If you want to explore the places in Cambodia and wish to use public transport then taking a ‘BUS’ is the only option. There is no train service in Cambodia and airline service is reserved to the bigger and the more popular tourist destinations like Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, etc. In some places they have mini-buses, but most of their mini buses are cramped and ultra cheap options for the locals, who cannot afford much. If you have money and wish to travel in luxury, then you can hire a mini van or a car depending on your group size. But, if you are a budget traveler or a backpacker, then read on as you will find this bus information helpful.
1) The main bus service operators in Cambodia are Mekong Express, PP Sorya, Rith Mony, Paramount Express and Giant Ibis. There are other small operators, but they do not have country wide networks.
2) From the above list of bus operators, below is a ranking system based on my recent experience.
Rank 1: Mekong Express. The preferred bus operator in Cambodia. Very decent service. Air conditioned, snacks on board, toilet on board, television, wi-fi, guide service and decent bus condition. Charges one of the highest rates. Connects Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City.
Rank 2: Giant Ibis: The newest bus operator and hence their buses are in great condition. Air Conditioned, snacks on board, toilet on board, television, wi-fi and guide service like Mekong Express. Charges the highest price. Connects Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Kampot.
Rank 3: Sorya: One of the older bus operators who still operates a decent fleet of bus for very affordable fares. Air conditioned and television. Connects most of the country.
Rank 4: Rith Mony and Paramount. They are sister companies. Offer air conditioned coaches with television. AC is there, but does not work very well. Has an older fleet of buses, typically the tall buses. Charges moderately and connects the rest of the country.
3) When traveling in Cambodia by bus, try and get the seat in the front. Since the buses are old and have the engine in the back, the rear side of the buses get really hot during the day time. The glass panes are also thin and hence it gets warm during day journeys.
4) If you can, book directly at the bus station or booking counter. Else you will end up paying more money as commission. Generally it is $1 or $2 as commission, but I know people who have been charged more.
5) All the buses in Cambodia always leave on time, but never reach on time. You will see that the bus will keep going from place to place before it becomes fully occupied. This leads to slightly longer journeys. Accommodate for this slackness in your schedule. The traffic system and the road conditions in some places do not help.
6) Mekong Express and Giant Ibis have internet connectivity on their buses. The speed is not that great, but enough for checking email, looking for directions and finding a hotel. Basically some standard set of things a tourist looks for.
7) If you are doing long journeys, get some food and water packed for your trip else pay a high price for mediocre food at the rest stops.
8) If you prefer having a toilet on the bus, take the Mekong or the Giant Ibis. They maintain good sanitary conditions. Others who have toilet service leave a lot to be desired.
9) You might get tickets on the day of the journey, though to be on the safer side it is better to book at least a day in advance. If you have a seat or bus operator preference book at least a week in advance. Some buses on certain routes get booked real quick.
10) For short distances, some places have mini-buses. They are expensive, but they are fast.
11) While traveling by any bus, ensure that you have not left any valuable in your main backpack. This big backpack or suitcase will be in the luggage compartment and I have heard people saying that they have lost some of their stuff.
12) I prefer day trips to night journeys for 2 reasons. One, I get to see the people and the landscapes up close during the day and second, it is easier to negotiate with tuk tuk drivers when you arrive in the sun. If you arrive in the night or late hours, they take advantage of your situation and charge obscene prices.