Transport and Driving in Cambodia
One of the first challenges that expats moving to Cambodia will have to deal with is transportation – indeed, getting around Cambodia can be an adventure.
Recent improvements to the national highway network have made it much easier than it was, with many dirt roads now surfaced and new highways being built. However, getting from place to place can still be time-consuming and dangerous, and expat-friendly public transport options are very limited.
Public transport in Cambodia
There aren’t many options for expats when it comes to getting around Cambodia. Many of the local forms of transport are seen as dangerous and there are very few local bus networks in Cambodia, with only a handful of routes in Phnom Penh that aren’t widely used by expats.
When it comes to travelling from one city to another, often the best option is a domestic flight or a luxury bus service. Within the capital city, many expats rely on taxis.
There are just two lines in Cambodia, both originating in Phnom Penh, with a third line planned to connect the capital to Vietnam. However, there have been no passenger services since 2009 and there is no sign of this changing in the near future, with renovation plans being hampered by a number of delays. The only way to travel by rail in Cambodia is to hop aboard a “bamboo train” in Battambang – known locally as nori, these have become very popular tourist attractions but are of little use for travelling around the country.
Buses (laan tom) are the cheapest – and also the most convenient and comfortable – way to get around Cambodia, connecting all major cities and towns. All buses are privately run. Phnom Penh Sorya is the biggest bus company, with others including Giant Ibis and Mekong Express, both of which operate luxury buses on the most popular inter-city routes. Bus fares are generally very reasonable.
Minibuses are the main alternative to buses, at a similar price. They usually serve the same routes as buses, and also go to smaller destinations not served by bus services. They do tend to be slightly faster but can get very overcrowded. A limited number of luxury minibus services cover the main intercity and international routes.
Remork-motos are large trailers hitched to a motorcycle and are used throughout rural Cambodia to transport people and goods. Often referred to as tuk-tuks by expats and foreigners travelling in Cambodia, they’re a great way to explore temples.
Cyclos and motos
As in Vietnam and Laos, the cyclo (pedicab) is a cheap way to get around cities. These are Cambodia’s version of the bicycle rickshaw but are becoming less and less common. More prevalent on the roads of Cambodia are the motos. These small motorcycle taxis are a quick way of making short trips around towns and cities. Not many moto drivers and cyclo riders speak English, so expats should know the local name of their destination. Expats are also advised to settle on the fare with the driver before setting off.
Tuk-tuks are a very popular form of transport in Cambodia. They are considered safer than motos, as they go at a much slower speed, however, they do cost more. Expats should negotiate a price before getting into a tuk-tuk.
Ferries and ports in Cambodia
Cambodia has two major ports, Sihanoukville Port and Phnom Penh Port, both of which are important for international and domestic commerce. Ferries and boats run daily between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, and Vietnam.
Taxis in Cambodia
Hiring private taxis in Cambodia is getting easier, but there are still very few metered taxis, with just a handful of operators in Phnom Penh. Other taxi options include shared taxis and minibuses.
Cycling in Cambodia
Cycling is an option for getting around in Cambodia and bicycles are available for rent at guesthouses and shops in towns. However, the main hazard is the heavy traffic – motorised vehicles always have right of way and expats cycling in Cambodia may have to veer off the road to get out of the way of speeding cars and trucks.
Driving in Cambodia
Expats who want to drive themselves around Cambodia will need to obtain a local driving licence as international licences aren't recognised. In order to get a Cambodian driving licence, expats will need to apply through the Department of Public Works and Transport.
Expats wanting to avoid the hassle of dealing with local bureaucracy themselves can hire an agent to apply for a driving licence on their behalf.
While driving their own vehicle can give expats the freedom to explore Cambodia as and when they want to, there are a number of considerations to take into account. For example, many roads are in poor condition, local driving behaviour can be erratic and dangerous, and finding safe parking is a challenge.
Air travel in Cambodia
Phnom Penh International Airport is the largest airport in Cambodia, and also serves as the main base for the national air force. The country’s busiest airport, however, is Angkor International Airport in the tourist hub of Siem Reap. A number of international and regional airlines operate at these airports, including the national carrier, Cambodia Angkor Air.