Taking the train in Cambodia: Phnom Penh-Kampot-Sihanoukville

This dispatch is from our Cambodia railway correspondent, Abigail Gilbert.

After a wait of 14 years, passenger trains are once again running in Cambodia. Train buffs will need no other excuse to get on board, but there are good reasons why any traveler might like to let the train take the strain.

Cambodia trains

Taking the train in Cambodia. Yes, they’re back!

Although plans are in the works for a country-wide network, the train service is currently limited to four destinations, running from Phnom Penh via Takeo and Kampot, terminating in Sihanoukville. This first foray into passenger trains runs only on weekends and public holidays, matching domestic demand for the two popular Khmer holiday destinations.

Taking the train in Cambodia

Two trains alternate on the tracks — the Yellow Train and the Blue Train. The seating set-up is slightly different (sideways or front-facing), but both trains are air-conditioned and tickets are the same price. Given that the rolling stock is refurbished from the 1960s, the experience is more modern than you might expect. Carriages are air-conditioned, the padded vinyl seats are newly upholstered and the ride is surprisingly smooth. The toilet is clean and well provisioned — a bum gun, paper towels and the ubiquitous Glade air freshener.

Announcements are made in Khmer and English by a man in a high-vis jacket with a portable karaoke machine, bringing a personal touch to customer information. Lingering suggestions of the original train — pull-down windows, French language plaques, oscillating ceiling fans and stencil-punched seat numbers — will please lovers of retro train chic. The train stations, shabbily delightful hangovers from Cambodian history, are also worth a second look.

Any journey in Cambodia seems to be an excuse to eat. On board the train, the ever-smiling assistant in her Royal Railways baseball cap serves up instant Mama noodles and bottles of water to your seat on request. Passengers can stock up on boiled eggs, cut pineapple and mango, dried fish, and iced coffee at the station stops, which are usually about 10 minutes each.

view from Cambodia train

The Cambodian countryside from the window of the train.

Apart from the novelty value, the biggest attraction to riding the train in Cambodia is what you see out of the window. From Phnom Penh, the train slowly chugs through communities which set up around the tracks when the idea of a reestablished train service was only a daydream. Reach out a hand and you could grab the laundry off the balconies. Vendors wait for the train to pass so they can set up their stalls again, kids on doorsteps wave or put their fingers in their ears, grandmas perched at a noodle stall watch the passing carriages.

Within half an hour, the train is tooting through semi-countryside, startling ducks into making a waddle for it to their lotus pond. Arriving in the countryside proper, there’s a picture postcard view of Cambodia — wooden stilt houses sheltering under palms, surrounded by paddy fields stretching back to crenelated hills. At small dusty crossings, motorbikes and oxcarts wait at the nominal red and white striped barriers. Closer to Kampot, limestone karsts shoot up from the flat landscape while white Brahman cows and water buffalo stare transfixed at the train. This is a perspective you don’t quite get traveling by road, either because you’re going too fast or you have your eyes screwed tightly shut!

Kampot train station

The railway station architecture is outstanding. This is the Kampot station.

Why choose the train?

Getting out of Phnom Penh by road at any time of day except very early morning is generally a hassle, due to the volume of traffic. Phnom Penh train station is centrally located, easy to get to, and the train cuts through the suburbs more quickly than buses or taxis.

A Royal Railways sign at the station informs passengers “Never boarding late as the train never waits anyone.” So far, the service has proved to be pretty reliable, more often arriving early than late. Unlike buses, which often make a frustrating number of stops to pick up passengers or drop off bags of mangoes, the train is direct.

Whilst the average speed is somewhat slower than road vehicles, the train travel time compares favorably with similarly priced buses (4.5 hours to Kampot, another two hours to Sihanoukville). If speed is of the essence, the more expensive Giant Ibis buses or a private taxi will likely get you from Phnom Penh to Kampot more quickly, if more queasily.

The road to Sihanoukville does not have the best record for traffic safety — frequent travelers expect to see an accident on almost every journey between the capital and the beach. By traveling on the biggest vehicle around, one that doesn’t engage in impossible overtaking maneuvers on blind corners, you’ll probably feel a bit safer. And you can avoid the traffic; some journeys from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville can be as much as seven hours by bus depending on what time of day you leave.

If you fancy taking your own transport with you, motorbikes and bicycles can be transported on all trains for a $5 fee, and cars can catch the Blue Train for $14.

Phnom Penh train

Waitin’ for that train.

Tickets and Timetable

The ticket office at Phnom Penh station is open 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. You can also call 078 888 583 during the same hours, but the easiest way to buy a ticket is in person. From Sihanoukville, Kampot or Takeo, enquire at the station.

The Friday train is generally less busy than the Saturday and Sunday journeys, but it’s best to buy your ticket a couple of days in advance to be sure of being able to travel. For public holidays, the earlier the better, as trains only carry around 100 passengers each.

Scheduled train times are as follows, but do check at the station — timetable alterations may be made as this new service develops.

Phnom Penh Kampot Sihanoukville train schedule

For now, the train goes from Phnom Penh to Takeo, Kampot, and Sihanoukville, but there are plans to expand the network.

Updated as of December, 2016

Fridays
Phnom Penh 3 p.m., Takeo 4:30 p.m., Kampot 7:40 p.m., arrives Sihanoukville at 10 p.m.

Saturdays and Sundays
Phnom Penh 7 a.m., Takeo 8:30 a.m., Kampot 11:40 a.m., arrives Sihanoukville at 2 p.m.
Sihanoukville 7 a.m., Kampot 8:40 a.m., Takeo 11:50 a.m., arrives Phnom Penh at 2 p.m.

Sundays only
Sihanoukville 4 p.m., Kampot 5:40 p.m., Takeo 8 p.m., arrives Phnom Penh 11 p.m.

Holidays
There is now expanded holiday coverage. Check out the train schedule for 2016 holiday service.

Ticket prices:
Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville $7
Phnom Penh – Kampot $6
Phnom Penh – Takeo $4
Kampot – Phnom Penh  $6
Kampot – Takeo $5
Kampot – Sihanoukville $4
Takeo – Phnom Penh $4
Takeo – Kampot $5
Takeo – Sihanoukville $7
Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh $7
Sihanoukville – Takeo $6
Sihanoukville – Kampot $4

Useful Links

  • Royal-railway.com is the official site of Royal Railways, with limited information.
  • An unofficial site, traincambodia.com has more information.
  • There’s a Facebook group, Train Cambodia, where railway enthusiasts convene to exchange info and answer questions.

Accessibility Note: Due to steps and the height difference between some platforms and the train, those with mobility issues may find getting on/off the train a bit of a challenge.

Heading to Kampot or Sihanoukville? Check out our city guides for where to stay, what to do, and the best places to eat. 

41 Responses to Taking the train in Cambodia: Phnom Penh-Kampot-Sihanoukville

  1. Kelvin says:

    Wonderful writing and pictures, thinking about doing this soon!
    PS – The traincambodia unofficial site was down but the FB group was still ok.

  2. Fred says:

    Hi, just to confirm much of what you say. I just bought a ticket at Phnom Penh station for Snooky, US$8.00. Very straightforward, change in dollars. Only thing to mention is that I was told to be at the station at 15.30 for my 16.00 departure. I don’t yet know why: security, check-in or bureaucracy?

    • Thaís says:

      Hello, Fred!! How are you?
      Im going to camboja in january/2018.
      Can you help me out? Is it possible to buy the tickets at the same day of the trip?
      For example, I’ll be in Koh Rong until sunday and I want to go to phnom penh on sunday, can I buy this ticket on the very same day as the trip?

    • Lina says:

      I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to if you just bought all of the seats, but I don’t know for certain. Let me know what you find out!

  3. Julia says:

    This is a great site. Thank you. Please could you tell me whether the train with the forward facing seats is the Friday train or the Saturday train? One train seems to have forward facing seats and one sideways but I can’t tell which is which. Thank you very much. Julia

  4. Ks Wong says:

    Took the train from PP to Sihanoukville in May 2017, ticket cost me $8. Left the station at 7am and arrived in Sihanoukville just after 2pm. The train was pretty decent and comfortable but the air-con went down half way through the trip, I’m not sure how often does that happen but that was the only problem of my trip. The view is amazing and I think thats the only reason you should take the train instead of a mini-van or other type of transport. Overall it was a nice trip “other than the air-con” but I would choose a mini-van next time around.

  5. Melina says:

    Hi! What would be the best and fastest way to go from Shihanoukvikle to Phom Pen? :) love ur blog, so helpful!!

    Thanks!!

    • Ian says:

      Plane would be fastest.
      Bus would be next fastest but they don’t have a real good safety record.
      Train would be slowest but probably best and most scenic.
      I have only flown and taken the bus but most likely take the train next time.

      • Alan says:

        I’ve taken the train and bus. I’d take the train every time if it’s running but unfortunately on my latest journey to PP I’ve had to take the bus. I used Giant Ibis this time and it’s the best bus ride I’ve done but still very much the best of a bad lot.

        One thing I haven’t seen in the replies – but this won’t come as a surprise – is that on arrival you’ll be greeting but some serious price-gouging by a horde of waiting tuk tuk drivers.

      • Nikolaus says:

        What plane do you mean? I don’t think there is one from PP to Sihanoukville, as far as I know, only one from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville…

  6. Bryan Seals says:

    Hi,

    I would like to travel on the train from Phnom Penh to Kampot or Sihanookville later this year. However, I am disabled and have a wheelchair. Would there be any railway staff that would be able to help me on and off the trains ?
    I remember catching the train to Sihanookville on the old train about a year before the service finished. That was a never to be forgotten experience

  7. Julia says:

    Thank you Lina for sharing all this up to date and really helpful information here! We really appreciate all the work and effort you put into this!

  8. Jim says:

    Took the train from Phnom Penh to Kampot on 25 FEB. We tried to obtain tickets in the car with seats ($8, I believe) but were told that was for a group. For $6 one may purchase a bench seat (upholstered), facing another bench seat opposite with not a great deal of room to separate the two. Our strong recommendation is to buy the TWO facing seats for each traveling member for a much more comfortable journey!

  9. vanessa says:

    hello !
    do you know if the price is the same for kids???
    my son 3 years old and we will come to visti cambodia in may :)

    • Gene says:

      You are so cheap! What is the difference between $8 and let’s say $4? It’s not like you are from the 3rd world country, considering you’ll take the plane to get to Cambodia.

  10. Toni hodgkins says:

    Why is there not one place on the river front for selling train tickets, as this is were lots of foreigners are and Cambodians,

  11. Tiffany says:

    Hi Lina!

    Do you know what time the train station at Sihanoukville opens daily? Trying to figure out when I can buy my ticket in advance. Thank you!

      • Callum says:

        Hi. The Friday train (there is only one) only runs one way. From PP to Sihanoukville.

        If you are travelling from Sihanoukville or Kampot to PP you will need to travel on Saturday or Sunday.

  12. Sona says:

    Love your blog! Absolutely detailed and informative. I’ve been searching on the net about the new training opening, but to no avail had I found anything. Thank you!!!

  13. Gary H says:

    Hi all. I appreciate it’s 6 months away yet, but does anyone know yet what days the train service will be running over the Khmer New Year in April ( 13th -18th). I’m hoping there will be an additional holiday service on the Monday 17th, as this is the day that I’d ideally like to travel PP to Kampot.
    Any advice greatly appreciated.

  14. wan says:

    Hi does anybody know if I can buy the ticket right before boarding ? As I plan to take a train from phnom penh to sihanoukville on the friday 0700 schedule, but I only arrive to Phnom Penh on thursday night, so no time to buy the ticket at the ticket office. Any help is appreciated

    • Gary H says:

      Online tickets are available up to 2 weeks before travel at baolau.vn
      I’ve used this company before with no problems whatsoever…instant confirmation, and e-tickets shortly after
      Don’t be put off by the fact it’s a Vietnamese website.!

  15. Nabarun says:

    I want to travel from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville during December 2016 (Christmas-New Year week).
    Do they have online booking, advance booking options?
    I guess December might be filled with tourists so would it be possible to book tickets once I reach Phnom Penh?

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