toa BLOG


Cambodia Overland

Travelers' Reports:
Overland, Bangkok - Phnom Penh

Page 3 of 4 (2003)

Bangkok to Phnom Penh (December 2003):

Got a taxi to Ekkamai bus station at about 5.40am, about 90 baht by taxi. No trouble getting tickets to Trat (189B). Reached Trat at about midday. Disembarked from the bus and a few touts asking where we were going, mostly targeting people going to whatever island it is off the coast of Trat (Ko Chang??). Anyway, looked for the sign for minivans to the border, but alas I could not find it. It was probably right in front of my face, but I swear to God I walked up and down that street looking for it. By this time I was hot and my girlfriend was getting annoyed, so I approached someone asking if they knew. They didn't but he said he would take us for 500B, I managed to get him down to 300B for both of us. And so we set off in the back of one of those covered blue pickup things to the border. Got there in no time, as we drove up about 15 guys ran up shouting the usual stuff. Went through the border formalities. The first guy official tried the immunization booklet scam on us, demanding 50 baht because we did not have one, more or less ignored the request and went to the guys that give out visas. 1200 baht was there first asking price, I said that it should only be US20$, and he didn't look impressed. He settled on 1100 baht. My girlfriend wanted to take a car taxi into Koh Kong (don't ask why). So we went with these guys who took us to Rasmeay Batan guesthouse (I think that's how it's spelt), it looked alright so we stayed there. The driver then wanted 400 baht for the taxi ride into town. I laughed and handed him the agreed 90 baht. He threw it on the ground and started going on how he had to pay bridge tolls etc. I just said "Well that's all your getting. See ya later", and walked off with him in pursuit. After about 100m of me ignoring him he stormed off muttering to himself. He then drove past me and missed me by mere inches. Should have just taken a moto I guess. Had a look around the town, barely a soul around. Almost a ghost town.

Got up early found a share taxi, 700B each for two seats each. Only one other person in the car. The ride was bumpy as expected, but the scenery was stunning in places. Had a good driver too, seemed like a nice guy. All up took about 7hrs 15mins to reach Phnom Penh. It would have been a good trip if it were not for the vaccination scam attempted, and the bitchy taxi driver in Koh Kong, but I guess thats all to be expected. I recommend this route as a nice little alternative to the Poipet way.

A trip booked from Pattaya (December 2003):

I booked a trip to Sihanoukville in Pattaya for 3500 Bt. ($88) through Koh Kong Travel. They have two offices in Pattaya. A mini bus picked me up at my hotel at 7:30 AM and we were about 7 or 8 guys heading for the border by 9 AM. We stopped once for snacks and stretching and the ride was pleasant and comfortable on the modern Thai roads. We reached the border by 1 PM and then went through the paperwork. The guards were asking 1100 Bt for the visa but it was included in the price of my tour so I kept telling them to see my driver. He did take care of it but I don't know how much he actually paid. We filled out a yellow health paper but no one asked us for any money for it.

We were then taken to the fancy, newish Koh Kong resort, just a mile or so past the border, where we were put up for the night. Nice digs right on the beach but very far from Koh Kong town. Breakfast included the next morning and the driver came at 9 AM to take us into Koh Kong where we rendezvoused with the rest of the passengers going on to Sihanoukville. The mini bus on this leg was decidedly inferior. Cramped, with no AC, 8 full sized Westerners off on the road-and what a road it is!! I haven't traveled the Poipet-Siem Reap road but I can imagine its pretty much like this one. For six hours, we bumped along a dirt track filled with pot-holes and ruts. Imagine if it was the rainy season!! We also had 4 primitive ferry crossings to negotiate at rivers. (These were actually the highlights of the trip where we could at least get out and stretch and see the magnificent jungle country around.)

After about 85 miles of breathing the ubiquitous red dirt of Cambodia, we hit paved road near Sre Ambel and made it to Sihanoukville about an hour later. The driver takes you to Mealy Chenda guest house and tries to get you in there, but will take you into town if you say you have another hotel.

I went with another guy to Small Hotel in town where rooms are $10-15. The place is run by a nice, Swedish guy, Henry, but he's adding on to the hotel and it gets noisy with construction starting at 7 AM.

The fast boat from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville takes 4 hours and costs $15. The bus is about $12 for this portion. If I had to do it again, the boat would definitely be the way to go, but you can't put a price tag on the ferry crossings and the countryside you pass thru with the bus trip. Its worth it to do it once because in 10 years it might not be the same.
Definitely an experience to remember.

Sihanoukville to Koh Kong by road and do you really want to book that 'tourist' van? And this experience is not on the service mentioned in the previous item. (October 2003):

The weather on Saturday was not good, windy and overcast with lots of rain, as the forecast was much of the same and I am not the worlds’ best sailor, the thought of spending 4 hours bouncing around on the sea in a converted river ferry was not the most appealing one. Also, I had hoped that I would get to the border sooner and thereby back to Bangkok as soon as possible. So I decided to go by road, I duly booked my seat on the bus and paid my $12.

The pickup time was 6.30am at the hotel. The actual pickup was only 15 minutes late so not too bad. As I was the fiirst person to be picked up we then spent the next 30 minutes picking two couples up, one Dutch couple - who was told that they would be picked up at 8.30! - and one American couple that decided to wait until the minivan had arrived to go next door from their hotel to buy water for their hi-tech water coolers. In fact, the cost of their Columbia jackets, Nike t-shirts, Rohan shorts and hiking boots probably could have supported a hungry family of 8 for a year. By 7.15 we were on our way and at that point we were all very comfortable with each “group” having a row of seats to spread out. Riding upfront was the driver and his assistant ( wife ? )

The minivan had been described as a non stop service to the border. HA! In reality, about 30 minutes outside of Sihanoukville it turned into the local bus service turning the ticket from one for a seat to one for a ride. A big distinction. We stopped at a small city and pulled in at a market area beside other minivans. We all wondered what was going on by I had a sinking feeling, sure enough 10 minutes later, 9 Khmers got on plus assorted bags. At this point, I was not particularly pleased but the American girl started to complain to the driver’s wife that we had been told the bus was direct and wouldn’t pick anyone up. Of course it was doing no good whatsoever. Worse was to follow.

The roads started deteriorating soon after as we changed from tarmac onto the familiar red dirt road and it got bouncier and bouncier and slower and slower as the pot holes started to increase both in number and depth.

We reached the 1st ferry by 9am and were grateful for the chance to stretch our legs and get out of the van ( that had no air con by the way ). 15 minutes later we had crossed and were on our way again. We were bouncing and jolting our way along about 45 minutes later when we were waived down by a woman at the side of the road. Oh well, one more won't hurt. Ooops, not one more but 3 more and luggage! The luggage consisted of about 3 live chickens, one large unidentified sack and 2 large bags of flowers. We therefore now had a load of 19 people, 3 chickens and luggage. This in fact did pose a problem as there physically wasn’t the room to fit everything and everyone inside the van. At this point all the original 5 including me were complaining about it, but again what could we do? The solution was inelegant but practical, the driver’s assistant got inside, closed the door behind her then moved her upper body out of the window so she was sitting on the window seal and grabbed the roof to hold on. While this would appear to be uncomfortable on a smooth road, what it must have been like on that bumpy road from hell, I don’t know.

We crossed the 2nd ferry at 11.00am and the 3rd by 12.30 where we stopped for lunch for 30 minutes. At this point we crossed a van coming from the border who said we still had another 2 hours to go and I visions of being back in Bangkok by 8 or 9pm. Oh foolish, naïve me. The reality was that the roads even further so that sometimes there was no actual path through the pot holes, we had to go either off road or go through them, slowing us down more and more.

By the time of the 4th ferry it was already just past 2pm and time was marching on with no end in sight. Everyone was lurch / crunch / wobble / bump weary especially me with my head seemingly constantly banging against the roof. As I said, it was bad enough inside on seats but what it was like for the woman who knows. We came up on the worst stretch of road yet but amazingly it was the last 3km outside Koh Kong itself and then suddenly we were on smooth roads just outside the airport . The next question was would we actually be taken direct to the border. We stopped at the market and all the Khmers and their luggage got off. At the same time the moto drivers spied an opportunity and started asking us through the doors and windows where were we going and of course offering to take us there. Well and good but the van was taking us there weren’t they? The drivers were in fact getting quite aggressive and began grabbing me and I ended up telling the driver just what he could do and it wasn’t to take me to the border. Finally it was confirmed that we would indeed stay in the van and go to the border.

At last at 3.20pm the border came into view and we exhaustingly left Cambodia behind.

As a comparison:

The boat
Cost: $12
Departure time: 12 midday
Arrival time (border): 4.40 pm
Duration: 4:30 hrs

The bus
Cost: $12
Departure time: 6.30 am
Arrival time (border): 3.20 pm
Duration time: 8:50 hrs

So for an extra 4 hours odd journey time I save about 1 hour in getting to the border. Instead of being on a comfortable seat of my own with a choice of inside or outside, having a reasonable lie-in and a nice pre trip breakfast somewhere I had half a seat in a non air con van with 18 other people with luggage and livestock and my head bouncing off the roof with the bad potholes. Oh yes, and the weather was blue skies, no wind and the hottest day I had since arriving in Cambodia.

Never again will I go by land. Given the choice I will take the boat or go back to Phnom Penn and fly.

Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville to Koh Kong (September 2003):

The retrun trip from Sihanoukville to Bangkok is nothing like the Poipet border. We took the boat directly to Koh Kong with lots of time to make the border but we decided to stay in Koh Kong for the night. Aside from the border guards there were only two girls selling cigarettes and a couple of Russian businessmen going to the casino. No touts, no beggars, just a clean paved normal border crossing. When entering Thailand the mini bus to Trat is on the right about 5-10 meters up and leaves every 45 minutes.

One last thing, we had wanted to go tp Sihanoukville but arrived in Phnom Penh late. The last bus to Sihanoukville is at 1:30pm. We got a taxi to Sihanoukville but there were eight of us in the car. The driver sitting on someone's lap. Although hilarious, now it definitely wasn't the safest option. Make sure how many people are in the car before you leave.

Koh Samet to Sihanoukville (long) (September 2003):

I'm a female who travels alone and I started on Koh Samet on September 17th. The easiest and quickest way to get to Cambodia from there would probably have been to buy a ticket for one of the minibuses headed for Koh Chang and get off in Trat. Lots of guesthouses and travel agents on Koh Samet sell them and the price is around 200-250 baht depending on who you buy them from.

I however decided to try it on public buses. First the 8.00AM ferry from Koh Samet to Ban Phe, and then I took a songtaew to Rayong. The songtaews leave from where you get off the ferry, opposite the 7-11. I should probably have gotten off the songtaew as soon as we came to the highway and flagged down a bus to Chanthaburi there, but due to some language problems I ended up going to Rayong. From there I took a nice aircon bus to Chanthaburi and changed to a non-aircon bus to Trat.

In Trat I walked across the road to the minibuses to Hat Lek, paid the 100 baht and it left within 5 minutes. I am no fan of the minibuses in Thailand, but this one was ok, the aircon worked and the seats had some room. I was the only passenger who was going all the way to the border and I was let off 20 meters from the Thai immigration kiosk. I walked over there and got stamped out of Thailand.

Then it was time for the Cambodian immigration. As soon as I had passed the Thai immigration a tout started talking to me, I ignored him, but he followed me through the whole immigration/visa process. First I went to the visa office and they gave me a form to fill in. I hadn't brought a passport photo (stupid mistake), so they wanted 100 baht extra for that.

When I had filled in the form I gave it to them together with 1100 baht. He said that he needed another 100 baht, but I just pointed at the money, smiled and said calmly that it's 100 for the photo and 1000 for the visa. He then said it was 1100 for visa and I replied (calmly) that I had been told it was 1000. After a bit of mumbling and paper shuffling he said ok and gave me the visa. I know that it's supposed to be 20$, but I didn't have any dollars and I had no energy to argue with them since I was tired and hungry.

After that I had to go to the medical office. A doctor (or at least a guy in a white coat) made me fill in a form and then asked to see my vaccination card. He studied it carefully, probably to see if there was something he could fine me for, but in the end he just gave it back without asking for any money.

Then the next office where I had to fill in another form and they finally stamped my passport. The tout had been walking next to me the whole time and now he started saying: "You want taxi? You want motorbike?" repeately, but I ignored him. A group of about 10 motos and a couple of taxis started coming up to me, and when I asked how much it was to Koh Kong all the motos said 50 baht. I just picked a guy who wasn't too obnoxious and made sure I didn't go with the guy that
the tout wanted me to. I also told him the reason that I didn't go with him was that he had bothered me. After a few minutes of driving there was another police stop where I had to get off and show my passport. They were friendly and chatty and it took a couple of minutes. On the way the moto guy stopped to take off his jacket and another moto stopped and asked me if I wanted to buy a ferry ticket to Sihanoukville. I didn't want to do that so I asked my guy to drive. The toll booth on the bridge was 1100 riel/11 baht (it was a sign there), and I had to pay it. When we got to Koh Kong he drove around obviously trying to get to a hotel he got commission from, but I stopped him saying that I wanted to go to a hotel I had picked out from the Lonely Planet. He was ok with that, but since he didn't know where it was he had to ask another moto. This moto guy was very persistent that I should buy a minibus ticket from him, but I just kept on saying no.

I stayed at an ok hotel, the Kolab Cheay Den Hotel. It's in the street parallell to Otto's. 250 baht for a room with aircon, tv, bathroom, but no hot water. Koh Kong is very dark at night since it's no street lights so I didn't feel too comfortable walking around there.

The next morning I went to catch the ferry at 8.00. I was told in Koh Kong that there had been some cancellations of the ferry this month when the weather was bad so it might be a good idea not to buy a ticket until you see the ferry and are sure it's leaving that day so you don't loose any money if it's cancelled. When I got there I tried to find a ticket office, but a whole bunch of people tried to sell the ticket to me. I tried to ask the guys working at the boat where to buy a ticket, but they are obviously in on the scam and pointed at the touts. I ended up paying 620 baht for the ticket. I later saw that the locals bought tickets on the boat, I don't know if that would have been cheaper.

The boat was comfortable, but very cold due to the aircon. The sea was very calm this day so we were lucky. They show Cambodian karaoke videos on the tv, so unless you like that for 4 hours it's a good idea to sit as far back as possible. When we got to Sihanoukville there was another immigration police checkpoint where all the foreigners were taken into an office and had to show their passports and visas. This took a couple of minutes and they didn't demand any money. After that it was the usual bunch of motos, I went with a friendly and chatty guy who wanted 3000 riel and had a nice trip with him into the center of town where he delivered me to the hotel I wanted with no arguments.

In Sihanoukville I must recommed the wonderful massage at Seeing Hands where they employ blind masseurs. It costs $3 for an hour and is well worth it.

To Sihanoukville through Koh Kong (September 2003):

We took the first class public bus from the eastern terminal to Trat (no trouble there, it was comfortable enough for reading). On arrival a guesthouse girl and a guesthouse guy started talking to us simultaneously, both offering the same deal (80 baht for 2 people plus a 100 baht minibus pickup from the guesthouse in the morning). We finally went with her to "guy guesthouse" as she just seemed more reliable. Once there (really ok place for that price), she tried to talk us into buying a ticket all the way to Phnom Penh or wherever we were going, I didn't want to do that at all, just the minibus. But as I remembered reading about hassles with taxis from the border to the ferry (our plan) and she basically offered the standard price (600b for the ferry, 50b for the taxi), we finally said ok.

The pickup in the morning went well, a minibus in which we were the only farangs picked us up at 5.30, we reached the border close to 7 am. We were determined to pay 20 dollars and nothing more, so I was pretty excited when we reached the visa place. The first thing they did was send us back to the first window where we had to get a yellow piece of paper with information about SARS that was supposed to get us a free doctor's visit if needed (on the border crossing they also had a big board with information on SARS in Thai, English and probably Khmer). When we had filled out the health questionaire the guy in the window asked for one dollar each. This really surprised me, so first I asked him why and he said "for service". this made sense, but still.... unfortunately there was nobody around that we could ask if this was a proper request or just bullshit (I suspect the latter). We finally paid him as we still had the real visa stuff ahead of us and didn't want to miss the ferry at 8 am.

In the visa office the first reaction to our 20 dollar bills was: only Thai baht. five guys were sitting around a table, all nodding (or shaking) their heads and all going: no dollar, only Thai baht (interestingly enough, the main guy asked for the official 1000 baht from the beginning, not 1100 or 1200). I tried to remain friendly (not always easy) and kept replying that I know that the visa fee was 20 dollars and that I could pay just that. He told me "only at airport, you go to airport" and kept asking how I would know I could pay 20 dollars. We mentioned other travellers, guidebooks, the internet and the Cambodian embassy (a lie and not a good one, as he wanted to know why we didn't get it there then, we replied with lack of time and that we knew we could get it at the border). The longer the conversation, the angrier he got. The other guys had left in the meantime.

Finally he said ok, 20 dollars, but you pay 200 baht extra for visa paper, pointing to the sticker that goes into your passport. At this I laughed, to make sure he knew I knew this was an absurd request. All the while he was already working at our visa documents, taking lots and lots of time, asking about every crooked letter. It got late and later but I tried to remain calm, didn't want to give in when he was already working at it. When both visas were finished he gave it a last try, telling us that he had to give the 20 dollars to the government but that the government wouldn't pay for the visa sticker which he had to get every month himself from somewhere far away and that they also wouldn't pay for his transport there ;-) but this was already half-heartedly, somehow I had convinced him that we knew enough and wouldn't believe any stories. It was about a quarter to 8 then, so we were lucky to have prearranged the taxi to the ferry. we got to the pier shortly before 8, but there was no boat. Everybody said it wouldn't go that day (friday the 5th, Sept), a group of backpackers were already waiting around, they hadn't seen a boat either. We didn't know whether to believe it all or not, but didn't have much chance but to say yes to the minibus alternative. So instead of 4 hours on the ocean we made the trip on a very bumpy road, crossing four rivers with ferries, in something like 7 1/2 hours. It was exhausting, but interesting. We lost an afternoon and some money (the bus would have been a little bit cheaper than the boat), but later that evening heard a story about a very frightening boat trip the day before which made it sound quite possible that they didn't send the boat out on Friday.

On a last note: the Starfish Bakery in Sihanoukville is a wonderful place to hang out and to get inexpensive but filling breakfast or lunch, which supports a project that tries to help Khmer people who really need it.

Sihanoukville to Koh Kong fun (June 2003):

First, at least 5 residents (not travelers) assured me with utmost confidence there were no taxis to Koh Kong, just minibuses and boats. I doubted this, so showed up at the taxi stand at 6:15 where I was repeatedly and aggresively fed the same line. Most of the pushing around was by some tall, smoky looking guy who speaks exquisite French and monopolizes conversations with foreigners (I speak a little more Khmer than the average traveler, and usually am presumed to be a resident expat). I stood firm against the minibus, which they brought around and planted in front of me anyway. Took a good hour or more of waiting before someone agreed to take me, incurring the wrath of the smoky guy. He wanted $60/car, but would not follow the logic of $20 for the front seat. He insisted on $25, making clear he expected me to subsidize the Khmers who would fill up the back. I considered foregoing it on principle, but really wanted the ride.

Then he packed another man on his right, blocking his access to the brake. Stupidly--incredibly stupidly--I did not object at first, thinking it was just across town. My mistake. And then it was too late, as we were playing chicken with oncoming trucks on Rt 4, the driver just laughing the hollow laugh of the condemed with every near miss.

The other weird thing came as a blessing disguised as scam (as opposed to the more typical inverse): he stopped, and, saying nothing put me and my bags in another car with another driver. I was about to throw a hissy fit, but the other car was much nicer, the price and terms were the same (I had not paid any money of course), and I figured the drive couldn't get worse. The new driver had either better depth perception or more respect for human life, and the rest of it was a great trip. Did relent and let a toddler sit with me some of the time, but objected when a big-hipped 13 year old also wanted to clamber up front, and thus endured the sullen glare of a teenager the rest of the ride.

And for what it's worth, the Koh Kong motos put their Sihanoukville pals to shame in aggressiveness--I am not joking when I say they opened 3 of the taxi doors before we even came to a full stop, and one was actually reaching in and pulling me out until I snapped in Khmer. I understand the economics behind aggressively seeking a fare (and I wasn't going anywhere), but these packs are really becoming a problem in Cambodia. Sad.

On to your favorite border, I also sent my 60+ parents by themselves from Siem Reap to Poipet, armed with a printout from your website. No hassles at all, other than my stepfather pulling a disappointed 8 year old's hand out of his pocket (wallet was on the other side).

From Phnom Penh to Koh Chang (February 2003):

I came at 7:00 to the Central Market in Phnom Penh. Quite quickly I found a shared Camry-taxi with one forward seat fully empty - they were looking for 1 or two more passengers. We quickly agreed on 800 baht for the full forward seat and we left practically immediately (at ~7:30). There were 4 people in the rear seat. Again - quite an uneventful trip along nice landscapes, 4 ferry crossings (very fast, practically no delays). About 30 minutes waiting at the point where there was some explosive work on the road. At about 13:00 we arrived to Koh Kong. Then a taxi for 3 of us at 100 baht each and at 13:30 we were at the border. Crossing the border took in total 15 minutes - no hassle, no problems, no touts. At about 14:00 I took a van-taxi to Trat (100 baht) and in about 2 hours we were there. At 17:00 I took a ferry to Koh Chang and at ~19:00 I jumped in the sea!

Funny games with the boats and off to Phnom Penh (January 2003):

3rd of January 2003 I crossed the border with little hassle (compared to Poipet). The Visa charge was 1100 Baht (not negotiable) and the people quite friendly. For the mototaxi I paid 60 Baht and I was transferred via the new toll bridge to the hotel of the drivers choice. As the Nokor Reach hotel was OK for me at 4$ and situated right on the market, where the taxis leave in the morning, I stayed there and so did others. In the evening we were informed that the boat to Sihanoukville had broken down, and we should quickly sign up for the taxi next morning, as there would be many people. The price was the same as for the boat and identical to Phnom Penh (600 Baht). Remembering similar information by Bangkok tuk-tuk drivers I checked personally, and of course nobody in town knew about a broken boat.

Next morning the taxi drivers offered the trip for 400 Baht to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh with little haggling, in either a Toyota Camry or a Minibus. I was lucky and found an NGO car (paid for by a foreign aid project). The driver had driven his boss to the casino in Koh Kong for the weekend and was trying to make some extra money on the return trip. The Landcruiser was comfortable with aircon and leg space so I changed my plans and stayed on board for the whole trip to Phnom Penh. We left at 8 after having made our donation to the local cop and paying off the guy who had found another 4 passengers.

The new road to Sre Ambel was in good condition, although the Thai military were still busy with finishing touches, but no delays in the morning. Four ferry crossings and about 4 hours later, we reached the paved road, and after another 2 hours I arrived in Phnom Penh in good shape. The driver wanted 400 Baht, which I was glad to give him for the safe and good trip. Of course I realized that a taxi driver has to buy petrol and pay for the car costs, but this is Cambodia.

Trouble with photos (January 2003):

Crossing the border at Cham Yeam, I met an Italian couple who was not allowed in to Cambodia - after they had paid their visa. The reason: the girl's photo in the passport was not cut like it should, according to the border-guys. This means: The photo was cut on one corner not in the normal way, but a little rounder. So those guys discussed a whole morning and afternoon, offering as well some money more - and she was not allowed in. So they had paid a 20 dollar each, but she did not get the stamp 5 meters later.


Thanks. Keep 'em coming. E-mail your story.


Reports Page 1 (2006-2008)

Reports Page 2 (2004-2005)

Reports Page 3 (2003)

Reports Page 4 (2002)


Overland Index



All text and photographs © 1998 - 2008 talesofasia.com. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.