From Saigon to Siem Reap (and back)

Finally home. It was a fantastic and exhausting trip. We haven’t even unpacked all our bags yet. I can’t wait to post the photos and write about the things we saw (yes, the temples, and oddly enough, a LOT of weddings while on the road), tasted, and got to do, but first, here’s aΒ post about traveling between the two cities.

When I was making arrangements for the Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Siem Reap trips, finding reliable overland transport choices available between the two cities was one of the things I spent a great deal of time on researching online.

The Sinh Tourist bus from Saigon at the Vietnam-Cambodia border

A friend who backpacked through Asia many years ago recommended Sihn Cafe (now known as Sinh Tourist). I also looked at the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree travel forum to find out what other travelers were recommending. In the end I decided to book tickets with the Sinh Tourist online, to go from Saigon to Siem Reap; and to book Mekong Expess (highly recommended by people in forums) when we got to Siem Reap for our trip back to Saigon. I hope this post can help folks planning to travel to these cities and trying to figure out how to go from Saigon to Siem Reap.

From Saigon to Siem Reap
Bus line: The Sinh Tourist (17 USD)

The bus company popular with backpackers since the early 1990s reportedly decided to change their name after many other tour companies started using “Sinh Cafe” in their names as well. Unlike Mekong Express, you can book your tickets with Sinh Tourist online.

Under the Open Bus category, I booked Saigon to Phnom Penh for 6:30 am (10 USD), then Phnom Penh to Siem Reap for 2 pm (7 USD) on the same day. (You may want to stay a day or two in Phnom Penh if a 12-14 hour bus trip in one day sounds like torture–because it can feel like it.) It takes around 6 hours to get to Cambodia’s capital from Saigon, so there was enough time to make it to the 2 pm Siem Reap-bound bus.

If you’re booking online, you have to do so three days before your preferred date.

After booking the tickets, Sinh Tourist emails the link to the eTicket, which you need to print out and bring with you to their office in Saigon.

On the day of departure for Cambodia, we were advised to be there by 6 am to check in. Line up at the check in counter and hand over our eTickets and passports. Afterward, you’ll be given your boarding pass and baggage tags, somebody will put the tags on your baggage and put them in the baggage compartment of the bus. Then you can enter the bus and take your designated seat. Once the bus leaves, the bus attendant will collect all the passports.

After about two hours, the bus will reach the Vietnam-Cambodia border. You will be asked to get off the bus and collect your baggage. Then you will go through immigration and baggage inspection. If you’re from the Philippines, Β Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore and Malaysia, you don’t need a visa to enter Cambodia. Otherwise, you need to get a visa (at the border) and to pay the 20 USD tourist visa fee.

An hour before reaching Phnom Penh, the bus goes on a ferry at Neak Loeung to cross the Mekong river.

We arrived at the Sinh Tourist PP office by 12:30 pm, with the trip being a little under 6 hours, with border stop. (We were not so lucky going back.)

Once at the Sinh office, bags were brought down and passengers heading to Siem Reap were asked to wait inside for the Siem Reap-bound bus to arrive. You can order lunch inside the office while you wait or just go next door to the nearby restaurant where the food is cheaper. When the bus arrives at 2 pm, you get your bags and load it again in the new bus.

Other than the 1 1/2 hour wait for the second bus (and the border crossing), Sinh Tourist bus took short 5 to 10-minute stops for toilet breaks. We arrived at Siem Reap a little past eight in the evening and the bus dropped off the passengers at the less chaotic Sinh Tourist office and hotel (and not at the Siem Reap bus station).

From Siem Reap to Saigon
Bus line: Mekong Express Limousine Bus (25 USD)

Although it was more expensive, we decided to take Mekong Express because some online travel guides and forums mentioned that this was the ‘best’ bus company and that you don’t need to change buses at Phnom Penh. This wasn’t the case.

You still have to change bus. You also need to go inside the ticketing office in PP, show your ticket, have them make a mark on it or something before being allowed to go inside the Saigon-bound bus. The only perk is that they don’t stay at the station for 1 1/2 hours like in Sinh Tourist. But they do have a couple of 20 minute restaurant stops, aside from the PP and border crossing stops. The toilets at the Mekong Express stops are a little more decent compared to the Sinh Tourist toilet stops.

Regarding toilets, one of the things going for Mekong Express is that they have a toilet inside the bus. So no, you won’t need to hold it until the next stop. They also have a bus attendant who sometimes acts like a tour guide, pointing out any historic sites you’ll be passing by.

Where else does the eight dollar difference go? You get a little box of snacks (a small savory bun or turnover and some baked sweet) for both trips. (Both Sinh and Mekong also give complimentary bottled water so no need to lug your own.) Mekong Express also has an option to be picked up from your hotel along with other passengers. We were scheduled to leave for 7:30 but after all the passenger pick-ups, we got to the bus station and on the bus at almost 8 am.

The trip was uneventful, save for the very un-express-like speed of the driver from Phnom Penh to Saigon. And just as luck would have it, the Vietnam police randomly picked our bus at the border after all the immigration procedures were done to inspect each and every passport of the passengers to make sure we had all the necessary stamps. We got to Saigon past 9 pm. The bus dropped all the passengers along Pham Ngu Lao Street in District 1. We couldn’t get on a cab and get to our hotel fast enough. Bath, bed, thankyouGod.

If I would have to travel between Saigon and Siem Reap again, I would probably stick to Sinh Tourist, just because it’s cheaper and based on this one trip, there’s really not much of a difference in terms of the the travel time. If you’re particular about toilets though, pick Mekong Express. Let me know if you have other suggestions or if you have any questions.

For more on Saigon and Siem Reap, here are some suggested reads:

What to eat in Saigon: From finding pho to the Lunch Lady
What to do in Saigon (besides eat)
Angkor Wat in the morning
Day 1, Beyond Angkor Wat: exploring the other temples of Angkor
Day 2 of Angkor temples
Where to stay in Siem Reap and cures for temple exhaustion

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42 thoughts on “From Saigon to Siem Reap (and back)

  1. Pingback: Angkor Wat in the morning « slouching somewhere

  2. Sounds fun. Took Ho Chi Minh overland in ’05, then incredible boat ride down the Mekong Delta to Phnom Penh, stopping at the most remote yet VERY official customs hut en route (one of our party had filled in all the pages on his passport – it was a little nervous for a time), then a short domestic flight to Siem Reap a few days later before the infamous “road of bones” car journey into Thailand.

    But all guided by tour operator, Intrepid, so less independently spirited than your trip. Enjoy!

    • Stopping at a remote customs hut–sounds exciting. If ever I decide to go back to Cambodia though I think I’ll save up for a plane ticket or try coming from Thailand, which is closer to Siem Reap, right? Getting too old for long bus rides.
      Curious about the “road of bones” car journey. Don’t think I read about that in your blog.

      • Yep, SR’s closer to Thailand. “Road of bones” is an massively cratered “road” which gets you better acquainted with your fellow backseat passengers than you might like, and isn’t to be done on a uneasy stomach. Leads to the Thailand border, from where the roads are much more sanitised. Don’t think I posted a blog on it but sure the journal entry exists somewhere. Sure a simple search will yield results from other travelogs.

    • Hi Jaaisurya, based on that single trip–the buses of Sinh Tourist provided a better ride (by only a small margin) compared to Mekong Express, although the Sinh Tourist bus from PP to SR had to make three quick stops as they kept checking something at the back. The highway from Saigon to PP is in good condition. Some parts of the highway of PP to SR were a bit bumpy (some potholes I think), but the entire stretch is cemented. We didn’t have to pass through any dirt roads. Hope that helps πŸ™‚

  3. You cannot book these buses online, indeed few of these operators even have a website. To buy a ticket, simply walk into any travel agency when you get to Phnom Penh or Saigon and ask for a bus ticket, or ask at your hotel or guest house. If you really, really insist on pre-booking a ticket before you get there, in Saigon try buying tickets from the Sinh Cafe, http://www.sinhcafe.com or http://www.deltaadventuretours.com , and in Phnom Penh, try http://www.asiavipa.com . There are so many companies and buses, you’ll always find a bus with tickets available, even booking the day before you travel. Email addresses for the operators either don’t exist or typically don’t work.

  4. Hi Slouching Somewhere! I’m glad you have tried Sinh Tourist and can surely help me with this concern. The SinhTourist website mentioned about the mandatory travel insurance when booking a bus trip from Vietnam to Cambodia. Does it mean that one cannot get a booking with them without a travel insurance?

    • Hi momsypop, as far as I remember, I didn’t purchase a travel insurance from the Sinh Tourist when I booked our bus tickets with them online… unless the insurance was already bundled into the price of the ticket? (I only paid for the price that was posted on the site) But I didn’t make any additional purchase for insurance with them. Travel safe! πŸ™‚

  5. Hiii! πŸ™‚ We’re planning to go to Ho Chi Mihn, from siem reap, then take a flight from ho chi mihn to bangkok. Is this all possible for 1 week? How long was the limousine bus from siem reap to ho chi mihn?

    • Hi! From Siem Reap to HCM, it took the bus around 13 hours (it can go from 12 to 14), so you’ll end up spending most the day in transit. A week (or six days if you subtract the bus travel day) to see both HCM and Bangkok? I think it’s doable. I tend to squeeze a lot of stuff in a few precious days of travel as well. Goodluck! πŸ™‚

  6. thanks for this! im going to same trip from Saigon to Siem Reap.. im trying to coordinate with the 2 bus companies.. and still looking for a private van/tour good for 5 pax only hehehehhe hope ill find one soon..

  7. hellO! your blog is really helpful, been spending a lot of time too researching and voila! your blog came up. We’re taking the same trip this june coming from HCM then to SR. My worry is that we leave on the 19th arrive early am of 20th maybe like 12:30 am, we’ll be staying for a 3d 2N then head to SR for another 3d 2N. we have to get back back to HCM on the 25th for our flight back home, do you think this is doable? and do we need to secure vietnam visa again? Thanks so much for taking the time to read and reply. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Astrid, when you get back to HCM on the 25th for your flight back home, I hope your flight is late in the evening. We got a 7:30 am bus ride from SR to HCM and got to HCM by 9 pm so if you’re flying that night, make sure you have enough time to get to the airport. Our itinerary was, we also flew in to HCM in the early morning (around 12:30 am too) and after getting some sleep, spent the rest of the day exploring the city then the following day we took the bus to SR and spent 4 days, 3 nights because the first and last days were spent just traveling on the bus then when we got back to HCM in the evening, we flew back the next day (in the late evening as well). Your itinerary is tighter but I think it can be done (granted your bus ride won’t hold any surprises). If you’re also Pinoy (or from Southeast Asia), there’s no need to secure a Vietnam (or Cambodia) visa. πŸ™‚ Thanks for dropping by!

      • hi, thanks for the reply. i think we’re going to do the same thing. take the early am bus rides and spend another night in hcm before heading home. i wish we could have stay longer so we can explore more but our job is at stake haha. oh, i also went to the website for the buses but haven’t figured out just yet how it works haha. anyway, thanks really. πŸ™‚

      • and one more thing, thanks to your blog. im going to antipolo to see the pinto museum and we’re also heading to baguio for panagbenga and definitely will include BENCAB musuem. πŸ™‚ and I’m pinoy, bicolano just like you/ πŸ™‚ from naga city. πŸ™‚

    • so glad to meet you too! πŸ™‚ btw, we decided to change our plan; instead of going back to saigon, we’ll fly out in SR instead so we can extend 1 more day. Is that possible? won’t we be breaking rules or something? haha. also, what is the exchange rate of riel & vietnamese dong to peso? and if we won’t be able to book online for the bus ride, its ok right? we can still buy tix when we arrive in vietnam. thanks sooo much, you just felt more reliable than the internet right now. πŸ˜‰

      • Well, good for you that you don’t have to endure another bus ride back, hehe, and that shouldn’t be a problem I think.

        Re exchange rate, most shops, restos and lodging in SR actually use US dollars, you’ll probably only get to use the Riel when buying something from a street vendor so only exchange a few dollars. And when you pay in dollars they give Riel as change so try not to pay with big US bills. A lot of 1s, 5s 10s and 20s I use this website as converter http://www.xe.com/ucc/

        As for the bus tickets from HCM to Phnom Penh and PP to SR, for Sinh Tourist you have to book your tickets I think at least 3 days before your desired date of departure (check their bus schedule here https://www.thesinhtourist.vn/openbus/vcvx/open-bus) but if you don’t want to book online there are a lot of other bus companies in HCM that travel to SR πŸ™‚

    • hi jeri, based on the research I did back then i didn’t see any buses traveling from Vietnam to Cambodia at night, I’m guessing because you need the border/visa inspection to be operational during office hours. Also, i know going from PP to SR or just within Cambodia there are overnight buses. hope that helps. let me know if you find any bus lines traveling from Vietnam to Cambodia at night. πŸ™‚

  8. Hi Mabel, your blog is so helpful as I am planning to do exact route of HC to SR and vise versa. I have one question though, so there will be no problem to re-entry Vietnam even if its just less than 30 days from your last exit?

    I guess not with Filipinos, right?

      • Sorry to bother again.
        I really think that’s the case. I just had a live chat though when I check Vietnam visa website and was told that I need a multiply entry visa if I will have to go back to Vietnam in less than 30 days. W
        eird isn’t it?

  9. Wait, what? Hmm, when we went to Cambodia via Vietnam back in 2011 we had to return to Vietnam after 4 days via the same bus route and just used the same passport with its temporary visa which they stamp on the border. So maybe they changed the procedures?

  10. Is it possible to do the HCMC – SR trip in as little as 24 hours? I only have four days and Im trying to squeeze everything in my allotted time. I need some opinions. Thanks a lot. Your blog has been very helpful with my planning.

    • Hey loona, glad to hear the blog has been helpful… now regarding your question, unfortunately I don’t think you can. If you’re taking the bus, the trip from HCMC starts in the morning and it takes about 12 hrs to get to SR, so you’ll reach Siem Reap in the evening and the temples are already closed by then as far as I remember.

  11. Hello again. My sister and i are planning to go to saigon from siem reap. Flights are quite high so im thiking of just going via bus. Is that possible? Have u done it before? If so can u share your experience? Like bus did u ride? How much and what time dis u leave? How many hours is the travel? Is it advisable? What should we prepare for etc? I will really appreciate a reply back! Thank u so much. P.s. Btw We are filipinos so visas are not needed in the border right?

      • Hi again mabel. Were going to saigon via cat mekong express from siem reap. Im a philippine passport holder. How does the visa process go for going out of siem reap and in of saigon! Pls take me into ur experience on that as thats my biggest worry. Thanks alot for the reply!

      • Hi Poldi, if you’re Filipino (or from any of the Southeast Asian countries) you don’t need a visa to enter Cambodia or Vietnam, there’s a different line for those not needing visas and as far as I remember they will just stamp your passport

      • Thank u for replying mabel. I booked online catmekong going to HCM from siem reap. I will ask my hotel reception to confirm and pick us up as i read they do pick up upon request. Can i just ask again, will they take care of the visa stamp or they will be stopping us to go to the immigration of both exiting cambodia and entering saigon. Did everything go well for u? Thanks again Mabel. Ur post on where to go and what to do in Saigon will be very helpful when we reach vietnam this week! ☺️

      • Do they pick u up at the hotel for free and all their vehicles come with a toilet? Thanks for the reply!

  12. Hi my sister and i are planning to go to saigon from siem reap via bus. Do u still recommend riding a bus? Im thinking of booking in cat mekong express’ website. Itll be nice to hear ur thoughts thank u so much!

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