Long distance bus rides are never pleasant. In Southeast Asia, some bus companies do not have comfortable seats or bus toilets are too small and smelly. However, it’s the most cost-effective way when backpacking the tri-countries, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. To be fair, of course, there are bus companies that operate with great service and provide better comfort.
From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we visited Ho Chi Minh for less than 48 hours and left the next day for Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Since we were on a budget trip and visited multiple countries, we chose a fairly priced bus ticket online. Mekong Express was our bus of choice. It has good reviews online and few schedule options. We purchased our bus ticket through Camboticket.com. The website offers different options of bus companies that operate around Indochina. Customer service is conveniently available through chat or email for inquiries and other concerns. An e-ticket will be sent to your email address as a confirmation of your seat reservation. Make sure to print it out or have it ready on your phone for inspection when on board.
We paid $15 for 6-7 hours of bus ride from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh. The bus was comfortable, with AC, small toilet, on board Wi-Fi, and TV. Before the bus departed, complimentary snacks were given. There were few stops on the way for toilet and food.
In the border, the bus attendant collected passenger’s passports for immigration stamp. All passengers were required to get off the bus to get an exit stamp from the Vietnamese Immigration. After exit stamps were obtained, passports were returned back to the passengers but were collected again for the Cambodian Immigration.
For visitors who need a visa to enter Cambodia, Cambodia offers Visa on Arrival but it would be best to secure a tourist visa prior. Visitors can also apply for an e-Visa online. Tourist visa cost $30 – $35 for business visa plus a service fee of $5. For Philippine passport holders, no fees required.
After obtaining the Cambodian visa, the bus proceeded to the immigration checkpoint for exit. Passports were provided back to tourists by immigration officers. Luggage needs to be scanned and then back to the bus.
Some Recognized Bus Companies
Virak Buntham – one of the bus companies that operate from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and vice versa. Although there were reports of not-so-pleasant experiences while traveling on their buses, complaints about delays and other negative feedback, it is one of the cheapest priced bus company available if you are on a tight budget. If you are a woman traveling alone, you should be more cautious especially if you are planning to take the night bus. There was once a reported sexual assault from one of their female customers. But most of its trips are pleasant with on board WiFi and comfortable seats. The company has a regular sized bus with a toilet and TV.
Mekong Express – operates daily from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Pen and to other major destinations in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. It has on board WiFi, toilet, complimentary snacks of blue pumpkin pastry, water, and cold towels. For comfort, their limousine buses have extras leg room. The bus company also offers insurance without customers’ liability.
Giant Ibis – this bus service is more expensive compared to other competing bus service companies; however a lot of travelers who would love to experience a roomy space, comfortable seat, better on board WiFi connection, great service, and good staff for convenience prefer to pay more than compromise their comfort.
1. Make sure to have enough sleep before the trip so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of Vietnam and Cambodia.
2. Stay hydrated and bring comfort food. You don’t want to get hungry in the middle of the 6-7 hours bus trip. But if you are okay with local food, the bus stops for lunch in one of the restaurants along the highway.
3. Take care of your belongings. I was too stupid to lose my extra shoes during the trip.
4. We got confused and panicked when the bus attendant took our passports. Personally, I would never entrust my passport to anyone. Then I realized after being anxious for almost an hour that it was the normal process. We got our passports from the attendant and forwarded to exit Vietnam. So don’t panic if a person who you can’t communicate with because he can’t speak English gets your passport, just make sure to keep an eye on him and bring a photocopy of your passport in case you need it.
5. Mekong bus usually plays Cambodian music and Chinese movies on DVD. Prepare something more interesting on your phone or tablet to kill time if you are not into sleeping while on the bus or if the bus entertainment is not your cup of tea. 😀