount to pay a tuktuk driver: Tuktuk drivers charge US$5.00, as the standard fare, for carrying passengers from the Phnom Penh International Airport to hotels in any part of the city. The airport is about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away from the center of the city. That makes the fare to be about 0.70 U.S. cents per kilometer. If the bus station, where you got off, is only about 3 kilometers from your hotel, then you should be actually paying only US$2.10. A payment of US$3.00 would be just about right for that distance.
Be aware: The US Dollar is accepted anywhere in Cambodia just like it is the "national currency". Standard accepted exchange rate is US$1.00 = 4,000 Cambodian Riel.
Examples of purchasing value of U.S. Dollar and Cambodian Riel in Cambodia: a regular-size (330ml) can of Coke is US$0.45 cents (Riel1,800). A loaf of bread is US$1.20 (Riel 4,800). A plate of fried rice with meat and egg is US$3.50. A room in a standard guesthouse is US$10.00 (lowest rate). A room in a typical local hotel is at least US$45.00. Click here for Cambodian Currency and purchasing value.
Update on Road Conditions
HO CHI MINH CITY (Vietnam) to PHNOM PENH CITY (Cambodia): As of August 2016 the general condition of the highways on this route are well-paved and bus ride is smooth.
PHNOM PENH CITY to SIEM REAP CITY: As of August 2016, the widening and asphalt sealing of the highways on this route has been completed, except for a few kilometers of stretches where finishing touches are being done, and bus ride is smooth all the way.