Your many options for getting from point A to B in Phnom Penh each have their own advantages and drawbacks. From the iconic tuk-tuk to motodops, taxis and buses, make sense of your modes of transport with this guide.
If you’re travelling in groups or have large items to move, tuk-tuks are your best option. They are relatively secure (always protect your belongings) and provide cover from the sun and rain. Either hail them on the street, get a number of a trusted driver, or get techy with any of the new e-hailing mobile apps, which provides a safe and efficient method of securing fixed-fare tuk-tuk rides in the city. Passapp seems to be the most popular at the moment, but be aware that most passapp vehicles are the small Baja 3 wheeled tuk tuks, which only take 2 passengers and allow very little room for luggage or shopping. Established expats are usually seasoned tuk tuk users, and will know how much a certain distance should cost. The primary rule to remember when using a tuk tuk is to agree a fare BEFORE you get in. If you wait to you arrive at your destination, you will usually find the driver demanding a higher than average fare which can be difficult to negotiate away from. See our rough guide to prices later in this section. The other thing to remember is that almost without fail, every single tuk tuk driver in Cambodia will tell you that they know where your stated destination is, only to then spend the next hour or so driving up and down streets and asking other drivers where the place is. A simple solution to this is, of course, Google maps. Plot your route before speaking to a driver, then show them – while observing situational safety with your phone – where the destination is and which route is suggested. Do not always expect them to follow the exact route; they usually know good shortcuts that save time and avoid traffic.
Nippy and manoeuvrable, motos are the quickest way to get around town. Drivers most often hang around street corners, especially near markets and other landmarks. While quicker (and more exhilarating) than other forms of transport, it is worth remembering that in the chaotic Cambodian traffic, there are a lot of moto accidents.
Before you get aboard a tuk-tuk or moto, keep the following in mind:
Spot your driver
Those waiting outside establishments will generally charge more than drivers on the move, so flag one down.
Get your journey mapped out
Quality maps are available from Pocket Guide, but know that moto and tuk-tuk drivers may struggle to read them.
Establish a nearby landmark
Local drivers typically navigate the city via its public centres or famous landmarks, including local markets, pagodas (wats), and schools, so learn their names in Khmer.
Agree on a price
Unless you’re using a metered service such as PassApp, save yourself a potentially unpleasant disagreement upon arrival by negotiating the fare in advance. Here’s a rough beginner’s guide to tuk-tuk prices:
$1.50-2 for short trips up to about 5 minutes, $3-5 for journeys across town, with long hauls to the airport $7 and up. Expect to pay more if there’s more than one of you.
For motodops, the rate is roughly half, and in each case fares will increase after dark.
Get a regular
If you are living here, most people tend to get a regular driver/motodop (or even 2 or 3). There are lots of advantages to this: you get lower fares, they help you out with tasks and/or shopping, and they will often be prepared to be on call at unsociable hours. A regular and reliable driver can be one of your most valuable local assets.
Learn some Khmer
Identify yourself as an expat rather than a tourist by negotiating in Khmer to bring down costs – if a price is too high, lament “T’lai na!” (“so expensive!”) while walking away for a better deal. Knowing basic directions is a good idea: bot ch’wayng (say as bot shweng) is turn left, bot s’dum (bot sadam) is turn right, and tov dtrong (towe trong) is straight on. If you see your destination, chop tee-nih (chop tuh nee) means stop here, while “Yeut yeut” meaning “slow down” can be useful!
A moto of your own
Ready to drive a moto? You can rent a 100-125cc bike for $4-7 per day or a dirt bike for $12-$30. You will need to leave your passport as a deposit and be sure to buy a separate padlock – if it’s stolen, you will have to cover the cost of buying a new moto, regardless of the age of the one you rented. It’s also worth investing in a decent helmet – the $10 lids available at roadside dealers won’t give you much protection if you hit the tarmac face first. It is worth noting that a 3rd party holding your passport is actually illegal, but it’s also common practice here. If uncomfortable leaving yours, shop around for a place that takes a cash deposit but be aware that this is usually $500 upwards.
Out of the city
If travelling between cities, it helps to book things in advance to ensure you have a ticket. Camboticket is a great site for booking buses, taxis, and ferries, with plane tickets to be added at some point in the future. There is also a handy Facebook group – Taxi Share Cambodia – which is ideal for people who don’t want to travel by bus but don’t want to pay a full taxi fare.
Journeys by minivans are quick, convenient and air-conditioned. Contact a reputable travel agency for a range of options. Be careful, however, as minivan drivers are notorious for speeding and risky overtaking.
Giant Ibis and Mekong Express are popular choices with expats. Both promise “affordable luxury” in the form of free Wi-Fi, toilets and complimentary snacks. Night buses are not generally recommended as the roads are often unlit and can be hazardous after dark.
Taxis are increasingly popular and an affordable, comfortable and safe way to get around, especially for longer journeys and at night. Try an e-hailing app like Grab, iTsumo, ExNet, or PassApp, or you can call them or any of the other taxi services for a pickup.
At time of writing (December, 2018) all information was correct, but may have changed since. If there’s something you read here which you feel is incorrect or requires updating, please let us know.