Overland by motorbike - Phnom Penh to Pattaya
July 24, 2004
by Jim CA2
Considering a little R&R getaway to Civilization, Modern shopping extravaganza at Carre Four on Pattaya Klang or jones’n for some of that good ole junk food from Burger King, Micky D’s, Pizza Hut and some Swensen’s Ice Cream? Pattaya is just a 675K motorcycle adventure away (7-11 and KFC in Trat is even closer).
We were all on 250cc bikes and the roads were suited to accommodate bigger bikes as well. It is best to do the journey in two days, but one long day is doable. Take highway 4 a couple of hours towards Kampong Som to the turn off to Srey Ambel. This is marked by a Radio tower and a big sign advertising Safari World in Koh Kong. Fill up at Lim Long Gas Station a few kilometers beyond the turn off. Continuing on you veer right to the dirt road. The paved road continues on to Srey Ambel. One year after the Thai military had graded the road from the turn off to Koh Kong, the road has deteriorated considerably through the last rainy season and is pitted with pot holes and channels cut by rain run off. This has added one to one and a half hours to what was a five hour journey. There is plenty of loose gravel and you will get coated with dust as you meet the opposing auto traffic. Your dual purpose tires are satisfactory. The Khmer customs officers in Koh Kong alluded that the Japanese have secured the contract to re-do the road, but this will be in a few years more. By that time it will be ready for re-grading anyway.
Consider leaving early (which was not our case as we were operating in hangover mode) as there are four ferry crossings and the ferries wait to fill up with autos before crossing the rivers and there is more auto traffic in the morning. The first crossing has a smaller boat operation to cater to motorcycles and pedestrians, but the remaining three crossings are primarily the larger barges for autos. Cost of crossing the 4 rivers should be 20, 20, 30 and 30 baht respectively, however be prepared to pay one dollar as the ferry boat operators will try to scam this amount. Skin tax of sorts. At the second ferry where two ferries operated simultaneously we were told to pay a dollar because there were no cars on our ferry despite the fact that he had to leave anyway because of the other full ferry crossing the river. Also by leaving earlier you won’t have a ferry operator in a condition to demonstrate how a long tail propeller cuts the water much easier than the shore line.
The journey is very picturesque. The winding road will take you along lowland rice fields with water buffaloes and mangroves. The road weaves through forest, hills and mountains with breathtaking views, only to later drop you into a beautiful tropical river valley lined by coconut palms.
Koh Kong has a few hotels with motorcycle parking. As you arrive in Koh Kong, continue straight past the Urn monument to the waterfront where you make a left. Just beyond the bridge there is the Phomin Koh Kong Hotel on the waterfront (which does fill up fast) and has rooms from 5-15 dollars (fan, AC, Hot water Cable). Continue down the riverfront to the first street and make a left to the Bopha Koh Kong hotel which has rooms from 8-25 dollars and the same amenities. Otto’s is on the next parallel street and has a pretty good breakfast and regional tourist information. There are a couple of more hotels and guest houses in town as well as the casinos over the bridge right on the border. On the main street away from the roundabout, up the street from the Bopha Koh Kong Hotel is a nice outdoor Thai restaurant.
En route to Thailand you will cross the Koh Kong Bridge (toll 1100 Riel) and should you arrive earlier the beach is over the bridge near Safari World. The customs office is now open from 7am until 8pm. Upon arrival at the border you get stamped out of Cambodia drive to the Thai side and get stamped in. Walk across the street and the Customs and Importation Office will have you fill out a form. Take your bike registration with you. The form asks for information on your registration, such as engine number and chassis number. There is also an amount in Thai Baht for the Value of the bike. We simply entered 80,000 Baht (2000 US). There is another section on the form which says you will be accountable in the event you don’t bring the bike back out of the country. The customs officer assigned a value of 50,000 Baht to be paid in the event this occurred. Important to make sure you specify how long you will stay in Thailand. Your visa is good for 30 days but the customs officer will not automatically give you 30 days. We said we would be there about three days and he just randomly gave us seven instead of the 30 consistent with our visa. We also signed a book which we signed again upon our exit. This didn’t make much sense as there wasn’t any protocol on taking the bike out of Koh Kong and back in at Poipet. Once we had the customs paperwork complete we had to return to the arrival window where they made some more entries. Keep the customs form with your passport as you will be asked for it as you exit the country. The whole crossing process took approximately 30 minutes. There were no charges.
In Thailand stay on the left side of the road and Highway 3 begins and continues all the way to Pattaya. The journey takes about 5 hours. From Hat Lek the road hugs the coastline and the mountains with many turnoffs to beaches. Trat is the first major city and 7-11 and KFC are not far from the highway. One might consider the trip to Koh Chang and there are many ferries operating from Trat. Make sure you stick to the road marked by the Highway 3 number. There are many signs along the way pointing off the main road to the next city but these are side routes. You will hit Trat, Chantaburi, Rayong, and then Pattaya. From Rayong Highway 36 is a more direct route that cuts an angle to Pattaya and this is a little quicker. It will bring you to the Sukhumvit Highway north of Pattaya. Taking the 3 out of Rayong will bring you through Sattahip and Jomtien. Driving on a major highway and overpass is just enough to quell any desire to return to the States, Australia or Europe. Traffic on this road is minimal but remember you are now in a country that has and obeys laws so be careful not just to blow through the red lights you encounter.
Pattaya was pretty much a blur, but I can say that Tim Bar Beer on Second Road had motorcycle parking, Jacuzzi rooms, mirrors on the ceilings and walls, and very, very, friendly staff.
Coming back to Cambodia was a rush job as we woke up late (again) and dashed to the border only to make it before sunset. We stamped out of Thailand and the customs office had us re-initial the book and take our forms. Arriving in Cambodia with bikes and a business visa (and possibly the time of day) made our processing easier. We just filled out the arrival card and were stamped in. A partner of ours who took the mini bus was quoted 1100 Baht for a tourist visa, however only had 800 Baht and a five dollar bill. This apparently was satisfactory. There is also a push for a 1 dollar fee to fill out the health (SARS) form which our pedestrian partner was required to do, however we were able to bypass that process just by going to the arrival window.
The trip back from Koh Kong was pretty much the same as going, but we did secure a 30 baht fare on one of the ferry’s that charged us one dollar previously. – Jim CA2
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