Review: Golden Bayon Express mini-bus, Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

Golden Bayon Express is Cambodia mini-bus company that goes to a few cities, but their Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route is their most popular. If you’re looking for the quickest way to get between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (other than flying, of course), a mini-bus is the fastest, albeit bumpiest, way to go. Golden Bayon Express does the trip in just around six hours, and when the roads aren’t so bad they claim to do it in five.

Golden Bayon Express Phnom Penh

Golden Bayon Express: A long six hours to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

Golden Bayon Express has a fleet of 15-seat Toyota HiAce, that are similar (but not as nice) to their competitor Elephant Express. These are certainly the most comfortable of all of the current mini-bus types currently on the road in Cambodia, with larger padded seats than the Ford Transits. Golden Bayon Express claims their HiAces are from 2012, and if that’s the case, they have had a long, hard two years. The interiors are dingy, with holes in the upholstery and stains on the ceilings.

Book your seat in advance if you don’t want to end up in the back row (and trust me, you don’t want to end up in the back row). Seat 1 is next to the driver and is not ideal. Seat 2 is “shotgun,” but you’ll have someone between you and the driver. Seats 3, 4, and 5 are the first row. Seats 6 and 7 are the second row, and are the best seats for a couple. Seat 8 is a solo seat on the same row, and has the most legroom on the bus. The third row has another pair of seats, 9 and 10, and another solo seat, 11. The last row, with seats 12, 13, 14, and 15 is cramped and I’d only marginally prefer riding in one of them to walking.

Golden Bayon Express Toyota HiAce

Golden Bayon Express HiAce. Comfy seats, grim interiors.

Buses run from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap at: 7:30 a.m., 8:15 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
Buses run from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh at: 7:30 a.m., (sometimes there is an 8:15 a.m. bus, but usually not), 2:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.

Golden Bayon Express is yet another Cambodian transport company that has one price for Cambodians ($8) and one price for foreigners ($10). As per usual, I find this irritating, and I don’t particularly like giving my money to companies that businesses that have prices based on race (just looking Asian is usually enough to get the local price, but a white face speaking Khmer will still get the foreigner rate). Arguing about it will bring the price down to $9, or, you can just buy a ticket through their website for $9.

To compound the offence, Golden Bayon Express’ mid-way stopping point between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is at the Arunas Hotel restaurant in Kampong Thom, which is notorious for having one set of prices for foreigners and another for Cambodians. For tourists, this is perhaps not such an issue, but for disgruntled expats like myself, it’s really, really, annoying.

Golden Bayon Express promises free WiFi on the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route, but when I asked in the office the staff laughed and said “ask the driver.” Once on the mini-bus I realized why they were laughing; the router wasn’t plugged in and was covered in dust. There may have once been WiFi, but no more. The bus stopped three times, two for short bathroom breaks and once for a longer break in Kampong Thom. The stop is right next to the market and there are lots of street food options, so if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s a better option that the aforementioned Arunas Hotel.

In total, my trip took just over six hours. The road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is awful right now, there are long stretches where it’s not paved and the drivers just speed over the bumps in a stomach-churning sort of way. There’s no way to pretend that the Golden Bayon Express drivers are concerned about safety. In general, the mini-buses have two things over Giant Ibis, they’re faster and cheaper. But with the roads in such shoddy condition, Giant Ibis still has the edge; they charge the same price to everyone and although the trip takes longer, it’s more comfortable, less bumpy, and significantly safer. If you’re dead set on a mini-bus, I’d take Seila Angkor or Elephant Express.

In conclusion, while the trip wasn’t particularly bad, and maybe I’m just getting grumpy from spending so much time on mini-buses, but I wasn’t impressed by Golden Bayon Express.

Golden Bayon Express

Street 126 at Street 51, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 023 966 968; 089 221 919; 010 968 966

269 Wat Bo Village (just south of Road 6), Siem Reap
T: 063 966 968; 017 221 919; 010 966 968

goldenbayonexpress.com

How to get to Koh Rong from Sihanoukville (and vice versa)

Before you head to Koh Rong, it’s important to know exactly where you are going. It’s a big island! There are several ways to get to Koh Rong from Sihanoukville, including by helicopter or private boat, but the cheapest and most popular way to get there is on one of the Koh Rong ferries. Depending on how you travel, the journey to Koh Rong can take as little as 20 minutes, or as much as three hours.

Koh Rong Island Cambodia

Koh Rong’s party paradise is only 20 minutes from Sihanoukville…or 2.5 hours.

Koh Rong Ferries

To get to the Koh Toch part of Koh Rong, you can take one of several competing ferries. They often have price wars that make the prices ridiculously low, but the downside of this is that schedules and prices can change at random. If you’re headed somewhere other than Koh Toch, such as Sok San Village, ask your guesthouse for details about transport. Koh Rong is a large island and if you go to Koh Toch when you meant to go to another part of the island, you’ll be stuck paying $40 or $50 for a longtail to get you where you want to go, if you manage to get there at all.

Under the name Speed Ferry Cambodia, Koh Rong Dive Center runs speed boats several times a day from the Serendipity Pier in Sihanoukville. The 125-seat cataraman boats take under an hour and an open return ticket costs $15 in low season and $30 in high season, but prices often change whenever there’s more or less competition. You can book tickets on their website or at any hotel or travel agent in Sihanoukville. Boats leave from the Serendipity Pier.

Speed Ferry Cambodia fast boat schedule:
Sihanoukville to Koh Rong (Koh Toch): 8:00 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3 p.m.
Koh Rong (Koh Toch) to Sihanoukville: 10:25 a.m., 12:50 p.m., 5:00 p.m.

Speed boat to Koh Rong island

45 minutes of my life on Speed Ferry Cambodia’s boat to Koh Rong that I’ll never get back.

When the fast boats are full, you also have the option of taking a slow boat. The slow boats are mainly used by the locals and for transporting food and other items to the island. The trip takes two to three hours and is entirely unsafe (there are only a handful of life jackets and one of the boats has already sunk a few times), but the return ticket is only $15. You can buy tickets at Koh Rong Dive Center or Monkey Republic, both on Serendipity Beach Road in Sihanoukville. The boats leave from the Sihanoukville port, so meet at Monkey Republic 30 minutes before departure to get a truck to the port.

Slow boat schedule:
Sihanoukville to Koh Rong (Koh Toch): 8:15 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Koh Rong (Koh Toch) to Sihanoukville: 10:00 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The iSpeed ferry offered by SeaCambodia offers the fastest journey to Koh Rong, with boats that take just 20 minutes to complete the 30km journey. Tickets cost $25 for a round-trip ticket and have an open return date. On the way, the ferry also stops at Koh Rong Sanloem. The iSpeed schedule often changes and the information on SeaCambodia’s website is not usually correct. Getting information directly from SeaCambodia, so it’s best to check with a travel agent in Sihanoukville to confirm the schedule before making plans around it. Tickets can be booked at the Serendipity Pier, where the boats also leave from.

iSpeed ferry schedule:

Sihanoukville to Koh Rong (Koh Toch): 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
Koh Rong (Koh Toch) to Sihanoukville: 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Sok San Beach Bungalows run a daily Fast Cat ferry that leaves from the Poy Camping Pier, near Holiday Palace Casino on Independence Beach, Sihanoukville. Tickets cost $40 return and the trip takes 45 minutes. This ferry is only for guests of the Sok San Beach Bungalows and Sok San Base Camp, and they will not let passengers going to Sok San village onto the boat.

Sok San schedule:

Sihanoukville to Koh Rong (Sok San): 2:00 p.m.
Koh Rong (Sok San) to Sihanoukville: 11:00 a.m.

Private long tail boat to Koh Rong

More adventurous travelers can take a private boat to Koh Rong.

Private boat to Koh Rong

If you miss the ferry but are determined to make it to Koh Rong, you can hire a private boat. All of the local longtail boats (Cambodian fishing boats) are willing to go to Koh Rong. The price varies depending on whether or not you book direct or through a travel agent, but usually ranges between $100 and $150. Boats can seat up to 15 people and the journey takes about two hours. Most of the time, the price includes a same day return, so it’s possible to do a day trip to the island. However, if you’d like to stay longer and want to take the same boat back, the price will increase.

Smaller boats are available that can seat eight people and cost around $80 for a one-way trip, and only marginally more for a same-day return. You can find boats hanging out near the Serendipity Pier and book directly with a fisherman, or go through one of the local travel agents like Best Beach Travel (Serendipity Beach Road, Sihanoukville; T: 015 678 924) or Ana Travel (Serendipity Beach Road, Sihanoukville; T: 034 933 729). Negotiation is possible, but remember that gasoline is pricey!

Koh Rong helicopters

If you really want to splash out, there are two companies offering helicopter service to Koh Rong. A Koh Rong airport has long been promised, but thus far no progress has been made on the project, but there is a helicopter landing pad. The landing pad was built to spare the VIP guests of Song Saa Resort the indignity of having to hobnob with the riff-raff on the Koh Rong ferries. But if you’ve got the cash, the helicopters are available to fly elsewhere on the island, too, including the never-used ring road. You’ll need to get permission to land from the Royal Group, but if you’re considering taking a helicopter to Koh Rong, you’re probably already friends with them.

Helistar Cambodia offers flights to Koh Rong from Phnom Penh Airport for $4,500++ or Siem Reap Airport for $6,100++. They fly an Airbus AS350 B2 that seats five passengers.

Helicopters Cambodia offers flights from Phnom Penh Airport to to Koh Rong for $4,460++ or Siem Reap for $6,840++. Flights can be booked from Sihanoukville for an additional fee.

Speed Ferry Cambodia

Koh Rong Dive Center
Serendipity Beach Road, Sihanoukville
T: 034 934 744
speedferrycambodia.com

iSpeed Ferry and SeaCambodia

Serendipity Pier, Sihanoukville
T: 034 6666 106
seacambodia.asia

Sok San Beach Bungalows

T: 092 601 223
cambodianbeachresorts.com

Helistar Cambodia

Canadia Tower, 17th Floor, 315 Monivong Blvd, Phnom Penh
T: 023 431 011
helistarcambodia.com

Helicopters Cambodia

51 Street 350, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
T: 023 213 706
helicopterscambodia.com

The best supermarkets in Phnom Penh

Despite Cambodia’s status as a developing country, its grocery stores are, compared to many neighboring countries, fantastic. Because Cambodia signed up to the World Trade Organization in 2004, the country was flooded with imported goods–maybe not so great for the economy, but the expats in town aren’t complaining! Phnom Penh’s supermarkets aren’t cheaper, of course, than shopping at a local market, but if you prefer your meats refrigerated, your prices fixed and access to imported products, you’ve got many options in Phnom Penh, and more are being added all of the time including organic options. This updated posts features 7 of the best supermarkets in Phnom Penh.

Lucky Supermarket – Sihanouk

A shelf of goods at Lucky Supermarket on Sihanouk in Phnom Penh

Get lucky at Lucky Supermarket’s most popular outlet in Phnom Penh.

Lucky is a chain of Western-style grocery stores in Phnom Penh (four at last count) and although the Sihanouk Boulevard branch is not the biggest, it is probably the most popular. It seems to be the testing ground for new products, and as of late they have been expanding their selection of foreign foods with lots more imported meats, fruits and cheeses. (They’ve even got Greek yogurt and chorizo these days!) Their selection of vegetables and produce is outstanding, although the prices have been steadily climbing so if you’re watching your wallet, it makes sense to buy the locally available items at a local market for half the cost. Lucky also carries a large selection of Western and Asian snack foods as well as dry goods like shampoo and diapers. It gets very crowded after work, so plan accordingly.

Lucky Supermarket Sihanouk

160 Sihanouk Blvd, Phnom Penh
T: 023 215 229
Open daily, 08:00–21:00
luckymarketgroup.com

Bayon Market

If you want to stock your pantry, Bayon Market in Phnom Penh offers the widest array of dry goods at the lowest prices. From American cereals to Korean ingredients, Bayon has brands from around the world, including some surprising finds, like Costco-brand olive oil and vitamins. Bayon carries a few key items that you won’t find elsewhere in town, like canned and dried black beans and chick peas, as well as various other legumes. They do have a small meat and vegetable section, and although their veggies can be much pricier than at local markets, they often carry items that you won’t find locally. They also have a good selection of beer, spirits and wine at reasonable prices. Upstairs they have one of the most complete kitchen supply stores in town, where, oddly, you’ll find items from Ikea and Walmart.

Bayon Market

33-34 Street 114, Phnom Penh
T: 023 881 266
Open daily, 08:00–21:00

Thai Huot

The cheese and refrigerator section at Thai Hout Phnom Penh

If you’re looking for French cheese, pate and foie gras, look no further than Thai Hout

Thai Huot used to be small, but after a recent renovation they’ve expanded to be almost twice the former size, still filled with a wide array of foreign products, with the focus on French and European goods. They are known for having one of the best selections of cheese in town, as well as pate, foie gras and all things tempting and French, including lentils, tinned cassoulet and duck confit. Obviously, you’ll need a few baguettes to go with all of the above, so of course they have good, reasonably priced bread as well. Their vegetable selection is small, but they have the essentials. Where Thai Huot really excel is in the spice department–they carry many spices sought by Europeans that you can’t find anywhere else in town, such as herbes de provence.

Thai Hout

99-105 Monivong Blvd, Phnom Penh
T: 023 724 623
Open daily, 7:30-20:30
thaihuot.com

Thai Huot BKK1

Thai Hout BKK!

Thai Huot in BKK 1 has all of the amenities of the original, and a more convenient location for many.

A new Thai Huot supermarket opened last December and it’s possibly even better than the original, and with it’s BKK1 location, certainly more convenient for many expats. Thai Huot excels in dry goods, dairy, and cupboard items. They’ve got a great selection of French wines and cheeses, and French baked goods, plus an excellent array of European spices. They aren’t as impressive in the meats department, but all of that cheese, glorious cheese, makes up for it. Thai Huot used to be one of the only places in town you could get a Camembert. Now there’s loads of competition, but unlike many of the once-unique businesses in Cambodia who struggle to keep up with the pace of development in Cambodia, Thai Huot has been able to stay ahead of the curve.

Thai Hout BKK1

214 Street 63 (at Street 352), BKK1, Phnom Penh
T: 023 726 604; 023 726 605
Open daily, 7:30-20:30
thaihuot.com

Lucky Supermarket – Olympic/City Mall

The wide, sweeping aisles of Lucky Supermarket Olympic City Mall Phnom Penh are a treat!

A more relaxed shopping environment greets visitors to Lucky Supermarket in City Mall

Although most of the Lucky supermarkets are quite similar, what sets the Lucky inside City Mall apart is that it’s enormous. Wide aisles makes for a great shopping experience, and they have more space to dedicate to some of the sections they skimp on in their other stores, such as household supplies and toiletries. They also have a great selection of fresh meats and seafood as well as fruits and vegetables. It’s a little outside of the city center, but offers a much less crowded and more relaxed shopping experience.

Lucky Supermarket Olympic/City Mall

Monireth Blvd, Phnom Penh
Open daily, 8:00-21:00
luckymarketgroup.com

Veggy’s

Lots of veggies at Veggy’s.

Deceptively small in appearance but packed with product, Veggy’s offers a selection of frozen, imported meats and seafood, canned goods, imported wines and features a cold room in the back that is packed with Western vegetables, meats and cheeses. This is the place to go for many hard-to-find items including fresh artichokes, pine nuts, chorizo and manchego cheese, among other things. More of a specialty shop than supermarket, Veggy’s still manages to carry enough to cover (almost) everything you need.  While the store could accurately be described as overpriced and the staff as inattentive, Veggy’s still is worth a visit for hard-to-find items. (Read the full review here.)

Veggy’s

23 St 240, Phnom Penh
T: 023 211 534

Natural Garden

Natural Garden Phnom Penh

It’s au natural at Natural Garden.

Natural Garden is Phnom Penh’s leading source of organic vegetables for restaurants and hotels, but they also have a couple of retail locations. The Street 63 is their original store, and carries a wide range of organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs. They’ve got their own farm where they grow most of their produce, which actually looks organic, i.e. imperfect in a good way. Natural Garden is one of the only places in town where you can find proper red tomatoes. They also sell organic rice, free-range chicken, and eggs. Natural Garden also carries a range of imported meats and cheeses that while are not necessarily organic, and high-end and tasty. The store is also a good place to find other natural and organic local products that show up from time to time, from macrobiotic lunchboxes to locally-made yogurt drinks.

Natural Garden

213 Street 63, BKK1, Phnom Penh
T: 023 555 2028
ngkhmer.com

How to get from Phnom Penh to Hanoi

I recently spent a lovely week in Hanoi. This was preceded by a week scratching my head trying to figure out how to actually get there. But now that I’ve figured out, I’m here to tell you the best ways to get from Phnom Penh to Hanoi.

A motobike with a giant basket of flowers on the back in Hanoi.

Hello Hanoi!

There are direct flights from Phnom Penh to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines that are less than two hours long, but they are usually priced between $450-$600 return. Even worse, one-way flights are between $325 and $450. To add insult to injury, they don’t serve alcohol on the flights. Lately, though, it’s been possible to find return flights for $343 and one-way tickets for $205, but these special fares weren’t available on the day I needed to fly.

So I, like many intrepid expats, made my way to Hanoi with a mix of busing and flying, which can be done for less than $70 each way.

There are a number of buses that go between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, I took Mekong Express but many prefer Sapaco. Mekong cost $13, took about 6 hours and offered WiFi on the bus up to the Cambodia border. Their buses are old and shabby, but they have a toilet on board and stop at a pretty decent restaurant with toilets for 20 minutes near Bavet. The land crossing was surprisingly painless. Even though I needed to get a visa on my way back, I wasn’t asked for a single bribe. You’ll need to get your Vietnam visa in advance, however (insider tip: it’s cheaper to use a travel agent than to go to the Vietnam Embassy in Phnom Penh).

Another excellent option is Giant Ibis, who offer new, luxury buses with WiFi leaving every day at 8:00 a.m. Tickets cost $18 and include hotel pickup. You can book online (recommended) for an extra $1 and reserve a seat in advance.

Once you’re in HCMC, it’s a $6 or $7 taxi ride to the airport (take Mai Linh taxis if you don’t want to experience the joys of rigged Vietnamese taxi meters). There are a dozen daily flights that fly the HCMC-Hanoi route, priced as low as $40. Vietnam Airlines is the most reliable but most expensive and they charge extra for one way fares. A better option is Jetstar Vietnam. They’re cheap and while Vietnam expats like to gripe about them, I’ve had pretty good experiences with them.

There’s a newcomer on the scene, Vietjet Air. I’d strongly recommend against using them. Although they have 6 flights a day on this route, they usually combine them to fill planes, and only run a few per day. Both of my Vietjet Air flights were cancelled, and I was moved onto one of the later flights. On the way there, it was only an hour delay. But on the way back it was a 5 hour delay. Definitely not worth the $5 savings. With any of these airlines, though, expect some delays and don’t schedule tight transfers.

If you’re not the flying sort, there are buses from HCMC to Hanoi, but they’re long and unappealing. Consider instead taking the Reunification Express, a train that runs the length of Vietnam. The trip is long, it’s 2.5 days and best to break it up with stops along the way. But you’ll see some of the most gorgeous countryside in Vietnam as you make your way up the country.

Another option for those just looking for cheaper flights is the new Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City route on Qatar Airways that’s priced at $215 return. Combine this with Jetstar and you can get to Hanoi for around $315. Happy Hanoi-ing!

How to get from the airport into Phnom Penh

Good news, travelers! It’s actually quite easy to get into Phnom Penh from Phnom Penh International Airport (nee Pochentong). As in many cities, you’ll probably have a group of men shouting at you and trying to rope you into various transport options the minute you leave the arrivals hall. Take a deep breath and ignore them.

You have three transportation options for Phnom Penh Airport transfers: taxi, tuk tuk, and moto.

Phnom Penh international airport arrivals

Welcome to Phnom Penh International Airport. Here’s how to leave.

Taking a taxi from Phnom Penh Airport

Taxis are the fastest, safest way to get from the airport into Phnom Penh, especially if you’re carrying lots of expensive equipment on you. The drivers all seem to speak English as well, which is handy for new arrivals. If you walk to the curb immediately after leaving the arrivals hall, there will be a line of official taxis waiting. The official fee for a taxi into Phnom Penh is $9 or $12 depending on which area of town you are headed to (the price went up from $9 for all locations at the start of 2014), and they will give you a ticket that says the price before you get into the taxi.

A taxi to Wat Phnom or the Riverside will cost $9 and pretty much everything else is $12. However, they will try and give you a $12 ticket regardless, so if you are going to the Riverside say $9 and ask for the yellow ticket. You will not need to pay more than this, and there is no extra fee for additional passengers or baggage. There is no additional fee for driving at night or at rush hour, although they will try to tell you there is if you insist on paying the correct $9 fee to the Riverside. You do not need to tip (but of course a small tip is appreciated, especially if the driver helps with your baggage.) The trip takes between 25 and 50 minutes depending on traffic.

Airport taxi Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh airport taxi prices have increased for 2014 to $12.

Taking a tuk tuk from Phnom Penh Airport

Within the grounds of the airport tuk tuks are also available for the set price of $7. If you’re looking to save some money, you can walk directly outside the airport gates and get tuk tuks into town for about $5 depending on your negotiation skills and how far away you are looking to go. (As a point of reference, you should be able to get back to the airport from Phnom Penh for $5 or $6, despite what your guesthouse might tell you.)

When I first landed in Cambodia I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and that bumpy, breezy ride in the tuk tuk was eye-opening and wonderful. A tuk tuk journey is one that involves all of the senses, and it’s definitely one of the best ways to see Phnom Penh for the first time, even if the drive is a bit longer than in a taxi. However, remember to take care of your belongings when in a tuk tuk and keep your bag under your feet if possible.

Taking a moto from Phnom Penh Airport

Motos are also available outside the airport gates for around $2. Don’t wear your bag on your back, ask the driver to hold the bag up front or hold it between yourself and the driver. New arrivals are easy targets for bag snatchers, so be especially careful on motos or when you put your bag down to pay for your transport.

Phnom Penh International Airport

Confederation de la Russie, Phnom Penh [map]
T: 023 890 890
cambodia-airports.aero