Cambodia bus review: Mekong Express, Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

Mekong Express is one of the most long-running and popular bus services in Cambodia, and they have routes all over the country. In this post, I’ll review the new Mekong Express buses on their Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route, and give a full rundown of what you can expect.

Mekong Express bus in Cambodia

Mekong Express have all new buses. But how do they stack up to the competition in Cambodia?

Mekong Express bus review in a nutshell

  • Time Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (and vice-versa): 5 to 6 hours
  • Cost: $12
  • Pros: New buses, commitment to safety
  • Cons: Stops to pick up additional passengers
  • Booking: Online seat reservations

When I moved to Cambodia many years ago, Mekong Express was *the* bus company that all tourists and expats preferred. But then Giant Ibis arrived, with their services aimed squarely at foreigners, and Mekong Express, with their increasingly dilapidated fleet, struggled to compete. So when I saw a brand new Mekong Express bus drive through Siem Reap the other day, I was shocked. What was this gleaming white chariot? Could this really be Mekong Express? Determined to learn more, I booked a couple of tickets and hit the road to Phnom Penh. Continue reading

How to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap

If you’re coming from Bangkok to Siem Reap it’s worth doing your homework. There are several ways to travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap in 2018, and most fall into one of two categories: “fast and expensive” or “cheap and annoying.” Flying is fast and expensive and going overland is cheap and time-consuming (but offers considerable fodder for amusement). In this post, I’ll cover the best ways to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap as well as what you need to know about visas and the border.

At a glance…Bangkok to Siem Reap

Nattakan Transport Co bus Bangkok to Siem Reap

Your chariot: The direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap.

Traveling by bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap

If you’re on a budget and don’t want to take a taxi, the easiest way to get from Siem Reap to Bangkok is by direct bus. Direct means that you don’t have to change buses at the border or haul your luggage over the border — it stays on the bus while you get your visas. While many buses advertise themselves as direct buses, there are only two companies that are true direct buses: Nattakan and Giant Ibis. Continue reading

Cambodia’s National Library in Phnom Penh

The National Library in Phnom Penh, which stands next to the iconic Raffles Hotel and opposite the Lycée Descartes, is another wonderful example of the French-colonial architecture that once dominated the area near Wat Phnom and the railway station.

Cambodia National Library

Cambodia’s National Library.

The single-story library, with its columned portico and Greek-inspired statuary, is surrounded by what was once a lovely garden. Even though the grounds are now a carpark and Amazon coffee franchise, nevertheless the library has an air of calm that’s rare amid the hustle and permanent construction that dominates much of the city.

Inside, the library’s central room contains the reference section, stacks of newspapers and magazines, rows of reading desks, and the dusty remnants of the old filing system. One side room, with a rather elaborate spiral staircase, houses the Patrimonial Section, where Cambodians can trace their family history. Continue reading

Cambodia’s Water Festival (Bon Om Touk)

Cambodia’s famous Water Festival is one of the highlights of the calendar year, bringing together people from across the country for three unforgettable days of boat racing, fireworks and festivities. In 2018, it’s being held on November 21, 22, and 23rd. Heralding the end of the rainy season and the coming of the Harvest moon, the Water & Moon Festival, or Bon Om Touk, has been celebrated along the banks of Phnom Penh’s famed Sisowath Quay for hundreds of years.

Phnom Penh water festival

Enjoying the celebrations on the Phnom Penh riverside.

This year, the Water Festival falls on November 2nd to 4th to coincide with the full moon of the Buddhist calendar month of Kadeuk. Also known as the Harvest Moon, the moon has long been seen as a good omen promising a bountiful rice crop. This auspicious day is celebrated in villages all across Cambodia, but none more jubilantly than in the capital, where the carnival-like atmosphere of the Water Festival is illuminated by the light of the full moon.

Continue reading

Review: Red House, Koh Dach

One of the paradoxes of travel is that we often express a desire to experience how life in our destination is truly lived, but we would probably hate it if we did. In Cambodia, although there are transcendent moments to be had exploring the countryside and chatting with villagers amid rice paddies and sugar palms, the fact is that living in a rural village basically sucks. You’re usually sleeping on cheap, hot polyester bedding, sweating your eyes out, and peeing all over your feet because you’re too clumsy to properly use a squat toilet. In the rainy season, everything is covered in dirt, water, and every imaginable combination thereof, and it can be tricky to determine which of the brown streaks covering your shoes are mud and which are cow excrement.

Red House Koh Dach

A taste of rural Cambodian life.

As journalists, after a long day of conducting interviews that usually converge around the theme of how terrible people’s lives are in the Cambodian countryside, we’re always pretty grateful to escape back to our inexpensive, air-conditioned room in a provincial town and take a hot shower. But we’re sympathetic to the (usually genuine and well-meaning) desire to get to know the “real Cambodia.”

Enter Koh Dach, or Silk Island, a surprisingly rural-feeling island just off the coast of Phnom Penh. It’s easy to get here by motorbike or tuk tuk up National Road 6a and onto a ferry, which costs 500 riel per person and delivers you across the Mekong River as safely and efficiently as is possible in Cambodia.

And enter the Red House, a cleverly-conceived homestay-cum-AirBnB that provides a very good sense of the pleasures and pitfalls of rural living in Cambodia, for a very reasonable price ($20/night). Continue reading

The best Phnom Penh movie theaters and cinemas

Phnom Penh’s changing faster than I can keep up, so I’ve given this post a well-deserved update. Remembering a time when Phnom Penh didn’t have a “proper” movie theater makes me sound like an old-fogey, reminiscing about the days gone by when locals would watch movies in small shops with a dozen chairs and usually two or three screens loudly blaring different films at the same time. These days, there are a half-dozen places in town to see English-language movies in Phnom Penh, from giant theaters showing Hollywood blockbusters to smaller theaters that screen documentaries, independent and foreign films.

Major Cineplex Aeon Mall Phnom Penh

The Major Cineplex at Aeon Mall is a serious, big budget movie theater showing films in 4-D. Yes, 4-D.

There are two major cinema chains in Phnom Penh, as well as a few smaller movie houses (more on them after the jump). Before you go, know that Cambodian movie-goers are keen on 3-D and 4-D movies, so if you’re looking to watch a “regular” film at one of the larger cinemas, check before you get a ticket or you may end up wearing 3-D glasses and having cold air blown on you to simulate winter while your seat is violently shaking. Movies often sell out at the large theaters, so reserve a ticket in advance.

Looking for movies about Cambodia? The 10 best movies set in Cambodia Continue reading

Sleepy Kampot picks up the pace

Kampot, known as a sleepy provincial town for so long, is rapidly shedding that image. Once known as the town with “nothing to do,” Kampot is now a vibrant destination with a whole range of food and entertainment options.

Kampot street food

Sleepy Kampot isn’t so sleepy anymore!

It’s always been a favorite escape for many Cambodia-based expats, thanks in no small part to the relatively quick journey from Phnom Penh using either National Highway 2 or 3, as well as the fairly regular, if slow, train service. And with the unfolding developmental disaster in Sihanoukville, there has been a steady influx of Western refugees looking for a (somewhat) quieter life. Continue reading

How to get from Siem Reap to Bangkok

There are lots of ways to get from Cambodia to Thailand, and it all depends on how much time, money, and patience you have. In this post, I’ll cover the best ways to get from Siem Reap to Bangkok whether you travel by plane, direct bus, mini-bus, taxi, or casino bus. Flying is always the most convenient, but going overland is less expensive and more of an adventure!
If you’re heading the other direction, how to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap.

At a glance…Siem Reap to Bangkok

Nattakan Transport Co bus Bangkok to Siem Reap

The direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap (and vice versa)

 

Direct buses from Siem Reap to Bangkok

The easiest way to get from Siem Reap to Bangkok is by direct bus, although it’s not the fastest. Direct means that you don’t have to change buses at the border or haul your luggage over the border — it stays on the bus while you get your visas. While many buses advertise themselves as direct buses, there are only two companies that are true direct buses: Nattakan and Giant Ibis.

Nattakan/Transport Co. Ltd direct buses that go from Siem Reap to Bangkok. You can purchase tickets Read our full review with photos of the Nattakan direct bus. Continue reading