Phnom Penh is now home to a water ferry that launched on April 6, joining its regional neighbor Bangkok in running a public boat service that stops at various locations in and around the capital.
While Cambodia has a much smaller operation than the Thai setup – as of now, only three boats ferry passengers to four stops in Phnom Penh and nearby Takhmao City – that didn’t put a damper on passengers’ moods on a recent voyage.
“It is my first time to ride on the boat, I am excited and happy to get free rides,” said Noem Somary. She was waiting with her father and son at the Phsar Chas ferry stop, preparing for a multi-generational voyage on the country’s first public water taxi.
With nowhere in particular to go, Somary said she planned to ride the boat to its endpoint and then head back into the city over land.
“I will see how comfortable the boat service is, and then I will return on the city bus to see the differences,” she said.
Other passengers were so impressed with the boats that they had come back for a second time.
Ros Saream rode on one of the boats several days after the service launched, and was now bringing four relatives to join her on another ride to the southernmost stop, Kandal province’s Takhmao City.
“It is my second time, and I am so happy to ride it, so I brought my relatives to see the view and enjoy with me,” Saream said. “I like to ride the boat. Even if it begins to charge money, I would still be happy to ride it.”
The boats, which are equipped with seats and air conditioners, are free to ride for now, but the ministry and the operating company, Phnom Penh Autonomous Port, plan to begin charging for the service in the future. The plan is to eventually extend the service to include 15 stops, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT).
The ferry service joins other public transportation options, including the city’s expanding public bus service, as well as a recently launched airport train.
Cheng Heng Try greets passengers before they load onto the boat, smiling in his white uniform.
In the days since the service opened, Heng Try has noticed passengers are eager to try out the boat, and the vessels – which have a capacity of about 50 people – can fill up during the weekend.
“Most of the passengers are just trying it out, but we also have some workers who ride as well,” he said, taking short breaks to speak to a reporter in between fielding calls about the next boat’s estimated arrival time.
“Passengers like to compare between the city bus and boat, and they want to know about the service and the speed of the boat,” he said.
Heng Try also noted that some passengers seemed concerned about the safety of the vessels, and asked pointed questions about security on the water.
“We explain our boat is safe and meets technical standards,” he said. “However, I will bring all their concerns to a meeting to find out how to ensure trust and confidence on rides.”
Mao Leng Heng wasn’t concerned about whether the boat could survive the current of the Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers. He sat along the riverbank in the hot sun with a friend, both sweating as they waited for the next ferry to arrive.
The senior in high school said he wanted to ride to all four stops – Russey Keo, Phsar Chas, Chaktomuk and Takhmao City – to get the full ferry experience.
“I am so happy that we now have options for transportation – not only the city bus,” he said. “I am so proud of Cambodia. I am going to spend my day trying all the terminals, and I plan to try the airport train as well.”