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.
Go to the Table of Contents of this page.
The types of standard public transport you will find in Cambodia are the "tuk-tuk", the "moto", the two different manners of taxi service, public utility vans and the recent city-routes buses and three-wheeled cabs. Each is described in their presentations in this page.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.
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.
Riding the Cambodian "Moto"
The "moto" 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 (the "moto" driver) 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.
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.
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).
Three-wheeled Cabs in Cambodia
Lately, since 2017, the three-wheeled Bajaj cabs from India started to become a popular public transport in the city of Phnom Penh. They operate like the Uber taxi. You can ask for a ride via your smart-phone. They are operated by an internet booking system called “Pass App”. The driver will trace your location with the GPS in his own smart-phone in the three-wheeler. The fare is determined by a fare meter that appears in the driver’s smart-phone. It comes up to only about US$0.45 per kilometer.
Taxicabs in Cambodia
These past three years (2015 and 2018) 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. Most of the taxicabs still appear to be individually owned per unit, however, there is recently observed to be at least one 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.
When calling for a taxi you can be calling the driver himself. 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. It is advisable to have the phone number of the taxicab dispatcher of a company that operates a fleet of taxicabs. The dispatcher can usually speak English, but you still need to give directions to him slowly and clearly and to make sure he has accurately understood the directions you gave; and because of the different way he would be pronouncing words in English you also need to very carefully listen to what he is saying.
If you are staying in a hotel it is really less of a hassle to just ask your Cambodian hotel desk clerk to call a taxi for you.
Getting a taxi 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 not an overstatement or an exagerration 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.
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.
There are now (this 2018) seven routes in the city of Phnom Penh covered by the city buses. The routes cross each other making it possible to go to any part of the city by just connecting from one bus route to another. We will soon include in this page a map of the seven city-bus routes in Phnom Penh.
There Is Bus From Phnom Penh International Airport to the City Proper
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 in the area of Wat Phnom (also identified as Daun Penh) along the Sisowath Quay (Riverfront) in the Phnom Penh city proper. The ride will only cost US$0.37. You will need to prepare exact amount of 1,500 Riel.
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 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.
The van driver would not drive away from his parking space until every inch of each 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.
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, (or she for that matter, as, yes, women drivers in Cambodia will do this, calmly), is just hoping that you will swerve yourself away from this sudden challenge to your right of way.
"A Traffic Light Is Just A Suggestion"
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.
About 4,000 People Die in Road Accidents In Cambodia Every Year
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.
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.
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.
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