I thoroughly researched all the local bus companies before travelling to Cambodia. I’d heard some horror stories about travelling by bus, but with no rail system you’re left with very little choice in Cambodia. As one expat there told me… “Don’t take ever take a minibus or car… The bigger the better.” And she’d know. She survived a horror crash that killed five other people.
Many mini bus drivers speed and take risks*. At least with a bus company, with reputations to uphold, there will be certain rules the drivers should abide by.
That doesn’t mean they will.
SIEM REAP TO BATTAMBANG
Our first bus journey was from Siem Reap to Battambang. Despite, or perhaps unaware of my research into Cambodia bus travel, TOF bought tickets from a local tour shop while I wasn’t around.
“I got a great deal,” he said waving the six tickets in my face. “I saved, like… five dollars.”
“What bus company?”
TOF checked the tickets. “Rith Mony.”
“Do you want us to die?”
Okay, I really didn’t have much to go on apart from a few blogs and bad reviews, but the general consensus was that while travelling in Cambodia, stay the hell away from Rith Mony buses. They have a history of bad accidents.
I snatched the tickets out of his hands and went downstairs to find the manager of our Siem Reap guesthouse. TOF followed behind, sure as always that he was right and I was wrong.
“My husband just bought us bus tickets to Battambang on Rith Mony.”
The look on the manager’s face told us all we need to know.
“But you have children,” he said. “Don’t you like them?” (He didn’t actually say this, but I’m sure he was thinking it.)
It was enough to turn TOF pale. “Surely Rith Mony isn’t that bad?”
“I would never travel with them,” said the manager. “But I did once buy a ticket for my mother-in-law…”
TOF grabbed the tickets and returned to the travel shop for a refund. He then got us tickets on the Mekong Express bus to Battambang.
In short, the bus was nice and clean, and the three-hour trip was easy with a surprisingly clean toilet stop half-way at the Mekong Express office in Sisophan. Most importantly, the driver was safe.
I would recommend Mekong Express to anyone.
Getting out of Battambang wasn’t quite as easy.
BATTAMBANG TO POIPET
We were catching a bus to the Cambodian/Thai border town of Poipet, where we were planning to cross on foot and catch a local train once in Thailand.
Mekong Express didn’t do this route so we were left with very little choice, and went with Capital Tours.
The journey was on two buses. The first from Battambang to Sisophan was fine… if a little “dancing with dengue.” The bus was ratty, and there were mozzies all through it. I passed the Deet around and kept an eye on the driver.
He stuck to the speed limit and didn’t take any risks. All good.
We changed buses at Sisophan at a bus station that would give Hades a run for its money. Yes there was a toilet. Yes it was foul. But hey it’s Cambodia.
Fortunately the next leg of the journey was only one hour, although perhaps it’s normally five hours. It’s difficult to tell, because our driver floored it and played chicken with oncoming traffic for much of the way. I had blaring Khmer music videos to take my attention away from possible head on collisions. The driver liked them too and kept watching them. Coming into Poipet the traffic got too heavy for him to drive like a maniac, try though he might, so the trip was over quickly anyway.
This was the type of driving I’d been dreading, but overall the drivers we had in Cambodia were safe.
My advice is if you’re ever in a situation where the driver is speeding or taking risks, ask him to stop. Apparently slipping them a tenner to drive carefully works well too.
* We did hire a minibus to take us on a day-trip from Siem Reap out to Banteay Srei, which takes about an hour. He had plenty of opportunity to speed, but didn’t.