Five reasons not to travel by night bus in Cambodia

Night buses are the buses most prone to accidents in Cambodia. Last year in one two-week period there were three night bus crashes, that caused the death and injuries of several tourists. People often want to take night buses in Cambodia because they save time, and the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and Siem Reap to Sihanoukville routes are particularly popular. They may save time, but avoiding them saves lives. Here are five reasons not to take night buses in Cambodia:

A couple of Cambodian buses parked in the bus yard, waiting to transport passengers.

Imagine how much more foreboding they are after midnight!

1. Cambodians get sleepy at night

Most Cambodians live with their families and sleep in communal living spaces. Most of their families wake up around dawn and begin going about the business of daily life, usually in a normal, noisy way. This means that your bus driver has probably been awake and eating prahok since 6 a.m. and is going to start getting very, very, sleepy come 2 a.m.

2. Roads are dark

Outside the major cities, roads are not lit. In fact, they are pitch black. Many are also still unpaved. Unpaved and cloaked in darkness. There are also no enforced laws that drivers must turn on their headlights and many choose not to in order to “save gas.”

3. Speeding merrily along

Cambodians are not big fans of staying out incredibly late at night. So when they are done doing whatever they are doing, they want to get home as quickly as possible. In order to do that, they drive as fast as their car, moto, or their/your night bus will allow.

4. There is no wrong way

Because of their great hurry to get wherever they are going, Cambodians drive on the wrong side of the road when it’s convenient for them and even more disconcertingly, they will attempt to overtake other vehicles on a two-lane road when there are cars coming directly at them.

5. Everyone is drunk at night

While Cambodia is no longer the wild west it once was, Cambodians and expats alike seem to have no problem swilling down cans, nay, cases of Angkor beer and then hitting the road. Most traffic accidents are caused by inebriated drivers, and a much higher percentage of drivers are drunk at night. Cambodia does not yet have a designated driver program. Even if your bus driver is not drunk, everyone else on the road is.

Combine all of the above and imagine a dark road with your sleepy driver at the wheel while other half-drunk drivers on the road try and overtake by driving straight into your bus at 90 miles an hour, and you’ll understand why I have never, and will never take a night bus in Cambodia.

9 Responses to Five reasons not to travel by night bus in Cambodia

  1. Stephanie says:

    To add to your list… I’m sharing this story in hopes that somehow it can prevent and protect future female travellers who are searching for reviews on Cambodian night buses.
    I was on a giant ibis night sleeper bus from Siem Reap-Phonm Penh, December 8th 2016, 11:30pm departure. It had 2 levels, flat beds with double beds on one side & single on the other. I booked a single bed, top bunk. I went to sleep, on my back, with my travel blanket on top of me.
    The next thing I remember is waking up to a mans hands DOWN my pants, he had touched me really quickly and it woke me up and I remember saying “what the fuck”, and he pulled his hands back, said “Ssshhhhh” and then disappeared into the back of the bus. It was completely dark, and the bus was pulled over on the side of the road and everyone in the bus was still sleeping. It took me a few minutes to wake up and realize what the hell just happened and I kept looking back in the bus to see if I could see who it was but no one was there. I didn’t see his face, but I’m 100% sure it was one of the drivers as I remember a blue ibis shirt, and when we arrived I noticed that the bed behind me was empty now… and if wasn’t when I was looking for who it was. I think that the driver got in the bed after and had his nap rotation while the other driver started driving 10 minutes or so later.

    I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation past the initial shock and freeze I went through… especially not knowing which driver it was, so I emailed giant ibis to tell them what bus I was on and what happened, just in case there has been complaints with a driver on the bus before (who knows maybe it has happened in the past)… I still have not received a reply; but it’s only been 36 hours.

    I have nothing bad to say about this company, I would have been very happy if not for this incident. I would just urge single female travellers to avoid night sleeper buses AT ALL COSTS.

    • Lina says:

      Hi Stephanie, that is horrifying and I’m so sorry that happened to you. Giant Ibis have responded to your comment on TA. I’m posting it below.

      I’d like to personally apologize for your shocking experience on our night bus. I initially didn’t see your post as I was on holiday, but it was brought to my attention later. I absolutely do not condone this type of behavior by my staff and I immediately went on a witch hunt to find out who did this to you. We’ve now identified the person as the Crew Attendant, not one of the two drivers, and he’s been immediately dismissed from the company. The fact that you were a solo female travelling in Cambodia is no excuse for this type of abuse. Please PM me if you wish to pursue further action against the individual and I’ll be happy to assist you.

      Safe Travels,

      Giant Ibis Transport

  2. toby says:

    cambodian drivers are big risk takers.close calls is a common site.The cambodians think they are good drivers an extension of there self confidence.some are good drivers some are crazy some are homicidal.

  3. Rick Ferrara says:

    Hey you didn’t mention the main reason not to get a night bus. I just got off what was called a “hotel bus”. I thought cool a bed to lie on and stretch out. It was the bus from hell. You have to sleep next to a stranger in tiny bunk beds in a bus with no windows. In the event of a crash you would never get out alive. I don’t even think there was an emergency exit and you could not even get to it as the bus was so cramped. Never ever ever get a hotel bus.

  4. I am preparing my journey to Cambodia in May 2016 and planning to take Giant Ibis. But still, reading the comment above and your entry here, make me think again. Btw, I love they way you write. I laugh all the way thru my reading. lols. Cambodians might get offended. lols.

    • Lina says:

      Thanks! I wrote this before Giant Ibis started running buses in Cambodia, and when they did, I went to talk to them and see how they maintain their equipment, etc. They have two drivers on staff, so they can switch off half-way through the journey, or if one gets tired (plus they are required to sleep during the day!). They drive at relatively slow speeds, confirmed by GPS, and drive safely. Although you can never prevent a drunk guy in a moto driving into you, Giant Ibis buses are big and sturdy enough that if that happened, the drunk guy on the moto would be the only one to get injured. In summary, I take Giant Ibis night buses all of the time, but you still couldn’t pay me to get on one of the other companies.

  5. Ben says:

    My girlfriend and I were on a sleeper bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap back in 2010. Around 4am we were all woken and thrown from our beds as the bus swerved all over the road trying to avoid a large truck coming at us head on. It honestly felt like the bus was about to flip over. Our driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. The back up driver who was supposed to be keeping him company was also asleep.

    We were lucky as no one was injured, but it was a shaky bus ride for the most of us for the remaining 2 hours.

    Please take care and do not ride on sleeper buses. They are not worth the risk. Especially when you are in the middle of nowhere with possibly no access to adequate emergency medical services.

  6. We recently spent 9 days in Cambodia, and every moment was wonderful – except those spent on the road between Siem Reap and Battambang. Even in broad daylight, with a (presumably) well-rested and sober driver, #4 is the frightening norm. In our case, the driver of one leg was also texting and chatting on his mobile while he was maneuvering. 8-[

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