It seems wherever I go in the world, I find myself traveling on buses, and Cambodia was no exception. No matter the country, buses roll down the road, and they’re usually fit in with a budget-traveler mindset [read: they’re cheap].
Phnom Penh is the least expensive airport to fly into when arriving in Cambodia, but Phnom Penh is terrible. Jokes! Kinda. It’s true, my brief experience of Phnom Penh made it clear that this bustling hub of activity and noise was not my cup of tea after my Montana mountains, but that need not be the case for everyone. Still, the beautiful haven of Siem Reap is only about 200 miles (320 kilometers for all those from enlightened, metric nations) away from the capitol, and the choices of how to get there are pretty limitless: local bus, low-cost tourist bus, boat, moto, bike, car, you could probably walk, flight, jet pack—I don’t know.
Limited by time, money, size of our bags, and desperate unwavering need for air conditioning and power outlets (I had a lot of work to do when we arrived in Cambodia. One day, I will learn either effective time management or the ability to turn down projects. But until then, I will continue to arrive in new countries with 40 hours of work to do in the first week on the ground), I settled on Giant Ibis, a decision spurred by articles and reviews like this.
Here’s the rundown of the Giant Ibis experience from purchase to arrival. May these tips and tidbits satisfy the desire within you (as is within me) to know what to expect when you’re completely out of your element and a little nervous for a new country.
About Giant Ibis
Giant Ibis is a relatively new company on the Cambodian bus scene (does that count as a scene? I don’t know), and it is classified as a luxury bus company. This because of the aforementioned A/C and outlets, as well as special safety restrictions for all of their routes—more on that later.
I bought tickets a few weeks in advance online. We were the first on the bus to book, by far, and I actually had the opportunity to choose the front two seats with the big view out the window. Aaaaaaand then I panicked, thinking I’d chosen the wrong day or route, and went back to check. When I got back to the seat selection screen, the seats showed as booked. No! That was me, dammit. Oh well, every other seat on the bus was available, so we still got two seats together.
Might I add, when a $15 bus ticket is considered the “luxury” option, sign me up for luxury!
Arranging for Pickup
When I bought the tickets online, the web form allowed me to select from a list of hotels and guest houses in Phnom Penh where the bus company offers complimentary pick up. I chose our hotel, but immediately upon arrival at the Diamond Palace II made the boyfriend ask the front desk staff (talking to people yourself is hard, okay?) if that kind of pickup was normal, and if they would actually come get us and not just drive off into the sunset, cackling about how they stole our money. No, the hotel assured us. They would be there.
The next morning, we arrived five minutes late to be early for the hour in advance that we had to be there to wait for the shuttle to the bus (huh?). In another panic, I made the bf go ask if they had already come to get us and we had missed them. The very accommodating front desk person called the bus company and asked. Nope, they were on their way. They arrived within that hour window, and we were the last pickup in our shuttle, a 6-person mini bus.
When we arrived at the “station,” which was the street in front of another hotel where the big bus was parked, we unloaded and walked over to the bus, gave our bags to the driver to put in the hold, and then got on. I don’t think anyone actually properly checked our tickets, but I did have them printed, which was good to reference for the assigned seat numbers.
If you are late, don’t worry. Apparently, even if you don’t get up in time or miss your shuttle, they will still wait for you to arrive. I know this because our bus was an hour late leaving the station, waiting for passengers who had gotten lost or didn’t wake up for the shuttle. *As a side note, be sure to tell your hotel reception that you are waiting for the pickup. It seems that some passengers neglected to do this, and the hotel told the bus company employees that the passengers weren’t there.
I know all of this from eavesdropping on the people sitting behind me. I don’t know if all of the Giant Ibis routes have such interesting conversations to overhear, but this one certainly did.
And finally we were under way!
I tethered my computer with my phone for most of the trip because we had gotten an absurd amount of data for how long we were staying in Cambodia anyway. However, the buses do come with wifi! The wifi uses cell signal, so when signal dips the wifi does as well.
The true reason that I did not use the bus wifi initially was a simple one: Giant Ibis doesn’t give out the password unless you ask the bus steward. I was tired and lazy, so I used my own interwebz until someone behind me popped the question.
A/C definitely worked! Thank goodness, and quite a comfortable temperature. One day, I will travel on a local bus, with no air con and a bunch of chickens riding shotgun, and I look forward to that day. But for now, I melt in the heat, and so does my laptop.
The steward passes out a bottle of water and a pastry to all of the passengers after boarding, very luxurious.
The seats made my butt hurt. But I think that was more about my butt than about the seat. Also, be prepared for no bathrooms on the bus, but several rest stops for food and toilets meant this was not a problem for me. As Giant Ibis points out, this helps with the smell on board.
I spent most of the trip working, but I so wish I had been able to sit and stare out the window. The route between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap passes through the Cambodian countryside, which after our hectic arrival to Phnom Penh was a soothing scenic introduction into the country.
As the bus drove through fields and rice paddies and passed roadside stands selling cooked critters that looked suspiciously like dogs and cats, half a dozen other full-size buses whizzed past us. This was just fine with me, since Giant Ibis requires its drivers to stick to a maximum speed of something reasonable for safety, and our bus seemed to be doing a bit better than these competitors overall.
Direct quote from the Giant Ibis website: “Our drivers are trained to obey the speed limits and be conscious of dangerous passing and excessive honking.”
Aside from the beautiful fact that we did not crash, we also continued moving down the road. A number of the buses that had passed us initially went by with big clouds of smoke pouring out from under the hood, and we went around at least one of them broken down on the side of the road. I was pretty happy to be in a Giant Ibis bus.
The trip takes about five and a half hours. Obviously we were running behind schedule as a result of our delayed departure, so we arrived later as well, but it’s not like we had places to be. My only concern was that the tuk tuk driver sent to take us to our Siem Reap hotel might not know to wait for us, but he was there when we arrived, so all good.
Arrival in Siem Reap
The bus arrives a little outside of the center of town in Siem Reap. The parking lot is a mud-puddle-covered expanse that passengers navigate to get to the covered area where company employees unload hold luggage.
From there, we headed outside, where a swarm of tuk tuk and taxi drivers waited to pounce. Our hotel’s driver stood there holding a sign with my name on it, leading us quickly away to our Siem Reap Paradise down the red dirt roads.
Riding with Giant Ibis was on-par (no, definitely, definitely better) than any bus company I’ve traveled with in the United States (I’m looking at you, Greyhound). For the bladder deficient, be warned. But the three stops were well-spaced and more than enough for me. I would definitely like to try the local bus option at some point, but for the overwhelmed and heat-phobic traveler (me me me!), Giant Ibis is a beautiful way to ease into a beautiful country.
- Hi all: this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a percent commission if you make a purchase using this link. If you’re not comfortable with that, hakuna matata and just search Diamond Palace II on any travel booking site. It was a good place: there were cats. I paid to stay there, and I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t like it (but I mean, kittens. C’mon).