Yet another Chinese entrant into Cambodian domestic airspace, Cambodia Bayon Airlines flies between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, and Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Flights are incredibly cheap, but there are some serious safety concerns to consider. We fly Cambodia Bayon Airlines from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and see what all of the fuss is about.
Cambodia Bayon Airlines is Chinese-owned, partially by Joy Air who unsurprisingly chose not to operate under their original name, which sounds exceedingly crude in the Khmer language. They’re flying one MA60, a Soviet-style turboprop plane, that covers all of the three routes each day, but they’re planning to expand their fleet and presumably dominate the Cambodian domestic market with flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap every 45 minutes.
The MA60 (“Modern Ark 60”) is a Chinese-made plan with a troubled history. Because of numerous crashes, accidents, and safety concerns, the plane has been banned from flying in the US, Europe, UK, New Zealand, and Australia. Recently, countries like Tonga, Nepal, and Indonesia have either gotten rid of or banned the MA60 due to safety issues. Cambodia Bayon Airlines, on the other hand, has 19 more on order, which will eventually make them one of the airlines in the world with the largest number of these exotic, if dangerous, planes (only beaten by the aptly named Okay Airlines).
Now here’s where I digress into the stuff that you might not care about, but Bayon Air purchased the 20 planes at a cost of $450 million from Chinese state-owned aerospace company Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). But according to the Phnom Penh Post, “Bayon Air is a subsidiary of Bayon Holding Limited, which is wholly owned by AVIC and China Easter Air’s Joy Air.” So yes, a company is purchasing millions of dollars in unsafe planes from itself to operate in Cambodian airspace.
Of course I was completely unaware of any of this when I booked the morning Bayon Air flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. And it was fine; I survived the flight. The flight took about 50 minutes, which is longer than Bassaka Air, because it’s a smaller plane. The noise near the propellers is pretty loud, and there’s no room for any large or awkward luggage in the overhead bins. Perhaps knowing these failings, Bayon Air bribes its passengers by handing out pastries and water during the flight.
I was told that check-in closes 30 minutes before the flight takes off (and boarding starts at the same time). Like the other domestic airlines, Bayon Airlines is relatively lax with ID requirements and will accept a photocopy of your passport in lieu of the real thing. I also noticed the security screener ignoring the screen, making me wish I hadn’t chucked my bottle of water.
The Bayon Airlines MA60 have 50 seats. 48 of those are regular economy seats, but the other two appear to be two random easy chairs in the back of the plane (which is where the passengers board) that makes up the whole of business class.
On the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route, prices start at $32 for a one-way once taxes are included and a preposterous $153 for business class. The Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville route seems to be hovering around $70 (and $169 for biz). This route is especially silly, because it flies from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, which takes almost three hours. If you hit the gas, you can drive it in the same amount of time, so the plane is probably not the best way to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. If you’re flying Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, flights are currently starting around $54 for a one-way ticket.
Overall, I probably won’t be spending a lot of time flying on Cambodia Bayon Air because of safety concerns, but I also recognize that I’m probably more likely to die on Cambodia’s roads than I will in its skies, no matter how often I fly.
Bayon Airlines schedule:
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: 8:10 a.m.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh: 8:00 p.m.
Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville: 4:20 p.m.
Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh: 3:00 p.m.
Sihanoukville to Siem Reap: 5:35 p.m.
Siem Reap to Sihanoukville: 9:55 a.m.
At the time of writing, Bayon Air is flying daily trips between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville (with a triangle flight). It’s best to check and confirm, as they change their schedule regularly. I’d recommend not booking too far in advance or relying on them to connect to an international flight. With only one plane, if they have any mechanical failures the flights for the day will inevitably be cancelled.
Tickets can be booked with most travel agents in Cambodia, or tickets can be reserved on the Cambodia Bayon Airlines website, and then paid for within 24 hours at their office in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, or Sihanoukville. They will also, allegedly, send someone to you to pick up payment in either of those cities while they work on getting their payment processing set up.
Want to compare all of the airlines flying between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap? Read the Phnom Penh-Siem Reap flights blog post.
Cambodia Bayon Airlines
Phnom Penh International Airport, Phnom Penh
Borei Angkor Arcade Shopping Center, Road 6, Siem Reap
T: 023 231 555; 099 227 301