The trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by bus has improved by leaps and bounds recently. The road is fully paved now, and the trip now takes between 5.5 and 6.5 hours. This can feel like an eternity when traveling with some of Cambodia’s less illustrious bus companies, as they stop to pick up and drop off passengers all along the way. But Giant Ibis Transport is different. As I write this, I’m sitting on a new Giant Ibis bus, connected to the onboard WiFi and wondering how I ever managed this trip before they came along.
Giant Ibis Transport began operations in 2012 and offers a variety of services that will appeal particularly to foreigners. Their fleet of buses is new, the seats lean back, they offer free WiFi, power outlets, a bottle of water and a pastry and their staff speak English. They are also the only full-size bus company in Cambodia to offer seat belts. Best of all, they offer online booking and seat reservation, thus eliminating the 30-odd minutes one would usually have to spend at a travel agent while they call the bus company and laboriously write out a ticket.
The trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap takes about 6.5 hours give or take about thirty minutes. It’s a nice way to see a bit of the countryside; along the way you’ll see traditional Khmer homes, family gardens, rice paddies, flocks of ducks, and water buffalo being led home. The 38-foot buses seat 41 passengers and while there are no toilets on board, the bus stops at the 1.5 and 3.5 hour mark. The first stop isn’t always the same, but always has a relatively clean Western toilet. The other stop is a restaurant contracted by Giant Ibis called Banyan Tree on National Highway 6 near Kampong Thom.
While on one hand, it does feel like a bit of a hustle to be forced to sit at a bus company-contracted restaurant for 30 minutes, there’s no way of avoiding this. Every bus company in the country stops at places that pay them for the business, and it will even happen when you take a private taxi. The plus side of Banyan Tree is that they have the same prices for Khmers and foreigners, an anomaly in the Cambodia rest stop world. The food is bland, and prices are typical rest stop levels (read: higher than you’d expect). And while Giant Ibis doesn’t own the place, they do hygiene inspections to make sure that everything is up to their standards. Moreover, the toilets are clean and have toilet paper. So overall, I can’t really complain.
Onboard, Giant Ibis offer movies in English, which are generally family-friendly action movies — anything that was once a comic book seems to be fair game. Seats have individual switches for the speakers, so the noise is not quite as unbearable for those who aren’t interested in watching the movie, and as time progresses they have been lowering the volume, perhaps recognizing that no one watches the movie anyway.
WiFi is offered onboard, using 3G. This means that the connection is available when there’s a 3G signal available, which is more than half the journey. It doesn’t work in the more rural parts of the trip, but there’s no avoiding that; this isn’t the fault of Giant Ibis, there is just no service there. The latest exciting addition are individual power outlets on all of the buses between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. They’re international-style plugs that feature inputs for most standard plugs from around the world.
This isn’t the only thing that sets Giant Ibis apart from the other bus companies in Cambodia. One of my favorite things about the journey is that it does not involve multiple pickups and dropoffs along the way — previous expat favorite Mekong Express often takes an hour just getting in and out of Phnom Penh due to the extra stops.
The best thing about Giant Ibis, though, is safety. They have a maximum speed of 95 kph/60 mph, and management is alerted automatically if drivers go over this speed. The company has ten full-time mechanics and their dedication to safety seems very genuine.
Of course everything is not perfect — the seats are narrow enough that it’s unpleasant to sit next to a portly stranger, but they have more legroom than any of the mini-buses. The drop-offs can be a bit chaotic, but they’ve worked to improve this since my last review.
Currently, buses run from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap at 8:45 a.m., 9:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., the schedule is the same in the opposite direction, with buses from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh at 7:45 a.m., 8:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. as well. They also have a night bus service in both directions at 10:30 p.m., 11:00 p.m., and 11:30 p.m which I’ve taken many times and was pleasantly surprised. Review: Giant Ibis night bus, Phnom Penh-Siem Reap.
Tickets on the Giant Ibis Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route cost $15, and prices are the same for locals and foreigners. You can buy tickets online and choose your seats in advance.
Buses drop off in Phnom Penh at the Giant Ibis office across from the night market on Street 106 and at the new Giant Ibis bus station in Siem Reap [map].
Street 106 (across from the Night Market), Phnom Penh [map]
T: 023 987 808
6A Sivatha Road, Siem Reap [map]
T: 095 777 809