Transportation Inside Cambodia

This webpage provides information about the different types of public transportation in Cambodia that will be available to you when you get there. Some types, as well as transport practices and conditions, are so unique to Cambodia that we included observations and insights to give you an idea how things might be when you are actually already there to experience them.

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Table of Contents

What is it like to ride the “tuk-tuk”? Click here

Why riding the “moto” may not be for you? Click here

Can you call a taxi in Cambodia? Click here

Is there bus service in the city? Click here

The public vans going to provinces. Click here

Is it wise to drive in Cambodia? Click here

How is road traffic situation in Cambodia? Click here

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The types of standard public transport you will find in Cambodia are the "tuk-tuk", the "moto", the two different manner of taxi service, public utility vans and the recent city-routes buses. Each is described in the presentations that follow below.

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Riding the Cambodian Tuk-Tuk

The tuktuk is really a stylized two-wheeled carriage that is drawn by a motorcycle attached to it by a specially designed joint. It can snugly sit six normal-sized passengers, and only four if the passengers have really big-built bodies.

The seats are upholstered to be soft and they are arranged as two seats facing each other, one facing forward and the other facing aft. The space betwen them, making the center of the carriage, gives enough room to accomodate the knees of passengers pointing at each other without difficulty of movement.

It has a canvas roof and the headroom is enough for effective avoidance of the welded iron structures that make the internal frameworks of the rooftop. The rear part behind the back seat is open and sturdy arm rests secure the passengers on the sides. Tarps are rolled up at the back and sides ready to be rolled down in case of rain.

See photo of tuk-tuk below.

The tuk-tuk is a standard public transportation in Cambodia. It functions like a taxicab. You can direct it to go to the specific address where you want to get off. It is most popular to those who want to make their transportation in the city easy and with an air of uncooped freedom.

How much is the fare when riding the tuk-tuk? Scroll down and see "Tuk-tuk Fare".

The tuk-tuk is unique in Cambodia. It is the traditional "taxicab" among the locals, and it has become the popular sightseeing vehicle of tourists. Photo Copyright How To Go To Cambodia

It is perfect for tourists to use as vehicle for sightseeing. The drivers are usually able to speak understandable English and the tuk-tuk can be hired for the whole day.

Why is it called "tuk-tuk"? 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.

How much is the fare when riding the tuk-tuk? Scroll down and see "Tuk-tuk Fare" below.

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The Tuk-tuk Fare:

The locals pay about 2,000 Riels (about US$0.50) per kilometer, but if you are a foreigner you would be most likely charged 4,000 Riels (about US$1.00) per kilometer.

From the Phnom Penh International Airport to the central part of the city (about 7 to 10 kilometers away), while some tuktuk drivers will at first quote US$10.00, the standard and usual fare is US$7.00, whether you are alone or with companions. You will most likely also get the same US$10.00 quotation when you get off from any of the bus stations in the city.

You need not fall to this gambit of the tuk-tuk driver to elicit a higher fare. From any bus station within the city of Phnom Penh, the standard and acceptable fare should not exceed US$1.00 per kilometer, or not more than US$5.00 anywhere within the city. In Siem Reap the standard tuk-tuk ride rate is US$5.00 from the airport to any point within the city and US$4.00 from a bus station to any point within the city.

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Riding the Cambodian "Moto"

It is actually a motorcycle. The name "moto", given to the low-powered motorcycles used by their enterprising owners to carry paying passengers from one place to another, came about because of the difficulty of the Cambodians to pronounce the sound of the letter "R". To make the matter more manageable in speech they reduced the whole word, "motorcycle", down to its first two syllables, thus the name "moto". The moto driver is called "motodup". That extending word "dup" is the Khmer word that means "to bring", or contextually "to transport".

The motos are not necessarily licensed by the government as registered and regulated public-utility vehicles but they are the standard and dominant means of public transportation in Cambodia. You need only to stand near a street corner or step on a road curb and you would immediately be approached by a motodup --sometimes three motodups at the same time.

Is riding the moto for you? Scroll down to learn more.

How much is the fare when riding a moto? Scroll down for the "Fare for Moto Ride". 

Is riding the moto for you?

As a passenger in a moto, you sit yourself behind the driver, and your bag or bags may be placed between you and him or he will wedge them between his legs and the handle bar.

He is not deterred by any kind of baggage, cargo or load of any shape, form or weight you have with you. He will always try to load them on top, at the front, back or on the sides of his moto. Ninety-nine percent of the time he will succeed, and he will tell you "It's OK", no matter how perilous things look and how alarmed your questions of concern may sound.

He will zip through tight traffic situations, with millimeter clearance betwen your knee and the metal side of another vehicle running beside you. He will cut corners, go against traffic flow and ran a red traffic light, without a pause or glance. He could even be answering a cellphone call at the same time while he is doing those daredevil's traffic violations.

If you are truly in a great hurry, or you are the type of person who loves to be thrilled by near-miss road collisions, being zigzaged through a slow moving traffic on a moto could be a gratifying experience. If you can set aside the feeling that your heart is already stucked up your throat two minutes after getting on a moto, you will not be able to help but admire the skill of the motodup in getting around seeming unpassable obstacles and through tight gauntlets at any level of speed without at least a scraped knee on your part.

If you are not really in a hurry and neither you are a daredevil yourself the ride might leave you hyperventilating, though safe and definitely still in one piece, at your place of destination.

Of course, not 100% of motodups are dangerous to your health. It is just that the ones that have the prudence on the road as we know it in our own countries of origin seem to be among the extreme minority in their profession here in Cambodia.

Observe this: An entire family of five is loaded on a moto. A barely two-year-old child is right behind the handle-bars. A months-old baby sits on his or her mom's lap at the rear. The slightly older siblings in the middle of everyone are squeezed behind the "motodup" who has the only crash helmet on board. Photo Copyright How To Go To Cambodia

As a foreign national you can probably learn to ignore the perils of riding on a moto after you have already stayed in Cambodia for maybe a year or two and has grown accustomed to what you often see on the road. Or, maybe, you have found the moto to be the cheapest and fastest means of getting from one place to another. But for those who are only visiting Cambodia for a few days or weeks, we will not recommend this mode of transportation for the sake of safety and preservation of life. The statistics on road accidents in Cambodia involving motorcycles record more than 4,000 fatalities every year; and part of the reason for all those deaths could be the fact that the nearest hospitals with competence to deal with fractured bones or a cracked skull is still in Bangkok, Thailand, two hours away by airlift, or in Manila, Philippines, three hours away by air.

How much is the fare riding a moto? Scroll down and see "Fare for Moto Ride" below.

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Fare for Moto Ride:

Riding the moto in Cambodia is undisputedly the cheapest, and also the fastest, way of going to where you want to go, particularly within the city of Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap.

The locals pay a moto fare of not less than 1,500 Riel (US$0.37) for the shortest distance traveled and about the same amount per kilometer. A foreigner may be charged about 2,000 Riel (US$0.50).

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Taxicabs in Cambodia

These past two years (2015 and 2016) there is a growing number of cars that have the markings of a taxi that can be seen in Cambodia, particularly in the city streets of Phnom Penh. Each taxicab still appear to be individually owned per unit and none seem yet to be operated as part of a fleet of taxicabs owned by a commercially organized taxi company.

Flagging down a taxicab at the street is still not a regular practice. They are rather called by phone and given directions to where you want to be picked up.

Since these taxicabs are individually owned per unit there is really no central dispatcher of cars and it is the driver himself who you would be calling. Some can speak and understand English, but if you happen to call a driver who can speak and understand only Khmer (Cambodian language) the experience can become frustrating or actually disastrous to your scheduled itinerary.

If you are staying in a hotel it is more effective to ask your Cambodian hotel desk clerk to call a taxi for you.

Getting a taxi from the airport:

Taxicabs lining up at the arrival area of the Phnom Penh International Airport. While there is now a growing number of metered-taxis, many of them still have drivers who prefer to quote a flat rate (up to $12.00) when they pick up passengers from the airport. 

Taxis congregate at the arrival area of the Phnom Penh International Airport.

There are two types of taxi-cab service that you would be offered at the airport, particularly true at the airport of Phnom Penh. One is the "metered taxi" service, which means you will pay the amount of fare that shows in the digital meter, and the other is "non-metered" which means you simply haggle the fare with the driver. We strongly advise new arrivals to get a metered-taxi only as much as possible.

Be aware: It is most likely that even drivers of a metered-taxi may just quote you a price and not bother to activate the taxi-meter. The usual quoted price is US$12.00. The Phnom Penh airport is about 8 to 10 kilometers away from where you want to get off in the city proper. For the amount being quoted this is about US$1.20 per kilometer. The actual cost, if based on taxi-meter, would be about US$10.00, which is about US$1.00 per kilometer.

Taxi service outside the city:

In Cambodia, so-called "taxis" that ply the route between the city and a province, or between provinces, are not cars that are registered in the government as taxis. They are actually private cars that are being run by their owners to accept paying passengers. They do not have markings that can identify them as taxicabs for hire. Nor do they have taxi meters.

They do not cruise the streets. They simply congregate around bus stations and public markets where their drivers or their agents solicit for passengers. They also give out name cards with their mobile phone numbers printed on them to which regular clients or a propective passenger may call to be picked up.

Their drivers have a unique practice in charging fare to passengers going to the city or going to the provinces and in accomodating passengers on board their "taxis".

The fare is per head, which means several people may board the same car, if they have common destinations or the place to go of any one on board is just along the main route of the "taxi".

The car is a sedan, with the prescribed standard maximum number of passengers set at five, including the driver. However, the practice of accomodation in these so-called "taxis" loads five passengers at the rear seat and three passengers at front (making four persons, including the driver, at the front). This packs in nine people (including the driver) inside a 5-passenger-sedan. The expression "packed like sardines" is almost like an understatement in this situation.

How do they manage putting in the fourth person in the front seats? The hapless guy, who got on board last after the other six passengers have already claimed their spaces in the car, is "seated" (more accurately, "squeezed") between the driver and the driver's door. You have to be very slim to be this guy.

To avoid this "tight" situation some passengers purhase several spaces in the car's seats. If, for example, the fare is US$4.00 per head, all the seat-spaces in the car (where the driver will seat eight passengers) will cost US$32.00. Paying US$8.00 buys two spaces ($4.00 x 2 = $8.00). If these spaces are at the back seat the number of people there will go down to only three, which is actually the right maximum number of passengers at the back. That can make life more normal within your immediate vicinity in the car within the duration of your travel. If you buy three passenger spaces in the front seats you will get to sit normally in your bucket-seat with only the driver beside you. You need to transact this matter early while the driver has not yet filled up all the spaces of the car seats.

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The City Bus Service in Phnom Penh

Starting 2014 the government of Phnom Penh started fielding buses with fixed routes and schedules in the city. This is the Phnom Penh government's Bus Rapid Transit or BRT or "city-bus". The buses pick up and offload passengers at designated bus-stops all over the city. The fare is only 1,500 Riel (US$0.37) all the way.

See Table of Bus Routes below showing the bus numbers, bus terminals and specified main route of the city-buses.

For those arriving at the Phnom Penh International Airport and would like to take a city-bus to the city proper, the city-buses marked "3", on their way back to the city (from their end-terminal at the Chom Chay Roundabout, some 2.5 kilometers away from the airport), pick up passengers right in front of the airport's pedestrian gate. The end-terminal of these buses (marked "3") is at the front of the Night Market along the Sisowath Quay (Riverfront) in the Phnom Penh city proper.

Scroll down for photos of city-buses just after the Table below.

Table of Bus Routes

BUS LINE NUMBER

END TO END TERMINALS

MAIN ROUTE

 

 

 

Buses Marked 1

From Kilometer 9 at Monivong Boulevard to Okaha Suy Sophan, and vice versa

Monivong Boulevard

Passing:

-Wat Phnom,

-Central Market

-bus stop near Toul Sleng Genocide Museum

-Olympic Stadium

-Royal Palace

-National Museum

 

 

 

Buses Marked 2

From Ta Khamao to Night Market (Sisowath Quay / “Riverfront”), and vice versa

Mao Tse Tung Boulevard

Passing:

-Toul Kouk

-Intercontinental Hotel

-area of Toul Tompoung

-Monivong Flyover

-Ta Khamao Market

 

 

 

Buses Marked 3

From Chom Chay Roundabout to Night Market (Sisowath Quay / “Riverfront”), and vice versa

Russian Confederation Boulevard

Passing:

-Phnom Penh International Airport, -Pochentong Market

-Flyover at the intersection of Kampuchea Krom and Street 271

-Corner of Mao Tse Tung Boulevard and Russian Confederation Boulevard

-National Assembly Building

-intersection of Monivong Boulevard and Russian Copnfederation Boulevard

 

Photos of city-buses below.

 

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City buses (Lines 2 and 3) wait for passengers at the Night Market Terminal in Sisowath Quay ("Riverfront"), Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo below: The city buses, notwithstanding very cheap fare, have not yet gained much patronage from the commuting public so that many times the buses ran almost empty. Photos Copyright How To Go To Cambodia.

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Public Utility Vans in Cambodia

The public utility vans are the usual means of public transportation going to and from the provinces of Cambodia. When a van in Cambodia is mentioned to be a public utility vehicle the immediate visualized image of it is dilapidated, overloaded and bursting with all kinds of cargo.

This public utility van is parked in a public market parking space that also serves as a van terminal and passenger waiting station. This one is already filled up with different types of cargo. Soon the driver and his helper will do their best to rearrange the things inside so that spaces can be cleared for passengers. It is not hard to imagine how things would be when this van gets on its way with you inside it.

This is not the same as the commuter-vans that are operated by tour-organizing and transportation companies that are well-kept and well-maintained. The privately-operated commuter-vans are either chartered for group-tours or for taking tourists, as passengers, from one major city or town to another. They load and offload their passengers in private terminals that are clean and orderly. Riding in private commuter vans are arranged by hotels or tour operators.

Public utility vans wait for passengers in parking spaces of public markets. Some just beside the street where people who go home to other provinces usually wait for province-bound public transportation.

Each public-utility van has several "agents" who would immediately grab a coming potential passenger before other competing agents can do the same. The use of the word "grab" here is not just for the purpose of making an emphatic description of an action. It is literal. An agent would grab the arm of a person who appears to be a potential passenger and get a good hold of the straps of his or her bag. Out of nowhere another agent would suddenly appear and also grab the other arm and whatever part of the bag that can still afford a grip.

Other agents may join this fray, and a literal tug-of-war, with the potential passenger serving as the object being pulled in two opposite directions between the two contesting parties, would then begin to ensue. At one moment the whole melee, like a piece of morsel pulled in all directions by a crowd of ants, would move nearer the van represented by one agent, and at another moment it would move toward the van of the other contesting agent. This can continue for a long time until a highly vigorous and loud protest from the hapless victim can be heard. The most likely winner would be the agent who has made a stronger hold on the passenger's bag and did not let go even for a moment.

Each passengers of this public utility van has already secured a seat --or, really, a space-- inside the van. They are waiting for the driver and his helper to finish stuffing every inch of the vehicle with as much cargo that the van can take. It is cooler to stay outside the van to wait, so being already accustomed and resigned to how things are being done in the world of public utility vans in Cambodia, they just stand around patiently.  A curious child inspects a motorcycle, among other stuffs, that was hung at the rear of the van. This will prevent the rear door from being closed. This means no airconditioning when the van goes.

The van driver would not drive away from his parking space until every inch of the passenger seats is filled tight. Even if the van is airconditioned, you will see the passengers opening the glass doors on their side, when the van is already running, to allow the blow of wind from the outside to go in and provide them fresher air.

Not all public-utility provincial-bound vans are decrepit, or use the "grab" method of passenger gathering, as described above, but, as actually observed, finding one that can be described in a different and more encouraging ways, at this point in time, can still prove to be a very hard undertaking in Cambodia.

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Driving in Cambodia

Should you drive a motor vehicle in Cambodia?

If you are only passing thru Cambodia, or just visiting for a few days or even for a few weeks but without really the need to stay for much longer period, the immediate answer to that question should be: NO.

The above said advice is especially true if you are a person who drives with full and competent knowledge of basic rules and regulations that govern the use of motor vehicles on the road in your country of origin. Why? Because you would have already developed the habit of following and applying these rules and regulations in the way you drive as second nature; and it is this --your second nature to apply the rules and regulations governing proper use of the road-- that will put you into trouble if not in actual serious and injurious vehicular accident in Cambodia.

To illustrate: The basic rule on the road is to always keep right (for countries where vehicles have steering wheels on the left, for example, as true in the U.S. and in most countries of the world). With this rule in your heart you would automatically steer your vehicle to the right-most part of the lane when you make a turn into another street. If you do this in Cambodia, with full trust that all other vehicles will do the same, you will be struck with horror to suddenly see an oncoming vehicle or vehicles (mostly motorcycles in Cambodia) on your lane heading toward you for a sure full-pledged head-on collision. The driver of that vehicle does not know, or does not care, about keeping right. He will blunder into your lane because the cars ahead of him on his lane, opposite yours, may have slowed down or are beginning to get jammed and he saw a space on your right side, so he heads straight for it. He is just hoping that you will swerve clear. 

They have this joke in Cambodia that can give a good idea about the driving behavior in the country. They say that "a traffic light is just a suggestion". Sometimes they take this "suggestion" seriously. Sometimes, they have this great trust in life that traffic in an intersection is only on their lane and the street crossing it have been emptied of other road users, and they simply ignore what the traffic light could be "suggesting" and cross a red light without pause or even just a glance.

If everyone gets stuck in the middle of an intersection because vehicles from all directions have converged there in spite of the traffic light, the only thing that everyone gets to worry about is whether a traffic cop will come and collect "traffic violation fines" (If you are a Cambodian or have stayed in Cambodia for quite a while you know what that "traffic violation fine" really means. To a foreigner, behind the wheel, that can mean shelling out up to US$10.00.)

For a foreign national, it can take a few months or even a year to get use to the unique dynamics of driving and road-use in Cambodia. If you must drive, you will surely eventually learn to be extra-alert and very patient to avoid accidents, but for sure that would be after many heart stopping near misses in the past and numerous well-hidden frustrations and profanities tightly kept behind your lips.

There are about three hundred thousand motor vehicles in Cambodia and about one million motorcycles. Car owners are gradually beginning to practice a higher level of road courtesy and adherence to traffic rules and regulations. Passenger-bus drivers too are getting to be quite careful on their driving practices. The problem, still, are the motorcycle owners. Each year road fatality statistics continue to report about 4,000 deaths from road accidents involving motorcycles in Cambodia. That is about eleven dead motorcycle drivers and passengers every day.

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Traffic Condition in Cambodia

Like in any other country where there is popular use of motor vehicles, Cambodia has its own traffic rush hours and lean traffic hours. In the city of Phnon Penh, and in Siem Reap, the rush hours are from 7:00 to 8:30 in the morning, from 11:00 to 12:30 at noon time, and from 5:00 to 6:30 in the afternoon. 

In Cambodia, however, "rush hour" does not only connote an increase in the number of motor vehicles in the streets, at that particular time, that are hurrying to get to their planned destinations. A "rush hour" in Cambodia can actually mean the time when traffic gets to be invariably tied up in a knot in intersections. 

Why specifically in intersections? This is because of at least three particular reasons: First, ninety percent of the Cambodian drivers think that to always keep right is not being creative enough. Second, there are those who truly believe that "the traffic light is just a suggestion", as the half-serious local joke contends, and third, the motorcycle-drivers, who outnumber car-drivers 3 to 1, can very skillfully manuever themselves into any tight space that appear between vehicles and successfully get themselves, and everyone else, helplessly stuck in it.

Another cause of traffic jam in the city streets of Cambodia, has really nothing to do with the number of vehicles on the road. It is caused by something that is really very distinctly unique to this country, and something really worth seeing. This is the sudden appearance, really without warning, of a huge erected tent right in the middle of a street.

A tent in the middle of the street? Read on.

This is not your ordinary camping-tent. This is one huge tent.

It has a design that sometimes simulates a grand ballroom, sometimes like a chapel (if viewed through western perspective). The sides have plastic windows, designed to look like windows you can see on cathedrals.

Many times there are huge electric generators and split-type airconditioning accessories set up beside it to control the temperature inside. Inside the tent, dozens of dining tables and ceremonial platforms are illuminated by chandeliers overhead.

This is really just a tent, made of tarps attached on metal frames.

Beside it is another tent where you will see huge cooking utensils, burners, water containers and food being prepared by about a dozen cooks and helpers.

These tents are for wedding ceremonies or for having a wake for the dead or for commemorating death anniversaries.

See photo of this tent below.

This gaily decorated tent is most likely for a wedding ceremony, because the colors used are white and red. When the colors are white and black it is for ceremonies for the departed. Putting up a tent like this in the streets of Cambodia is a time-honored practice. It is tolerated by the government and by everyone. The tent will stand there for a few days. The tent in this photo was put up, mercifully, with at least a narrow passage beside it for vehicular traffic to pass through in single-file. It will clog up traffic, yes, but it is an accepted part of life in Cambodia.

And, they are right there in the middle of the street, totally blocking the usual flow of traffic. You make a turn into a street and without warning the whole thing is there standing and blocking your way. Other vehicles, who have also turned unsuspectingly into the same street before you, are trying to make a u-turn with much difficulty in the melee of all other trapped vehicles also trying to make u-turn out of the blocked street.