The Amazingly Cheap and Uneventful Mekong Express
“Ready for our bus ride?”
“Yeah, but where’s the bus pick up?”
Mekong Express tl;dr
- $14 a person 1 way
- 6.5 Hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Phenh
- 42 Seater bus with WiFi, snacks, comfortable seats and air conditioning
When deciding how to get to Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh, you’re pretty limited when it comes to options:
Since the airfare tends to be around $150-$200 one way, it made more sense for us and it was way more cost efficient to take the bus at $14 a person.
Which Bus Company to Go With?
When deciding which bus to take, after reading multiple travel forum and threads on the options available, it seemed that the most popular among tourists tended to be the Mekong Express and Giant Ibis. Since the Mekong Express had more time options available and was a better fit for our schedule, we decided to go with them. Once decided we were easily able to purchase the tickets online via the Mekong Express website where you’ll also have the option to choose your seats.
Buy Your Ticket Conveniently Online
The online process is fairly simple and user friendly:
- Purchase your Mekong Express ticket
- They’ll email you a receipt of your booking
- Get your tickets
- Print it out
- Go to the office and have them print it out
- Bring ticket to Mekong Express bus pickup site
- Handover large checked luggage
- Get checked baggage tag
- Enter Mekong Express bus
- Find your seat
- Enjoy the ride
- Get off the bus at your destination
- Get your checked baggage
Always Do Your Due Diligence
The day before we were going to leave for Phnom Penh, we decided to scout out exactly where to go especially since our bus was leaving at 7 AM. This was a great idea and I highly recommend you do this before your bus.
F8T Tip | Scout out where to go because you don’t want to make assumptions about where you need to be and find out you were wrong!
When most Saignonese folks think of the bus, they may think of the major bus station which is close to the Mekong Express office BUT not the actual office itself. The office is located off a main street about 3 minutes or so away from our Duc Vuong Hotel. After finally finding the office, located in a nondescript office resembling any other travel agency (any other building actually), we went inside and were able to show the guy our confirmation. From there he printed out our tickets and suggested we arrive 15 minutes before the departure time.
F8T Tip | If you’re planning on walking to the station, a suggestion would be to time how long it takes to get from the office to your hotel so you can plan accordingly. For us it took 5 minutes so we knew if we left by 6:35 AM we should be fine.
Free Nearby Mekong Express Shuttle Pickup?
On the ticket, it does say that if you call one day before hand that they can do a free pickup for you. Unfortunately in our case, since it was Lunar New Year season and that our hotel was relatively close by, the Mekong Express operator flat out refused and asked us to walk to the bus pickup.
Finding the Mekong Express Bus Pickup
The morning of the trip, I highly suggest eating some breakfast before getting onto the bus. The route was slated to take 6.5 hours so if you have tendencies to want to eat or snack fairly often, bring your own or eat ahead. When we arrived at 6:45 AM, we were instructed to head across the street straight to the bus. Honestly, if you were to walk to this area and didn’t know that’s where the bus stop was located, I would have found the pickup spot hard to find. Essentially the buses just pull up next to the park off the street at non marked locations and you get on.
Get On the Mekong Express Bus
The entire area surrounding the bus is pretty much total a utter chaos without a definitive place for people to stand as many foreigners (ourselves included) are milling around trying to figure out where exactly to go and what to do. Eventually we noticed a Mekong Express luggage handler checking tickets and loading bags under the bus and handing the appropriate luggage ticket to the passenger (be sure to hold on to this for you’ll need it to pick up your luggage later, they really do check!). From there, we walked to the lady wearing a white shirt and black/blue trousers at the bus entrance where she checked us into the bus.
F8T Tip | I think the best seats on the bus are at the front because you don’t have anyone in front of you and you will have unobstructed view of the road.
Walking onto the bus the seats are clearly marked though they are fairly close together but overall comfortable. The seats go fairly far back so if unless you want the person in front of you to recline in your lap, it’s probably best to get one of the front seats.
Although the bus was set to depart at 7 AM, it didn’t end up leaving until 7:10 AM. Once the bus gets going, a nice added bonus is that they’ll hand out a box of snacks with one savory bun topped with a half quail egg and a piece of banana bread (surprisingly tasty) along with a bottle of water. After those are passed out, the bus attendant will then come around to check whether you have gone ahead with the E-Visa process or if you need to get one on the spot.
There’s Borders and Then THERE’s Borders
Since it was our first time in Cambodia, we decide to be prepared by getting the E-Visa beforehand. However, after checking with the bus attendant, we found out it was $35 per person whereas we paid $40 per person. She’ll also hand out the appropriate paperwork and then collect your passports so that when you arrive at the border, everything will be set to go.
The Vietnamese Border
2 hours into the trip, we arrived at our first border, the Vietnamese border where we’ll go through our first checks. Once we arrived, we were instructed to get off the bus and head into the facility. If you want to use the restroom then now is the time, have $1 on hand which you’ll have to exchange with one of the old ladies who are “money changers” but they give you a crappy rate in order to get some Cambodian Riel to hand to the bathroom attendant.
Normally $1 USD is roughly equal to $4000 Cambodian Riel, but knowing I was really hoping to use the restroom, they only gave me a fantastic gouging exchange rate $1500 Riel for my $1 USD (totally ripped me off but thank goodness it was only a single dollar). After using the restroom you are asked to go through a security check along with your belonging and wait in the next waiting area until your passport is called by name.
F8T Tip | Try to stand as close as you can to the immigration officers.
What’s Your Name?
They will be calling passports by name once they’re done and you’ll need to listen for yours so you can leave. This was a painful and chaotic part of the customs process and all in all took about 1 hour or more very similar to our experience with the Vietnamese Visa On Arrival at the airport.
After the first border, we all boarded the bus and drove for not even a minute to the Cambodian Border where we went through this whole tiresome process once again. Something to note is that when you get on the bus from the Vietnamese Border, the bus driver will collect your passports. Don’t be scared, it’s only because they want to prepare everything for the next border crossing.
The Fast, Improved Cambodian Border
When you arrive at the Cambodian border, you’ll once again shuffle off the bus and head inside the second immigration building, this time for Cambodia. Luckily this was a significantly more organized process and if you have an E-Visa:
- You can just walk to the E-Visa line
- Where a guy with a sign clearly differentiating him from the other officers
- He’ll confirm your info
- He’ll sign your E-Visa
- Turn around
- Another officer will take your fingerprints
- He will then give you your final stamp
- Then you are sent you on our way back to the bus
Luckily for us and our sanity, this only took a total of 20 minutes; a much easier process!
Finally in Cambodia
Back on the Mekong Express bus and on Cambodian soil, we were on our way again. Unfortunately not for long, a mere 5 minutes outside of the border, we stopped yet again but this time for a 30 minute rest stop where there were options to purchase food and another chance to use the bathroom.
Finally after that, we were on our way to Phnom Penh. Thinking about the drive, the bus driver drove borderline wrecklessly fast through rural streets and was constantly honking the whole time. If you’re thinking that you may want to sleep, bring some ear plugs and/or headphone along with an eye mask (it can get fairly bright inside the bus cabin).
Don’t Get Wet
One unexpected aspect of the trip was when we pulled up to a river along the way and the bus literally drove onto a barge. From there the barge transported the bus along with other tankers, buses and motorbikes and we were transported across the river before getting on our last leg of the trip.
We finally rolled into the Phnom Penh station at 2:40 PM, ultimately making the trip a whopping total of 7.5 hours. Thankfully this was our stop and we were able to get off and explore Phnom Penh.
Mekong Express Bus Trip Reflection
Overall I thought this trip was fairly painless (minus the time at the Vietnamese border) and easy. The bus attendant who spoke (Vietnamese, English and Cambodian) kept us well informed on what was happening throughout the trip. There was even WiFi on the bus (which was meh when it worked)!
With all that for only $14 USD, I’d say it was well worth it!