There are a number of different ways to get from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, by road or water. Possibly the most picturesque is to travel by fast boat – which takes 6 hours and costs $22 a person – which goes across the huge Tonle Sap lake between the cities, and down the Mekong for the final hour. We ignored that option because, as well as being too expensive, it involves lots of boat changes because of the low water levels and sandbanks exposed by the dry season. At the other end of the scale is doing the trip in the back of a pickup, which costs $2 each. There’s the bonus of lots of fresh air, and the company of friendly Cambodians – but its not a serious option for us!
The bus, which takes 7-8 hours, costs $6 each, and would have been a good option, had we not experienced Cambodia bus services before (on our first trip to Cambodia, when it took forever to get to Siem Reap, and we arrived at 11pm instead of 6pm!)
So in the end we decided to splash out the $40 for a taxi to take us the 280 kilometres. Not only was it faster (about 4 hours), but we got to stop when we wanted for photos – and we got the luxury of not having to share. We passed some of the shared taxis on the way, normal Toyota Camrys with 9 people packed inside. One was packed full of monks – with the elder monks sitting on the laps of the novices!
The journey was fairly uneventful – the landscape of this part of Cambodia is just one huge plain, dotted with palm trees and dust-stricken villages. The towns we travelled through were just bigger versions of the villages, covered in dust and full of low houses and workshops.
Arriving in Phnom Penh was a bit of a shock, with its huge bridge over the Mekong, wide boulevards, tall(er) buildings, and busy, busy traffic. It felt like a ‘normal’ city, except that we couldn’t help thinking that only 20 years ago, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, the city had been completely evacuated and abandoned, with everybody forcibly moved to the countryside.