When trying to go from Vietnam to Cambodia – specifically, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to Phnom Penh – we struggled to find the best way to do it. Should we go by bus? Fly? What’s the visa situation? We want to help you out when navigating this process. In this post, we’ll explain how we went from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh by bus fairly painlessly.
Getting the Visa
When you fly into Cambodia, the visa process is straightforward. When you take a bus across the border, however, the visa situation is a bit more complicated. We read that sometimes they don’t accept e-visas when crossing the Vietnam/Cambodia border by bus, so we decided not to risk it.
In addition, if you don’t have a visa in advance, the bus companies will charge you extra to get a visa (basically just because they can). The bus company we took (Mekong Express) charges $5 extra per visa, so since Pete and I had no plans in Ho Chi Minh City, we decided to get our Cambodia visa while we were there and save $10.
Ringing the Wrong Bell
After a quick Google search, we walked to what we thought was the Cambodian Embassy, or as it says in Google maps, “Cambodia Consulate General.” When we arrived, it looked pretty legit with a placard and huge doors. I looked around and hesitantly rang the doorbell. Immediately, the door opened and two shirtless men started running towards us, yelling something we couldn’t understand. When we said we wanted visas, the larger-bellied man took my phone and showed us on the map where we needed to go.
Directions (to the Right Place)
Pete and I are still confused about what the “Cambodia Consulate General” place is, but with the help of the men who were there, we eventually found the correct place. Here’s where it is (the blue dot):
If you’re at the Cambodia Consulate General, continue down the one-way street (Dien Bien Phu, pictured above) for 3 blocks and take a right (onto Phung Khac Khoan). When you see two kiosks with armed guards, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
When we eventually got to the correct place, the process was very simple. We filled out a quick form, gave them a passport photo of each of us, paid $30 each, and
hesitantly left our passports with the man. He gave us a note that told us when to return to pick up our passports with our new visas. Sure enough, we showed up at our appointment time, he gave us our passports, and that was it! Easy breezy.
To get your Cambodia visa in Ho Chi Minh City, follow the directions above (to find the correct building) and bring: $30 (USD) each, your passports, and a passport picture of yourself. You’ll save $5 each and feel like a boss when you’re crossing the border. However, it’s a lot of effort, so if you don’t have the time or the patience, just fork over the extra cash.
Which Bus to Take
Before buying a ticket, we did some quick research on the best bus to take from Vietnam to Cambodia. We learned through experience it’s important to research this kind of thing. We found that Mekong Express got great reviews across the board, so our decision was made. They offer 2 types of buses from HCMC to Phnom Penh: a “limousine” minibus for $15 and a coach bus for $14.
Taking the Mekong Express “VIP” minibus seemed like a no-brainer; for the extra $1, you get a shorter, more comfortable journey. It’s shorter because it leaves at 6:30am, so there’s less traffic while crossing the border and less people in the group you have to wait for. Here’s the catch: you need to purchase your ticket for the limousine bus at least 2 days in advance. Try to purchase earlier because the secret is out about this glorified minibus – seats get booked fast!
Mekong Express Review
We didn’t know then what we know now, so we ended up taking the Mekong Express coach (regular) bus at 7am. This bus was great. It was clean and had a bathroom and air conditioning. They gave us free waters and even a small breakfast of pastries. We found this company to be a well-oiled system. We had seat assignments that were actually adhered to; they tagged our backpacks, put them under the bus and checked them against our stubs when we got off the bus. Bonus: they also played Jurassic World with the subtitles on, which made the time fly by!
If Mekong Express is sold out, another reputable alternative is Sapaco Tourist. From what we read, the only difference in companies is they probably won’t talk you through the whole process like Mekong Express does, but if you keep reading this post, you’ll know what to expect 🙂
How to Buy Tickets
You can buy Mekong Express tickets online in advance, which we recommend doing. If you want to buy your tickets online, you need to buy them at least 2 days in advance. It is not possible to buy them online 1 day in advance.
You can also buy them from their office in HCMC, which is what we did. Mekong Express’s office was a little tough to find. Despite being on Google maps (Mekong Express Limousine Bus Ho Chi Minh), they didn’t have an obvious sign. This street was very overwhelming; it was clogged with a million other companies all selling similar things. Hold out for Mekong, though; the experience is worth it. Trust Google, look carefully at the overhead signs and you’ll find it eventually.
If you can’t buy tickets with Mekong Express, try Sapaco Tourist. They have a much more obvious office on the same street as Mekong Express, but at the corner across the street.
We highly recommend Mekong Express as a reliable company known for their good service. A reputable alternative is Sapaco Tourist. Buy tickets online or at their office.
Crossing the Border: What to Expect
The man in charge on our bus (I’ll call him our guide) spoke great English. He kept us updated on what was going on the entire journey so we never felt scared or confused. If you don’t get so lucky, here’s the process:
When you board the bus, our guide handed out arrival and departure sheets. Everyone needs to fill these out, regardless of if you have a visa or not. As we got closer to the border, our guide collected our passports. We got off at the Vietnam border, where they did a
super lame security check on our hand bags (our backpacks stayed under the bus for the whole journey). Our guide stood in the front and called our names one by one to give us our passports. When our names were called, we retrieved our passports, stood in line & got them stamped.
We boarded the bus again and drove for what felt like less than a minute to the Cambodia border. We got off the bus again. This is the part where Pete and I felt like bosses for having our visas already. Everyone else had to sit in a side-room and fill out their visa applications. The people who already had visas got to shoot right through.
Two minutes later, we were back on the bus waiting for everyone else to go through. We drove for about 15 more minutes to stop for some food and a bathroom break. And that’s it! All in all, it was a 6 hour journey.
Side note: many people on our bus were going all the way to Siem Reap. Those people also got off the bus in Phnom Penh and had to board another bus; the driver said they’d continue for another 6 hours.
Did you find this guide helpful? Have questions? Comment below!