Competition Drives Down Fast Boat Prices

Competition is driving down the prices of fast boats from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, as companies and the government try to bring some order to the business.

There are currently seven speed-boat companies ferrying tourists from the capital to Siem Reap province and back, and all of them have slashed prices.

Tickets for Cambodians at Soon Lee Express have dropped from about $15 to about $7.60, and down to $10 from $25 for foreigners, one agent said.

Hoping to prevent a price war, the Ministry of Public Works met with company representatives last week to work out a travel timetable, ministry Sec­retary of State Ahmad Yahya said.

But one company owner has argued that the laws of the market ought to be allowed to operate.

“Ticket prices are not fixed. The price will go up and down de­pending on the competition,” Mittapheap Express owner Ly Ngoun said.

Mittapheap Express is the latest company to open a Phnom Penh-Siem Reap run. Its two 105-seat boats come from Malaysia, along with $400,000 in start-up capital, Ly Ngoun said.

With the changing prices, 95 percent of Mittapheap’s customers are foreigners, Ly Ngoun said. Many Cambodians still can’t afford the trip, so increasing the rates will only make things worse, he said.

“There are a lot of local passengers who need to take the boat, but because the ticket prices are too high, they don’t have the chance,” Ly Ngoun said.

The long-term news for boat operators is bleak, however, Sky Tour Agency Manager Meng Buntha said. As the country’s roads continue to improve, he said, more and more tourists will take advantage of buses, which cost $4 to $5 per person.

One company, however, has said it will not let the competition affect it any longer. Taking a “luxurious” ride on the new Mekong Express costs $30 per person until Aug 31, manager Chann Sovann said. That’s down from the original price of $55 per ticket.

The Mekong Express was doing reasonable business Friday on a trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Passengers mostly included tour groups or locals on business.

The cost-cutting of the cheaper boats may actually be scaring away potential passengers, budget travelers on the boat said.

Three traveling British students said they had decided to pay the extra money for the Mekong Express because they had heard “horror stories” of the conditions on smaller boats, where passengers either perch on the roof or suffer the loud roar of engines below deck.

In the end, it was a question of safety, said Julie Hurley, 21. She paid $28 for a Mekong Express ticket, instead of $10 for a ride on a smaller boat.

“At the end of the day, it’s $18,” she said. “But what’s that compared to your life?”

(Additional reporting by Brian Calvert)


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