A year or two ago the cost of flying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was ridiculously high, with a round-trip flight costing upwards of $200. Now, though, Cambodia has licensed several new airlines and flights from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and vice-versa) have gotten surprisingly cheap. In this post we’ve got some background on the Cambodian aviation industry and review the best flights from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
A year ago, only one airline was licensed to fly between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia Angkor Air, who have used their monopoly on the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route to keep prices high. Starting at the end of 2014, though, Cambodia started licensing other airlines to fly domestically in Cambodia.
Cambodia may be a bit too free-wheeling when it comes to the licensing. The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization have expressed concerns that airlines are using the country’s lax regulatory standards as a backdoor route to obtaining their Airline Operating Certificate (AOC). Airlines that would not be able to obtain their AOC in their home country (specifically, China) set up flights in Cambodia to obtain their AOC. In some cases — such as with Apsara Air — soon after being granted an AOC the airline then ceases flying their domestic Cambodia flights. The UN’S ICAO is planning another audit of Cambodia’s aviation authority at the end of the year, but the last one in 2007 ranked the country well below international standards.
To compound the problem, there are rumors swirling that several of the domestic airlines are offering “pay to fly” programs that allow trainee pilots to earn flight hours by paying large sums of money to airlines to let them fly. The fact of the matter is that domestic flights in Cambodia are certainly not as safe as those back home, but neither are the roads!
Below, we cover who is offering Phnom Penh to Siem Reap flights:
Cambodia Angkor Air
Cambodia Angkor Air is the longest running-airline offering domestic flights in Cambodia. Cambodia Angkor Air is owned by the Cambodian government and Vietnam Airlines, and their pilots are all from Vietnam Airlines. As far as safety goes, Cambodia Angkor Air is the airline favored by government and embassy personnel for having the best safety standards (but it’s all relative, of course). They fly ATR72 turboprop planes on the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh route. They’re French-Italian planes and considered much safer than the Chinese MA60 turboprop planes flown by Bayon Airlines. The flight takes about 50 minutes and economy bookings include 20 kg baggage. They suggest arriving an hour before boarding.
Cambodia Angkor Air has recently lowered their (previously exorbitant) prices in response to the influx of new airlines. Flights can currently be purchased for $70 one-way and $140 return. Their schedule changes regularly, but usually have four or five flights a day. Check their review of Cambodia Angkor Air for more about the airline.
Bassaka Air is a relative newcomer in Cambodian airspace and has quickly driven the prices for Phnom Penh to Siem Reap flights. Flights on Bassaka Air start at just $19, and even the high-priced ones are less than $50.
The airline is a joint venture between the Naga casino company and the Chinese government. The airline have two planes, A320-200 Airbuses, that were formerly owned by Vietnam Airlines. The A320-200s are big planes that seat 168 passengers, making the trip shorter on than Cambodia Angkor Air and Bayon Air, who both fly this route in smaller, slower propeller planes.
The flight takes about 45 minutes and economy bookings include 20 kg baggage. Bassaka Air offers one flight per day in either direction, and they suggest arriving 45 minutes before boarding. The caveat is that because small airlines in Cambodia disappear so regularly, we wouldn’t hold our breath that Bassaka Air will stay in business. Meaning, don’t book too far in advance and I wouldn’t recommend using them as a connecting flight for an international flight, unless you give yourself a day’s padding in case something goes wrong. For more information, read our full review of Bassaka Air from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
Cambodia Bayon Airlines
Cambodia Bayon Airlines is another new airline flying in Cambodia that is offering a daily Phnom Penh to Siem Reap flight, and one from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Prices are cheap, starting at $32 each way. However, Cambodia Bayon Airlines is flying the infamous Chinese MA60 (“Modern Ark 60”) propeller plane, that 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, presumably because no one else would take them.
For this reason, we’re not so keen on flying with Cambodia Bayon Airlines. If you are feeling adventurous, though, the flight takes about 50 minutes and economy bookings include 20 kg baggage. Bassaka Air offers one flight per day in either direction, and they suggest checking-in a minimum of 30 minutes before boarding. As with all new airlines, we are not counting on them being around for very long. To learn more, we have a much more detailed review of Cambodia Bayon Airlines from a recent flight.