This complete guide to transport in Phnom Penh will have you navigating the Cambodian capital like a pro in no time. I cover all the options including Grab, metered taxis, tuk tuks, cyclos, private drivers, airport transfers, the airport train, public buses, the hop on hop off bus, river ferries, water taxis, hire cars, hiring a motorbike or scooter and finally bicycles. Read on for all the details…
Everything You Need To Know About Phnom Penh Transport
Phnom Penh is a sprawling municipality of ~1.5 million that covers 678 square kilometres and is a popular stop on most Cambodian backpacking trips. The city is population dense and there are ~5700 people per square kilometre. By comparison, my hometown of Sydney has just ~400 people per square kilometre and Australia as a whole has a tiny 3 people per square kilometre. Adding to the swell of humanity is the ~3.1 million tourists who visit Phnom Penh annually. It’s no surprise that moving that many people around on the daily is no easy feat. Phnom Penh traffic is crazy and a 2017 study deduced that there are several causes including a rapidly growing population, poor quality infrastructure and lack of adherence to traffic laws. In an effort to reduce some of the chaos, Phnom Penh has introduced more public transport options in the last few years. Even so, getting around Phnom Penh largely requires you to throw yourself at the mercy of the city’s jam-packed roads. Transport options in Phnom Penh include private transfers, ride shares, taxis, tuk tuks, public buses, ferries, water taxis, an airport train and vehicle hire. Each have their own pros, cons and price points and you are sure to find something to meet your needs.
Uber In Cambodia
Uber is the ride share app that I am most familiar with. The first time I used Uber was in Manila a few years ago. I now use Uber all time, but it’s not an option in Cambodia. Uber sold it’s SE Asian business to Grab in 2018 which impacted 8 countries including Cambodia. Once I got over the initial disappointment, I stared researching the other options to get around Phnom Penh.
Grab Phnom Penh
Grab Phnom Penh was a godsend during our stay. We typically walk everywhere, but our stay in Phnom Penh coincided with two days of torrential rain so we found ourselves riding more than we normally would. Given we only had three days in town, we didn’t have the luxury of waiting out the storm. Grab Phnom Penh saved us from a drenching on quite a few occasions and was incredibly good value. If you have never used Grab before, you will need to download the app and create an account with an email address and mobile phone number. A text will be sent to the mobile number you nominate to verify your identity. If you don’t have roaming on your phone, don’t add your overseas mobile number as you won’t be able to retrieve the code needed to activate your account. There are two ways around this, you can either set up the account on Grab before you leave home or get yourself a Cambodian Tourist SIM. We did the latter and it worked out a truck load cheaper than enabling roaming on our Aussie phone plans. I also recommend adding a credit card to your account to enable auto payments. This is particularly handy when using Grab in Phnom Penh as all prices are quoted in Cambodian Riels and most of the time the only cash we had was USD. Not having to think about the exchange rate and scratch around for cash was one less thing to worry about. As a first time Grab user it was hard not to compare the Grab app to the Uber app that I am familiar with. Like Uber, Grab prices are based on supply and demand and peak times are typically more expensive. This is often referred to as ‘surge pricing’. The price quoted is fixed and will only be adjusted for tolls and excess waiting, neither of which we experienced. There were two shortcomings with the Grab app that Uber offers. The first is that you can only search for rides when you are in a location that Grab services. I love that with Uber I can search for a ride anywhere in the world from my lounge room. I have this used many times to research the best way of getting around a city, but it also comes in handy when you need to book a ride for someone else who isn’t with you. For me, that is usually when one of my sons is out drinking and has run out of money to get home. Paying for their ride on my credit card is a lot more palatable that getting out of bed to go and pick them up! The second is that your Grab history doesn’t show a map like Uber does. It’s a little thing, but I do like the visual. Grab Phnom Penh often run promotions and you can see what’s current in your notifications tab. It takes about a week of being a member to start getting offered discounts so I suggest signing up a few days before your first ride to take advantage. It would have been really handy to know this before I started using the service! Grab also has a customer loyalty program and I have already attained gold membership just from the trips below. Grab Phnom Penh offers a number of vehicles and there is one to suit every need. Use Just Grab for cars and taxis, Grab Tuk Tuk for basic 1 – 3 seaters, Grab Remorque for traditional 1 – 3 seater Tuk Tuks, Grab Bike if you fancy jumping on the back of a two-wheeler and the final option is Grab SUV. We didn’t use Grab Bike while we were in Phnom Penh, but if you are tempted, read the fine print on your travel insurance to make sure you have cover as a pillion passenger and be aware that the rider will usually not supply a helmet for you. In my opinion, the hassle is not worth the savings. There are hundreds of drivers in Phnom Penh and we rarely had to wait more than a minute or two for a ride even in the rain. We didn’t use Grab to Phnom Penh Airport as I had already pre-booked our rides, but I couldn’t resist checking how much it would have cost. Turns out a Grab car would have only cost KHR 26,100 (~AUD$8,75) from Raffles Hotel Le Royal to the airport. That’s a bargain in anyone’s book. Grab was our preferred method of Phnom Penh transport and we took 10 trips in total. While we had some great trips with Grab Phnom Penh, others didn’t quite go to plan. Here is a run down of each of them and what I learned along the way …
Ride 1: Raffle Hotel Le Royal To Casablanca Restaurant (Just Grab KHR 14,700 ~AUD$5.15)
It was pouring rain on our first night in town. We opted for a Just Grab rather than a tuk tuk. It was more expensive, but we figured it was worth it. Our driver picked us up right on time. We jumped in and exchanged hellos, but the language barrier meant we didn’t chat much during the journey. He dropped us off exactly where the map stated Casablance was, but we couldn’t immediately see it and panicked a little. We needn’t have worried. We were in the right place and Casablanca is just a little tricky to find.
Ride 2: Casablanca Restaurant to Raffles Hotel Le Royal (Just Grab KHR 12,000 ~AUD$4.20)
It was still pouring rain and when our driver pulled up we saw him immediately, but he clearly didn’t see us and he took off again. He stopped a little way down the road and we ran in the rain to meet him. He was just about to pull away again when The Hubs managed to bang on the side of the car. He spoke no English and we speak no Khmer so communicating was interesting. Despite having the destination set in Grab, he seemed confused where to go and initially went two blocks in the wrong direction before circling back. He chose a different route than the way we came which involved some shady looking dark alleys. It was our first night in Phnom Penh and we hadn’t yet figured out the lay of the land so my spidey senses were on high alert. I put my phone down and scanned our surroundings keenly for signs of danger. Thankfully we popped back out onto the main road before I could get too worked up.
Ride 3: Raffles Hotel Le Royal to The Royal Palace (Grab Tuk Tuk KHR 5,200 ~AUD$1.80)
There was a break in the weather and we decided to head to the Royal Palace. Probably the easiest ride we took. Dropped us off at the park near the river and we simply walked across.
Ride 4: The Royal Palace to Tuol Sleng Genocide Musuem S21 (Grab Tuk Tuk – cancelled KHR 0)
This was a complete disaster. I started the app while we were still in the palace grounds thinking I was being efficient and we walked back across to the river before I confirmed the booking. Big mistake! The Grab App didn’t update our location as we moved and we couldn’t find our driver despite Grab saying he had arrived. He telephoned (another good reason to have a local SIM!), but despite a valiant effort on both sides, the language barrier was too great to describe our exact location. We did manage to get through that we were near the river. All the time our 5 minutes waiting time was ticking down. We finally saw a tuk tuk with the right number plate and jumped in, but he looked very confused about where to go despite having Grab open on his phone. I asked him repeatedly if we were in the right car, but it was lost in translation. Grab eventually timed out as I was asking him to start the ride. When Grab times out it automatically starts looking for another driver. Once again this was based on our original location inside the palace. I was frantically trying to stop it when the app froze. By the time I restarted it our second driver had arrived at the palace. And the phone rang again. I was hot, flustered and annoyed so of course I took it out on The Hubs. I cancelled the second trip as fast as I could fully prepared to pay a cancellation fee. I wasn’t charged for either cancelled trip, but Grab has recently introduced cancellation fees in Singapore and Malaysia so I expect Cambodia will follow suit. I needed a breather so we decided to walk for a bit while I calmed down. We asked a couple of road side tuk tuk drivers the cost along the way and all were charging $4. More than double what a Grab tuk tuk would cost.
Ride 5: The Pizza Company to Raffles Hotel Le Royal (Grab Tuk Tuk KHR 4,900 ~AUD$1.70)
After our disastrous attempt with ride 4, we walked along the river for a bit looking for a more distinctive location to book our next Grab from. With all the drama we had missed our window to visit the museum before it closed for lunch so we decided to head back to the hotel for a swim and try again in the afternoon. We spied a Pizza Company across the road. It was perfect. It was well-known, had some shade where we could stand and a little car park for the driver to pull into. I waited until we were on the doorstep before opening the App to make sure the location was spot on. The pick up was flawless. Lesson learned.
Ride 6: Raffles Hotel Le Royal to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Grab Tuk Tuk KHR 6,400 ~AUD$2.25)
By ride six, we had the system down pat and we enjoyed a blissfully uneventful ride.
Ride 7: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – Raffles Hotel Le Royal (Grab Tuk Tuk KHR 6,600 ~AUD2.30)
We stood literally on the doorstep of S21 when we booked our Grab back to central Phnom Penh. We found our driver easily and enjoyed another seamless ride.
Ride 8: Raffles Hotel Le Royal – Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Grab Tuk Tuk KHR 20,600 ~AUD$7.25)
Our longest trip yet. We did contemplate using a Just Grab instead of a Grab tuk tuk, but we decided to take a chance. While we were waiting for our driver to arrive, we got chatting to the doorman. When he found out where we were going he advised us to negotiate with the driver to wait and bring us back for the same price as rides are hard to come by at the killing fields. We asked if he would negotiate with the driver on our behalf and he agreed. They spoke in Khmer and the deal was done. Once we were on the way, we wondered whether the tuk tuk was the wisest move. The traffic was horrendous and we spent almost an hour breathing the fumes. We followed a garbage truck for a spell that was particularly delightful. When we arrived at the museum, we confirmed with our driver that he would wait for us and he nodded enthusiastically. We spent about an hour or so inside and he was nowhere to be found when we returned. We started up the Grab App, but unlike in central Phnom Penh there were no drivers available. We tried several times with no luck before approaching a driver waiting in the museum car park. We hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. After some haggling we agreed on USD$10 (~AUD$14.20), almost double what we paid with Grab.
Ride 9: Raffles Hotel Le Royal – Labaab Restaurant (Grab Tuk Tuk KHR 3,800 ~$AUD1.30)
The shortest and cheapest ride we took. Labaab Restaurant was literally minutes away from our hotel and on any other evening we would have walked, but it was bucketing down. Because the rain was so heavy we almost used Just Grab, but the Hubs convinced me we would stay dry with the plastic sides zippered closed. We did get a little damp, but it was far more water proof than I expected.
Ride 10: Labaab Restaurant – Raffles Hotel Le Royal (Grab Tuk Tuk KHR?)
The rain hadn’t eased any when we were done with dinner. My eyesight is not exactly 20/20 and I rarely wear my glasses. I had a tonne of trouble scanning the traffic on the busy road for the number plate of our driver. Luckily The Hubs can see a little better and he located him fairly easily. The seat was a little wet, which was hardly surprising given the insane amount of water falling from the sky. I have no idea how much this ride cost. I only found out as I was writing this article that for some reason my payment failed. My Grab Pay account has been suspended as a result and I need to contact customer care to figure out how to sort it out. The learning here for me is that I need to check the Grab notifications. This ride was on 24 September 2018 and the notification came through on 25 September 2018, but I didn’t see it until today (5 May 2019). I actually would have been on my Jetstar International flight home when I got the notification and checking the Grab App was the last thing on my mind when I landed. Grab assures me that I can still use my account if I pay in cash, but Grab Pay will be disabled until I sort this out. I’m really hoping that Grab paid my driver for the ride anyway and that I haven’t left the poor man out of pocket. The guilt is eating at me and I will get to the bottom of this first thing Monday.
Metered Taxis in Phnom Penh
After getting off to such a rocky start with Grab in Phnom Penh, we briefly contemplated switching to cabs. While there are a number of metered taxi companies in Phnom Penh that offer both cars and tuk tuks, it is almost impossible to hail one down from the street. Your hotel should be able to organise a taxi for you and there are a few dedicated ranks in the city, but the easiest way is probably through one of Cambodia’s Taxi Apps. Just Grab (see above) covers cars and taxis, but you are not guaranteed a taxi and even if your score one (as opposed to a private car) it won’t be on the meter as Grab’s prices are fixed. Pass App seems to be the most popular Taxi App in use in Phnom Penh at the moment. Unlike Grab, Pass App will only give you an estimate of what the metered fare will be. You can book both cars and tuk tuks on Pass App, but the real downfall for me was that all fares must be paid in cash to the driver. I preferred the convenience of paying by card automatically through Grab. Taxi’s at Phnom Penh international airport are not on the meter and the prices are fixed at USD$9, USD$12 and USD$15 depending on your destination. The line of taxis waiting at Phnom Penh International Airport is hard to miss, just grab the first in line. I have heard anecdotal stories of taxi drivers trying to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists by trying to negotiate a fare above the set price. Make sure you have this sorted before you leave the rank.
Tuk Tuk Around Phnom Penh
Tuk Tuks, or Remorques as they are officially known, are the most common form of transport in Phnom Penh. They litter kerbs on just about every city street and are particularly abundant near tourist attractions. We attempted to negotiate a decent price with a driver roadside twice and both times they quoted significantly more than booking with Grab and they wouldn’t budge on price. For this reason alone I don’t recommend negotiating with drivers on the street. I guess the odd exception could be out there, but I wasn’t interested in trying for third time lucky. Whether you decide to book your tuk tuk from the street or through an App you need to be aware of your belongings at all times. Keep your bag and smartphone hidden from view and well inside the cab. If you are travelling light and need a tuk tuk from Phnom Penh International Airport head to the transport information counter to organise a ride. Prices are fixed and the fare is USD$7, USD$9 or $USD12 depending on your destination.
Cyclos in Phnom Penh
I first laid eyes on a cyclo in Vietnam and they are a bit like a tuk tuk except the seat is in front of the driver and they are driven by pedal power. We hired a driver roadside in Hanoi for an hour to cycle us around the French Quarter and back to our hotel The Hanoi Glance. It was a relaxing way to see the city. For us anyway. I’m not sure how relaxing it was for our driver pedaling around in the heat! Cyclos were first introduced into Phnom Penh in 1936, but are becoming increasingly rare in the city. Cyclo drivers are among the poorest of Phnom Penh’s residents and The Cyclo Center was set up to provide assistance to the 1,400 registered members. The Cyclo Center will help you find a driver or you can book a cyclo tour with Khmer Architecture Tours.
Private Driver in Phnom Penh
Hiring a driver for a full day (or more) is a great option if you want to pack a lot of sight seeing into one day and like the convenience of having a driver on hand. It comes in particularly useful when you don’t know exactly how long you plan to be at each destination. I’ve hired private drivers in both Indonesia and Malaysia with great success at very reasonable prices. If this sounds like the option for you there are a couple of ways you can go about finding a driver. Many people rely on recommendations from their accommodation and allow them to handle the booking. This can work well when you have a few days to spare, but might not be so convenient if time is tight. If your are keen to firm up your plans before getting to Phnom Penh, try contacting your hotel ahead or check out A1 Car Rental, Paradise Travel or Cambodia Private Car Service. You can also book a private driver for point to point trips such as between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Phnom Penh Airport Transfers By Private Car
We flew into Phnom Penh from Siem Reap on Bassaka Air and landed around 1pm. For convenience sake we chose to book our private airport pick up ahead of time through Klook. We have used Klook many times in the past and have always found their transport options to be great value. We paid just USD$13 for the 45 minute journey from Phnom Penh International Airport to Raffles Hotel Le Royal. We paid the same on the return journey to catch our Qatar Airlines Business Class flight to Ho Chi Minh City. While the private transfers are pricier than some of the other Phnom Penh transport options, the convenience is worth it. Klook no longer appear to offer transfers from Phnom Penh Airport, but never fear, 12GO have you covered. I discovered 12GO a few months ago when I used them to book our bus/ferry from Ao Nang to Koh Samui. 12GO offer three classes of travel to/from Phnom Penh Airport; economy (USD$25), comfort (USD$45) and premium (USD$65). They also offer 8 seater vans for large groups (USD$40). Book your Phnom Penh airport transfer with 12GO here.
Phnom Penh Airport Train
If you don’t fancy battling the crazy Phnom Penh traffic to and from the airport, why not catch the train? The Airport Shuttle train launched in 2018 and makes a non-stop 30 minute journey from Phnom Penh International Airport to Phnom Penh Station several times a day for just USD$2.50 each way. Book your tickets here.
Phnom Penh Buses
China donated 98 buses to the city of Phnom Penh in 2017. Japan committed to donating a further 140 buses by 2020, which is good news for public transport in Phnom Penh. These modern air conditioned buses have made using public transport in Phnom Penh a much more viable option. There are now 13 routes that traverse the city and the easiest way to navigate the system is with the Stops Near Me App. The App is available in Khmer and English and lets you find nearby bus stops, view the live location of each bus, set an alert to let you know when the bus is within 200 and overview all the bus lines. The city bus is incredibly good value and for KHR 1,500 (~AUD$0.50) per journey irrespective of distance, it’s the cheapest way to get around Phnom Penh. Buses run fairly frequently and operate between 5.30am and 8.30pm. If you are keen to catch the city bus to the airport, line 3 will get you there. You can follow the city bus on Facebook to keep up to date.
Phnom Penh Hop On Hop Off Bus
So first up I should say this is not a traditional hop on hop off bus that you find in other major cities that has a set route and multiple buses running around so you can move at your own pace. This is a set tour of multiple locations with set times at each stop. The Phnom Penh hop on hop off bus currently offers three tours and entrance fees are paid on top.
Phnom Penh River Ferries
Before the water taxis came along the Phnom Penh River Ferries were the only way to get around Phnom Penh’s waterways. The ferries that traverse the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers are used predominantly by locals transporting goods, but you might see the odd curious tourist. A sunset cruise, BBQ dinner cruise or half day cruise may be a better option to experience the rivers of Phnom Penh.
Water Taxis Phnom Penh
The Phnom Penh water taxis are the latest addition to public transport in Phnom Penh. The route runs from Prek Phov to Takhmao along the Tonle Sap and Bassac Rivers. The bright blue hard to miss Phnom Penh water taxis come in various designs and some even have TV’s and western style toilets. The service was launched on 16 April 2018 and services were free until March 2019. Tickets are now just KHR 2000 a ride with monks, the disabled, students, older people, workers and civil servants still able to travel free. There are five stops along the route; Prek Phnov, Russey Keo, Old Market, Chaktomuk, and Chbar Ampov, two of which are in the city centre. A Facebook post in January by the Ministry of Public Works & Transport (MPWT) alluded to the fact that they have plans to expand the network to 15 stops, however more recent statements are less optimistic with signals that expansion will only occur if demand increases. The Phnom Penh water taxis make 9 runs a day between 5.30am – 6.30pm 7 days a week.
Phnom Penh Hire Cars
Hiring a car to drive yourself in Phnom Penh is expensive when hiring through traditional means. I use Airport Rentals all the time for my car hire needs as they usually have the best prices around. Avis was the only option when I did a search on Airport Rentals for Phnom Penh hire cars and the cheapest option was a whopping AUD$178 a day. It is possible to hire through local companies for a lot less (starting at ~USD$30 a day), but it is very much a case of buyer beware. With so many other Phnom Penh transport options, this was way down on my list. If you are considering hiring a car, be aware that you cannot drive in Cambodia on your foreign license. Even if you have an International Drivers License. You must obtain a Cambodian Drivers License. If all that is not enough to scare you off this just might.
Hiring A Motorbike in Phnom Penh
Scooters and/or motorbikes are commonly referred to as motos in Cambodia. It’s estimated there are 2.7 million motorbikes on the roads of Cambodia’s capital and it is the preferred method of transport in Phnom Penh for locals. The Hubs has been on two wheels for 30+ years and I trust him completely when I am on the back. We have hired scooters in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, so we are very comfortable negotiating the crazy SE Asian traffic. There are a number of common scams in Cambodia that tourists need to be aware of and some of those are perpetrated by unscrupulous hire establishments. Despite our frequent reliance on scooters through SE Asia, we chose not to hire in Phnom Penh largely because of the torrential rain that plagued our stay and the ease of using Grab in Phnom Penh. If you do decide to hire you need be aware of a few things. Riding a bike over 125cc in Cambodia requires a Cambodian license. This is not always checked when you hire, but if you are pulled over or are involved in an accident you could encounter issues. Secondly, many travel insurers will not cover you for any issues that occur while riding with basic cover. Cover-More does offer a motorcycle add-on for Australians travelling to Cambodia. Be aware that you will require this even if you only intend to be a pillion passenger. Thirdly, and most concerning for me, many operators require you to leave your passport as security. We have only been asked to do that once before (in Koh Samui) and against my better judgement I agreed. They demanded payment for a tiny scratch on the plastic (that I’m not convinced wasn’t there when we collected the bike) while holding The Hubs’ passport hostage. We did eventually get it back without paying, but we were flying out that night and there were a few tense moments. I don’t have any personal recommendations for you, but Lonely Planet has a few suggestions.
Phnom Penh Bicycle Hire
Bicycles are a common form of transport in Phnom Penh and throughout Cambodia. They can be a useful way of getting around if you are not going too far. I can’t ride a push bike very well so there was no way in hell I was planning to ride through Phnom Penh, but if you are keen there are a number of hire places in town. Many hotels and guesthouses have bicycles available for hire, but if you are struggling to find a decent bike try Vicious Cycles or Mad Monkey. If you don’t want to head out on your own, a Silk Island sunset cycle tour or a Mekong Island cycling tour may appeal.
Have you been to Phnom Penh? How did you get around when you visited? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below …
Until Next Time …
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Disclosure Statement: This review is not sponsored. I paid for all my transport in Phnom Penh in full. The information in this article is based on my own personal experiences and has not been influenced in any way by the brand(s) featured. This post may contain affiliate links which if clicked may earn me a small commission on purchases at no extra cost to you.