The fast boat services from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and vice versa only runs when water levels are high enough (roughly from July till March).
These fast boat services have been on and off over the last few years, so we’ll see how long this restarted service will last.
Anyway, should you consider this option for travelling between Cambodia’s capital and the temples of Angkor?
To be honest, we would say: NO.
10 reasons to avoid the fast boats on the Tonle Sap
Here are a few (but probably not all) reasons why you should avoid the fast boat service between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Ticket price is steep: US$35 for foreigners, US$25 for Cambodians
Safety is questionable (1). Staff is not trained to handle emergency situations and apparently don’t even know how to swim.
Safety is questionable (2). The windows are bolted shut and there are only two small exits, one at the front, one at the back. That’s why some people call these fast boats floating coffins if something badly goes wrong on open water.
Sitting inside means combatting freezing cold conditions as the air conditioner is set to -10 degrees (or so it feels).
Sitting inside means you need good (and we mean really good) earplugs to shut out the sound of the blaring television playing karaoke dvd’s.
Sitting on top – apart from not being safe – will give you guaranteed sunburn. Even the strongest sun blocks won’t prevent that.
The trip takes five hours; about the same time as buses running between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Apart from the floating villages near Siem Reap, there is absolutely nothing to see along the way, except water, water and water.
These boats have a history of breaking down, which means waiting for another boat coming from Siem Reap or Phnom Penh (whichever is closer) to pick you up. Needless to say, that makes this ‘fast’ trip not so fast.
Local fisherman and their livestock are disturbed by these fast boats. There have been accidents whereby small fishing boats were run over by fast boats.
All in all, we’d say you should avoid these fast boats: it’s an uncomfortable and way overpriced tourist trap, there is no fun factor and it is definitely not the safest option. There are better and cheaper ways from/to Phnom Penh/Siem Reap.
Buses by various operators run at various times throughout the day from 06:30 until about 14:00. The journey time is around 6 hours, fare around $12. Most buses are quite comfortable with a toilet on board and refreshments. There is also a lot more to see along the way, compared to the Phnom Penh – Siem Reap boat service.
There is also a night bus service, but we strongly advise against traveling at night, given the danger level on the roads of Cambodia at night. There have been many accidents with night buses, most probably caused by sleepy drivers.
Oh yes, there is a nice possibility to go by boat to Siem Reap, but not from Phnom Penh. If you have time, travel to Battambang and take the slow boat towards Siem Reap. The journey takes 8-10 hours but it is undoubtedly one of the most scenic boat trips you can make in Cambodia. Since you go downstream, it is better to do the trip from Battambang to Siem Reap than the other way around.
There are three airlines offering domestic flights in Cambodia. Due to the competition, air fares have come down in recent years. Cambodia Angkor Air (operated by Vietnam Airlines) flies between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Bassaka Air domestically only flies between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Internationally, they fly to and from Macau. Why, you may ask. Well, to bring gamblers to the Kingdom, the airline is partly owned by Naga Casino.
The third airline is Cambodia Bayon Airlines. Be warned though: they fly with unreliable and by many countries considered unsafe Chinese made MA60 turboprop planes. The company flies between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. The flight from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville goes via Siem Reap and takes almost 3 hours(!).