Getting Around Phnom Penh
January 1, 1970
by Joshua Bottorff
Navigating the City
Transportation is an important topic when traveling. We all know the struggles of finding that perfect Uber driver in a crowded city. Well, Phnom Penh is no different. Well, maybe a little different. Getting from point A to point B can be a daunting task, that is overwhelming to the fresh-faced westerner. At times you may feel like you are in the live-action game of Frogger. The streets are crowded with vendors and businesses flowing out into the curb. Oh yeah, not to mention the thousands of scooters with four grown men stacked on them, or an entire cart’s worth of eggs, that weave between cars and pedestrians. Street signs and traffic lights are approached as more of a suggestion than an actual rule, and in places driving into oncoming traffic is a common practice. Don’t let those challenges discourage you. There are always Tuk Tuk drivers ready and willing to plunge into the wild jungle of the Cambodian traffic scene, and you should let them, for good reason. They have watched the city grow and traversed the Kingdom of Wonder for years. These guys are pros. They make merging into traffic look like a work of art.
There are a few ways to actually hail one of these artists of the tar-top. First, let’s talk about the notorious Tuk Tuk drivers. You will find them on almost every corner near high foot-traffic areas. Seriously, they are everywhere. Always eager to strap on that helmet and take you for a spin. This is not your cheapest option, but most likely, the more convenient one. You will need to use that skill of persuasion to haggle down to a reasonable price. This is great practice for when you visit any of the local markets to get that not so unique T-shirt that says I traveled to CAMBODIA (We may own two or three of those ourselves). Tuk-tuk drivers can operate like taxis, or you can hire a driver for a day to take you too and from your guesthouse or hotel. Great tuk-tuk drivers will even be able to help you by translating, giving information about the city, and offering streetwise safety tips. Speaking of safety, it’s always good practice to keep those bags and phones close when riding around the city. Cambodia is no stranger to crimes of opportunity, so make sure you are being vigilant.
Passapp / Rickshaw
Another option is a new player on the scene; PassApp. This Uber-like App allows users to order a rickshaw, car, or SUV and travel around while enjoying some luxury. Some even come with little fans to keep you feeling fresh. This app and a few others like it (UGo711 for example) are available on the app store or google play for download. This is our preferred mode of travel. You have a set pick up rate of 3000 Riel, about 75 cents USD, and then the price will be determined by how far you travel. After sitting in one for over an hour we still have never paid over $3.00 USD, so it’s very affordable. It also takes away the hassle of haggling, which can be a challenge to those who don’t speak Khmer. The app lets you input a destination. A downfall of this is that some drivers are unfamiliar with using the map functions to navigate, and you may need to direct them or give nearby landmarks. A great test of your geography smarts!
Moto / Scooter
Now, for you thrill seekers who want to get an authentic Phnom Penh experience you can hop on a scooter and zoom around like a local. You’ll have two options. Firstly, there are moto rental shops all over the city. A swift consultation with a map and you will find that a rental place is likely only a few blocks away. Be prepared to fork over your passport and a “hefty” $5.00 for the day. But then you are on your way to scoot like a local. This option will require you to be in charge of your own travel, so know where you are going! You’ll also want to make sure you’re familiar with two-wheeled travel, and the flow of vehicles in the city. We encourage you to keep some cash on you in case you get pulled over for any traffic violations as well. Secondly, if you’re not too keen on driving your own scooter, you can leave it to the locals. Similar to waving down a tuk-tuk, scooter drivers are available in popular areas like the riverfront, and near the markets. You can hop on the back in ones or twos, and zip around easily. This is likely the quickest way to get around the city. This is a great way to get around, especially for solo travelers. We would encourage you to ask your driver for a helmet, anyone who offers you a ride should be willing to provide you one. Safety is always important, it would be a terrible vacation if all you saw was Phnom Penh Royal Hospital.
The city does have a car and a bus system, but these are not recommended. Gridlock can stop up the city for hours, and if you’re in a large vehicle you will be moving the slowest. The smallness of scooters, tuk-tuks, and the PassApp rickshaws allow for easier movement through the traffic. We just can’t get behind the cars and busses, even if they do have the promise of air conditioning. It’s not worth the time.
So even though you might feel overwhelmed when you first step off of that plane or bus, give it some time and you will find the flow. The traffic in Cambodia will forever be a running joke between you and your friends. Your social media crowd will love to hear about your death-defying moto ride. They will adore your pictures of scooters strapped on the back of other scooters or the 40 live chickens tied to a moto zipping towards the market. One of our favorite things about Phnom Penh is the fun things you can spot on the road. Every time we go out we see something new and exciting. The city is constantly growing, changing, and developing. So while the major sites are definitely worth a visit, we find that the journey is often an equally wonderful part of the experience.