Monday, March 16, 2015

Phnom Penh to Saigon by Express Bus

Travelling Date: 29th December 2014

Border crossing, on Cambodia side without a need to see the immigration as it is all arranged by the transporter, Khai Nam

There is no more railway connection from Aranyaprathet train station in Thailand connecting any cities in Cambodia up till Ho Chin Minh (Saigon) city in Vietnam. Since the war in Cambodia, the railway line between Bangkok and Phnom Penh has only been running between Bangkok and Aranyaprathet on the Thai side of the Thai/Cambodian border. It was told that at least until 2009, the railway between Battambang and Phnom Penh stopped operating within Cambodia. Train services across the border between Aranyaprathet and Battambang has been suspended for some years, although there is talk of restoring the complete Phnom Penh-Bangkok rail link in the next few years when Cambodia's railways are rehabilitated. I may return if the 3 Government has somewhat signed a Memorandum of Understanding to build the train connection, so that my earthbound travel is all complete with train route.

Pick up from the hotel to the bus center

In the absence of train, buses becoming the first choice of travel between the 2 cities beside airlines. A number of bus companies each operate a range of daily air-conditioned buses in each direction from Phnom Penh to Saigon, taking about 6.5 hours. The bus costs less than a tenth of the flight price with a lifetime experience of short crossing of the Mekong by ferry. Anne and I were both overthrown with bundles of joy when we get to stay outside the bus while on ferry. Should we come at a later year, the bus would bypass ferry and taking the bridge (under construction which is visible from 1 of the photo below) instead. We are twice lucky for coming earlier, i.e. before the bridge is open for crossing.

Happiness overloaded while crossing the Mekong River with bus on the ferry

The distance from Phnom Penh to Saigon is only 240km and rest assured that the road is also good. We have been advised that Mekong Express is the most reliable bus line and thought that the hotel would do our booking through them when we trust them to do the arrangement. However, we got a little bit disappointed when we saw the ticket was on other bus lines, ie. Khai Nam Express. The fare is slightly cheaper. 2 tickets were charged at USD24 @ USD12 per person and we arrived in time. Most important thing, they made 2 stops for toilet and lunch break. In the end, we have no complaints about their services. By all mean, please use their services.

The transporter sent a minivan to collect the passengers from different hotel to it’s bus center. After all ticket and passport verification, they kept our passport throughout the journey. We were told that the passport would be returned after we successfully crossed the Vietnam immigration check point at the border. True enough as after everyone has cleared the immigration line, the passport is back for our safe keeping, given by the immigration officer with stamped on it. For record purpose, the reliable bus companies operating modern direct buses between Saigon & Phnom Penh are Mekong Express Limousine Bus (, Sapaco Tourist, Kumho Samco, and Mai Linh. Our bus took us direct to Saigon city but we got cheated by the Taxi Cab driver in Saigon by charging us 400% higher fee than usual.

You have nothing to worry if you cannot buy your bus ticket online as there’s plenty of buses up running to and from Phnom Penh to reach Saigon. You can easily buy a ticket when you're there, simply by walking into any local travel agency when you get to Phnom Penh or asked the hotel to arrange for you, like we did. If you are thinking to arrange on your own, you may do so in Saigon by buying tickets from the Sinh Cafe, or and in Phnom Penh, try There are so many companies and buses, you'll always find a bus with tickets available, even booking the day before you travel. 

When the minivan has reached the bus centre destination, all our baggage is loaded under the bus. Anne had to make sure twice that our luggage were safely inside before she can relaxed.  The bus is air-conditioned without any toilet. For your information, most express buses in Malaysia has toilet at the most end, on the rear side which I got to use quite a lot during my boarding school and college years. The bus left the station promptly, refreshment towels are handed out together with mineral water and some snack. The bus staff collected our passports as I told you earlier. For those who is required to have a Vietnam visa must attached a visa money for necessary arrangement once we have reached the Vietnam border. 

About an hour later, we arrived at the river crossing by ferry which came as a surprise to us. I was initially wondering why the bus started their queues at the river side. The only possible thing is to collect another passenger. When asked whether I can get down for toilet stop, the bus driver gave a NO NO sign. Less than 5 minutes later, the bus was already on the ferry crossing over Mekong River. The ferry that we took was called as Neak Loeung.The busses are pretty modern with air con and have a conductor who rounds everyone up when the bus is ready to move on. Before we reached the border for control formalities, the driver stopped for a spot of lunch 30-45 mins. 

Local snacks selling at the stop

We first tried the sweet Vietnamese coffee at the stop, the only thing we can have as the rest are all on non-halal menu

The bus reaches the Cambodian border at Bavet shortly after. We were told to leave the bus, enters the terminal and wait until the staff made necessary arrangement with the Cambodian immigration. We just waited for the bus to cross and get up again for the next stop at Vietnam immigration check point seated not too far from there. Again, the bus staff has made prior arrangement with the immigration officer. We encountered a pleasant cross through unlike our experience while crossing at the Poipet border.

Cambodia border crossing plaza, neat, clean and tidy unlike at Poipet border

Vietnam borders crossing at this juncture is at Moc Bai seated about 200 yards from Cambodia border, Bavet. Passengers are required to take down their own luggage, entered the immigration building, queue for your name to be called out. By the time we approached the counter, the officer merely handed over our passport that are already being stamped. Very simple right? collect your passport when your names were called, and thereafter you may leave the building at the far door and rejoin the bus, which by now has pulled forward.  The bus leaves when everyone is back on board. We arrived in Saigon about 2 hours later.  

Cambodian border can be seen (200 yards) from Vietnam's border

Inside Vietnam Immigration centre in Moc Bai while on queue

I would like to share 4 photos below that I snapped from the of the bus, It's a view of the Cambodian country side (2 photos on the first row and 2 last photo was from the Vietnam side. As you can see the view in Cambodia landscape changes significantly, from urban ribbon development which has stretched almost all the way from Saigon to the border,  to far more rural scenes with rice fields and water buffalo.  The architecture also changes, from the Chinese-inspired buildings in Vietnam to temples and shrines more akin to those in Thailand. 

The bus arrived at De Tham Street (a backpacker area) in HCMC. We were in a rushed to check in as we were overly exhausted throughout the journey. In that state, we made mistake by taking the first offer from a con-man and the cab driver who associated with him. We paid 100 times more than what we paid for our fare from Phnom Penh to Saigon. It made us scared to take a cab until the next day, a local advised us to take a reliable metered taxi at a much much lower price. We learnt a tough lesson that day.

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