Page 18 of 22 (July 2003 - September 2003)
These are a variety of reports detailing experiences traveling both independently and on Khao San Road-purchased bus tickets. If you'd like to share your own experiences, please e-mail them to me. There are also sections here devoted to all other overland border crossings as well.
Bangkok to Battambang (September 2003):
In all honesty I was a little nervous about the overland trip between Bangkok and Siem Reap, although this was probably due to fact that I hadn't settled into the holiday mode yet. The trip itself, well it's just like the man says. Took a taxi to Morchit bus station on a Saturday and was warned by the taxi driver that it would be necessary to reserve a seat on the bus otherwise it would be virtually impossible to get a seat on a weekend. I took the chance anyway. When we got there we had no problem at all getting a first class ticket to Aranyaprathet (184) baht. The bus left within five minutes and I don't know why but it took over five hours to get there even though there was hardly any traffic and we only stopped once briefly. [Gordon here: Probably because this was the longer of the two routes to Aranyaprather. The 164-baht buses are faster.]
There were about 50 tuk-tuks in Aranyprathet and it was all handled in a pretty orderly manner. Be weary of the toilet at the bus station it's pretty disgusting. This was where I was bit nervous about the trip because I had no idea what to expect. Even though the website and map describes the journey in great detail I had no idea what the buildings would look like or anything like that. I realised that the Thai immigration building was on the left hand side but what does it look like, exactly where is it, etc. The tuk-tuk dropped us off in the little square and I could straight away see the little convenience store as described on the map. A few people approched us directly asking where we were going but nothing too bad. A few of them even kept following us a we walked over the little bridge and turned left and headed towards Thai immigration.
I can honestly say nothing prepares you for the what this border town is. Never have I seen the physical divide between the rich and the very very poor seperated by only a few centimeters of pavement. The child beggars cradling their younger siblings surround this border town of newly built casinos. All the immigration buildings, Thai and Khmer, have big blue signs on them written in english which you literally can't miss them as you are essentially hearded like cattle through the border. The visa was a 1000 baht. It took five minutes to process the visa and the SARS form.
After we left the Cambodian immigration builiding where we got our entrance form about 20 touts descended on us. I could see the road leading away from the roundabout. But I just wanted to see what I could get around here. I told them I wanted to go to Battambang and all of them left except for this one guy. The first words out of his mouth were 900 baht. Done! so we might be paying a little more but we had a taxi and that was all that was really important to us. Leaving Poipet I could see about 20 taxis on the right hand side of the road about 2 kms from the traffic circle. The taxi ride was two hours and thirty minutes in a heavy rain storm. There was one really bad stretch of road where it was just mud but it appeared that they were in the midst of reparing it. I cannot even imagine what a sitting outside on pick up truck would be like in that weather. So the trip took us a total of 8 hours and thirty minutes.
Speedy tourist buses - not! (September 2003):
We read all the information you had in your web page regarding the trip. So we decided to follow your advice and we went by tourist bus till the border and later we took a private taxi.
The rest of the people in the Thai bus decided to go by bus till Siem Reap. We had doubts because - as you indicated in your page - the guys on the Cambodian bus were very convincing, but finally we did the rest of the trip by ourselves and we didn't have any problem.
Two days later, we met a couple that had travelled with us on the Thai bus and they told us that the trip on the Cambodian bus had been terrible. It lasted 7 hours - althoug Cambodian drivers insisted thousand of times that the trip took 4 hours. They arrived in Siem Reap at night and Cambodian drivers took them to specific hotels, trying to convince them to stay in those hotels. They told us they felt frightened.
Cows (September 2003):
I thought I'd tell about a recent experience on the Sisophon-Battambang road. I was headed to Battambang with a rather young driver. We were going too fast. We were on a stretch of dirt road. A cow stood up. We clipped the cow and slewed into a ditch. I was fortunate because the car didn't flip. We also missed a rice paddy. I got out without a scratch, thankfully. I paid the driver. Then, a man took me to Battambang for free. His name was Sam. He got me out of there quickly. I am grateful to him. The police were beginning to gather, and I didn't want to get done. It wasn't my fault, but I was glad to be gone all the same. The rest of the trip was ok. Battambang continues to be very laid-back and mellow. I was amazed to see the Battambang-Phnom Penh bus service up and running. I was through Battambang in '98. It sure has changed. There are stores open. They've paved the roads, great. Advice: Get an older driver and wear a safety belt.
Fun with the bus - (long) - (September 2003):
We wanted to travel from Siem Reap to Bangkok and from there to the south of Thailand in a day and night, catching the train in Bangkok in the early evening. We figured that with 3 - 4 hours to Poipet, 4 - 5 hours to Bangkok and an early start, this shouldn't be a problem or at least worth a try.
I wanted to try the pick-up with Khmer people, but when it seemed there was a public bus to Poipet this looked like a more comfortable option. The indications of there being a public bus service to Poipet were: big red letters on boards saying "Siem Reap - Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Poipet, etc", a mention of the bus service in Gordon's update and our very reliable, competent and unsuspicious tuk-tuk driver assuring us that there was a public bus every morning at 7.30, which sometimes got full the previous evening already, when people were buying their tickets (what should have made us worry: that Gordon wrote he hadn't seen the buses in a while and that on the board there were departure times only for Phnom Penh.)
We went to the bus terminal in the early afternoon, where some guys were hanging around, although it was not clear if they were official ticketsellers or not. When we asked about the public bus to Poipet they said there was none, only to Phnom Penh (congruent with the times on the board). As we had heard there was a bus, we tried again. we thought that maybe they just didn't want to sell us the tickets. Then they seemed to change their minds and said "ok, ok, 4 dollar". I had reckoned it to be something like 10,000 riel and told them so, upon which they explained about a new bus company and a big, new, shiny bus. I noticed the price printed on the ticket window (although the rest was Khmer so I couldn't read what the price was for !) and this made it somehow believable. They took our money, said wait a minute and headed to another desk in the back. This was the first time I should have worried, which I did, but not enough, as the desk was far from the official window and seemed to have nothing to do with it. We finally received two tickets that said bus ticket Siem Reap - Poipet but that had a stamp on them saying express boat and the printed price on it was 15 usd. This was irritating but somehow I was stupid enough to still believe in the public bus. We asked again about the bus and if it was "no tourist bus", they assured us "no, no tourist bus". They said it would leave at 7 am at the bus terminal, which again was irritating as our driver had repeatedly told as it left at 7.30 am. We didn't have much choice but to believe them. The only thing we could have done was trying to get our money back and going with the pick-up or share-taxi in the morning, but we just decided to hope all was fair and true.
The next morning there was no bus of course. There was a big public bus on which it said Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, so it could have gone anywhere. Looking back I wished I knew more Khmer so that I could have asked uninvolved people about it (if there were any). They directed us to a car and told us the bus didn't stop at the terminal but somewhere else, the car would take us there. I kept shaking my head and tried to argue but we were definitely not the one to make choices here. Later I realized my only other choice: staying put at the bus terminal, waiting to see if there was a public bus leaving at 7.30 and if we could still get a ticket. We got into a car and after a 5 minute drive were dropped in front of a guesthouse on a road which no public bus would ever pass. We realized then that we were scammed and ably so. They told us the bus would come in 5 to 10 minutes, we refused the offer of sitting down and joing other people who waited around reading or having breakfast. One guy had no trouble admitting that it would be a tourist bus coming to pick us up and that there just were no public buses cause all the Khmer people ride in pickups. When I told him that our Khmer driver had told us about the bus in the first place he said "yeah, maybe, but you would not get ticket now, it's full cause everybody buys ticket in the evening" (!!). My friend lost some of his temper then which did no good of course, we were stuck.
We waited for 45 minutes till the bus arrived. Every time we asked about it, people laughed at us and invented stories about flat tires and other things. While waiting I asked one of the guys how long he had been waiting, he said since 6.30. That was when they had told him the bus would leave. He had willingly bought a ticket all the way to Bangkok for 10 dollars. Before we left we noticed that the stamp on our ticket had the same name on it as the guesthouse. Unfortunately, the tickets were ripped just there so I can only recall from memory: something like "bengha mealea villa" (the "alea villa" part is still on the ticket). [Gordon here: This would be Beng Mealea Villa which is one of the major guesthouses involved in the purchasing of customers from the tourist buses and also selling them off for the ride back.]
We finally left Siem Reap around 8 am, after picking up people at two other guesthouses. The ride was a very bumpy one. All the way, not just the dirt road part, although on the dirt road we were especially slow and more shaken up and down and left and right than on the smooth and paved road at the beginning. Every other vehicle that passed us was much much faster (especially the Camry cars) and none of them (no other bus, no pickup) bumped as much. The bus we rode in was just plain old and broke (as well as crampedly small to sit in) and should not be let on any road and certainly not on the one from Siem Reap to Poipet. It was impossible to sleep, read or do anything apart from holding on and cursing those guys for letting me enjoy the worst ride of my entire life. It brought me headaches to think that I could have been in a Camry taxi for the same amount of money and that I would be twice as fast if not faster and much more comfortable.
By now it was clear that we were in one of those Khao San Road buses, so I wasn't surprised when we stopped for the first time shortly before 10 and everybody paid lots of money for pineapple, water, bread or using the toilet. After two gut-wrenching hours we reached the first stretch of paved road in a small town (Sisophon) from which it was approximately 50 km to Poipet (it said so next to the street). I prayed for the bus not to stop for lunch, as our chances of catching the train in the evening were already pretty slim, but it stopped, of course. Nobody seemed to mind getting out and ordering food or just waiting around, but maybe my distress just kept me from noticing. In my despair I then decided that I wouldn't wait around anymore but head for the road and see if anyone would take us.
We ended up on the back of a pickup with more than 10 Khmers, some partly alive chickens and our luggage in the front. I felt happy and relieved for the first time that day. Kids were shyly smiling at us, one woman kept touching my light skin and laughing, we were fast and there was no bumping, life was good. After a while it started raining heavily, which turned the ride into a small adventure as everybody fiercely tried to hold the plastic down that was protecting us badly while the rain was crashing down on it and the wind was about to rip it away. It might not sound like a lot of fun, but it was just that to me.
We paid 140 baht for the privilege (for the both of us). The border crossing was no hassle, we crossed it at 2 pm, our bus was nowhere to be seen, and got a tuk-tuk to the bus terminal in Aranyaprathet for 50 baht. We made the 164 baht first class bus to Bangkok just in time. It left 5 minutes after we arrived. What a pleasure to be in a Thai public bus on Thai smoothly paved roads! (I don't want to imagine what it was like for those people still stuck in the rip off bus.) We finally got some sleep.
We took the taxi from the northern bus terminal to the train station, paid the 40 baht extra for the highway but were still a cruel 20 minutes late for the last sleeper south. The bastards in Siem Reap made us miss our train! Or maybe it was our own stupidity? Anyway, two days later it's not so terrible anymore to reflect on our bad luck or whatever it was, it just bugs me that we'll never know whether there was a public bus or not. We passed the bus terminal way after 7.30 and the "Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville" bus had left so for all i know it might have gone to Poipet....
Easy trip in, but the tourist bus back...? (September 2003):
August 28, 2003 my wife and I bought a couple of 164 baht tickets exactly as you described and off we went. The bus was Ok, air conditioned and comfortable. Departing at 7:05am we arrived about 4 hours later at the Aran bus station. When we hopped in a tuk-tuk to head for the border a local hopped in with us and immediately went into the standard questions, "where you from?", "where you going"?, "what's your name"? etc. I ignored him all the way to the border, through immigration and on across the border. He finally gave up after we were past the traffic circle in Poipet.
The immigration officer would not take the $20.00 I offered, he was adamant it was 1000 baht, period. He didn't ask for more and the whole process took about 15 minutes. Once we passed the chaos of the traffic circle I stopped at the first Camry and negotiated him down from 1500 baht to 1000 and off we went. I made it clear no one else was to get in the car, this did not please him but he adjusted. It was so easy and hassle free I was a little disappointed. The driver stopped for lunch at some little town a couple hours into the trip just before the road really turns rough. Once we got to Siem Reap he went out of his way to find our guest house and dropped us off at exactly 3:00pm. I was ecstatic that it took only 8 hours for the whole process. Piece of cake.
Now for the trip back. All over town there are signs advertising the bus to Bangkok for $10.00, air con, luxury etc. The wife thought that it would be a nice alternative and we should give a try, even if it does take a few extra hours. What a mistake! At 7:30 am a small junky bus crammed to the gills with travellers and packs pulled up at our guest house. We climbed in and off it went, somewhat dismayed my said "This can't be the bus that takes us all the way". To make a long hot, dusty story short it was the bus and at 10:00pm(!)that night we pulled along side the curb somewhere in Bangkok and caught a cab to our hotel. No air con, "it broke yesterday", hot, dirty, noisy and uncomfortable as hell. DON'T TAKE THE BUS!!
As far as Siem Reap goes, it was great, Angkor Wat is amazing, the people were friendly and helpful. My wife and I visited the Mine Museum, the Butterfly Museum and gave blood at the children's hospital. Shop around for your guest house they vary widely in quality. 13 new hotels are being built this year alone and there are rumors of a movie theater. Visit before the place turns into Disneyland.
Visa run to the border (August 2003):
I did the BKK - SR run in April but was basically too lazy to write about it so you could post it on your site, but thanks to the info on your site it was quite a smooth run. 7am leaving Sathorn Road and arriving at the hotel of my choice by taxi at about 5.45pm with 2 meal breaks.
I have since done a further Visa run ( funnily enough both by the same route ) 8.30 bus from Mor Chit and arriving at around 1.30 pm at the border. In April I ended up walking down past the fast food burger place on the right hand side (maybe 1km? and about 20 minutes at a local cafe for a coke) before seeing any Camry Taxis and this guy was en route to the border to drop someone off. He quickly agreed to 1000B and seemed happy with that. I was just happy not to be sitting on / clinging to 4 inches of pickup side whilst being bounced all over the place and picking bugs and dirt out my mouth.
On my Visa run a couple of weeks ago, I had some time to spare and had a look again for the taxis but again could not see one. Is there a time when they are all "booked" and disappear? Might be worth mentioning that you can flag a full one coming from SR and he will drop off his passengers and come back to pick you up. I hope that way he avoids the taxi mafia.
Unfortunately I just arrived after 2 KSR buses arrived and had to wait around 45 minutes for my Visa. In the meantime I filled in the SARS questionaire they said was mandatory but was then ignored by everyone! Funny how I didnt fill one in at the height of the disease back in April.
I got chatting to 3 guys (from the KSR bus) who were going to Siem Reap and said I had done it before. They were most interested in the taxi option but said they would check with the guide (bus company escort) first. I told them he will say 3 or 4 hours and sure enough that's what he said. I told them they would arrive 9 or 10 pm at the earliest so they went back to the guide and again he said 3 or 4 hours and added unless any bridges were down! I pointed out that since he was a guide you would think he would know that information or not - something that soon became apparent was the total belief that "he is the guide he knows what he is talking about" from the guys.
I walked through immigration with them and they were still thinking about the taxi but as soon as we got through the asked the guide for a 3rd time about my estimate and he said no, no, never that long, only when many bridges out! At this point I actually laughed out loud and got a very angry look from the guide but the guys were total believers and piled onto the bus (which was leaving in 5 minutes). I decided just to wish them a long and happy trip and had a wander down the road. About 45 minutes later I came back to the roundabout and waved to the guys sitting on the hot sweaty non air con bus. I think maybe they were starting to believe me.
Unfortunately the Cambodian official in the exit immigration did not buy the "I paid the 100B over there" line and demanded I pay him as well. We actually had a stand off for about 10 minutes while he held onto my passport and served other people. In the end I blinked first - the remote thought of having to stay the night in Poipet was one I didnt want to come true.
And some bonus advice on Thailand and things to do around Siem Reap (August 2003):
Recently, myself (Indian) and two Chinese friends (PRC)
flew from Singapore to Bangkok and did the overland trip to Siem Reap.
The trip went very smoothly and we faced almost no problems. The following
are a few observations that I thought might benefit future travellers:
Visa haggling (August 2003):
I crossed the border at Poipet (coming from BKK to SR) last April. Having read your web site, I knew I would be asked for more than the 20 USD visa cost. Browsing the Internet before leaving, I found the web site of the Ministry of Tourism and printed out these 2 pages :
At the border the cost was either 1000 baht or ("sorry
but I don't have 1000 baht") 20 USD + 100 baht. I told the guy in
white shirt that "thanks very much but I don't need help for the
application". I filled out my application form and handed it myself
to the custom agent with 20 USD. The agent told me that the cost was 20
USD plus 100 baht. I told him I was very surprised because I knew from
the Minister of Tourism (not exactly true but whatever...) that the cost
was 20 USD, and handed him the printed web pages. He took the papers and
closed the window. I saw them looking at the papers, one agent after the
other. After a few minutes, one of the guys in white shirt told me I thought
I was very smart but that I would need a lot of patience now. In the meantime,
the other foreigners paying 1000 baht had their passport stamps...I could
already see myself waiting for hours...so I was starting to have some
doubt about my strategy. A few more minutes, a guy in civil clothes went
out from the office and told me the cost is 20 USD+100 baht. OK it was
fun for a while but I had more to do than wait there forever. I told this
guy that I knew for a fact that the cost is 20 USD - that's is what the
Minister of Tourism says - but... "OK you win...I understand what
you want, here is 100 baht, you win". He took the money, told me
to wait, and went inside. A few more minutes and an agent in uniform called
me at the window. Smiling all the time, excellent English, very friendly,
he asked me about my trip, where would I go? , 1st time in Cambodia?,
my family?, oh single? so sad you travel alone with nobody to share the
beauty of the country with (???), I asked about him, where he was from,
family etc etc etc... The conversation went on for a few minutes. To my
surprise, in the course of the conversation, he handed me back my 100
baht without mentioning anything about it - which I took without a word
of thanks, just kept on talking to him. At the end of our chat, he wished
me a great trip, I wished him the best and took my (stamped) passport
back... I don't know whether it was because of the printed web pages or
whether the guy was just being nice but ... anyway, some of your readers
might wanna print those pages and try their luck.
Eastern Europeans (August 2003):
We were able to go to Siem Reap for 160 Bht each (2 persons) inside an air-con pick-up with a change of cars in Sisophon. Hovever we weren't sure if we could get the visa at the border crossing in Poipet since we are Poles and like any other eastern European nationals we have trouble crossing almost every border in that region. We put the 1000 baht banknotes in our passports and after 4 minutes we had the visas. We didn't bargain about those 5 USD extra, just in case we were denied.
We probably missed all the funny staff with touts on both sides of the border, because we were crossing at 10 am on Sunday, and moreover on the election day - 27-07-03. We were only approached by one on each side with no big effort on their part. As we talked in the pick-up later with the driver, we were lucky to get any pick-up that day - election. I wonder how it looked like in the afternoon. Also in Sisophon we found only one pick-up in the empty terminal! We had no option to choose from and we paid 100bht each for Siem Reap - fair price anyway. The road was good but bumpy, but at least dry. We did not want to cross to Cambodia the previous day at 4 pm as it was heavy raining, and we supposed that the road might have been flooded. I do not know if we could catch any truck then. Anyway we did it ok and wished to thank you in person.
Easy passage through Poipet (August 2003):
A quickie to let you know I appreciated your detailed description
of the Bangkok to Siem Reap journey... managed to avoid all scams the
entire way (train and pick-up truck mode of transport). Won't ramble on
about the journey, but it was a great adventure and 1 million times better
than sitting in a cramped bus from Khao San.
Robbery warning #1 (July 2003):
I have some disturbing news for you about travel from Poipet to Battambang .... A traveller had all his money, camera and discplayer stolen yesterday. It's disturbing as this is the second time people I recommended not to take the Khao San Scam Bus had problems from some of the low-lifes that lurk in Poipet. They lurk in the big circle just past the policeman who checks your visa and they join you for a ride as "fellow travelling companions" for the road. In the last case the driver was just terrified of them.
Robbery warning #2 (July 2003):
Although I did not do the Bangkok-SR overland trip, I did meet an American woman who did. She reported that she got into a "taxi" with 5 Cambodian guys either at the border or at one of the transfer points and was driven out into the middle of nowhere and robbed. Fortunately, she was no worse for wear, just lost all her money. But you may want to warn people to keep their wits about them and be careful about what cars they get into.
[Gordon here: Don't be too put off by these last two reports. However, if taking a taxi from Poipet, I would recommend that you do not allow anyone you don't know (except the driver, of course) into the vehicle with you. Do see the Overland-On Your Own page for more details. I've been through this (chasing off people jumping in the car, not robbery) and it's not difficult to get rid of them while you're still parked in Poipet.]
To Battambang (July 2003):
We did the BKK-Battambang trip on the 23rd July. It went like clockwork despite leaving 2 hours late. There was a problem at the bridge, about 40 mins into the journey from Poipet - we had to leave the road for about 1k but the tourist buses had to offload as the detour was a little bumpy to say the least. It took 9 hours in total including an excellent 30 mins lunch in Aranyaprathet bus station.
I'm sure it would be different if it had rained...
With three kids (July 2003):
Morchit bus station easy as pie (do mention the great Dunkin Donuts inside the terminal, for those who missed out on breakfast!). We slept over in Aranyaprathet (Aran Garden 2 was fine, except I didn't care for the cockroach skulking behind the loo). Arrived at the border at 9.30, out the other side just over an hour later. I think I took especially long, having to fill out 4 forms each time, plus they have now added a health checkpoint just after the Visa building, where you have to fill out ALL the information again. Couldn't convince them to let me have a visa for less than 1000 Baht, but thought I'd just try.
At the traffic circle it was mayhem. The place was crowded, muddy, and about 10 touts descended on me and the kids. They did really well, never let on they understood English, just mumbled in Dutch and kept smiling. I had told them what to expect, and they were not too freaked out.
Anyway, the touts started their offers at 2500 baht. How's
that for taking advantage of a poor women and her kids? By the time I
had passed the roundabout, I was running out of Camrys and they had only
come down to 1650 baht, plus a fifth passenger in the car. I was getting
worried. But kept playing dumb Dutchman, very bad English, biiiig smile,
only pay 1000 Baht please! Eventually settled on 1200 Baht, just the four
of us, straight to Siem Reap. Nice driver too. The road: we did it in
just over 3 hours, but I don't want to talk about it. Had a huge double
gin and tonic the moment I stepped into the Ivy Bar.
Silly prices (July 2003):
I arrived in Poipet fairly late in the day, about 15:00 and found that with things quiet the 'taxi mafia' were worse than usual. Even walking beyond the traffic circle to the market would not shake them. I had three of them after me, one walking with me, playing the 'good' cop' despite my telling him quite explicitly and many times to 'piss off' while two others were the 'bad cops' who would leapfrog ahead of me, from vehicle to vehicle on a moto to intimidate drivers before I got to them. Despite having walked one or two km beyond the traffic circle I was still getting silly prices when I got one pickup driver who, negotiating in Thai, agreed to take me as far as Sisophon (as he was going to Battambang) for 60 baht. I am sure that his driving was a sideline not a living as I was the only person in the back of the pickup. Another strange thing was that at the checkpoint just out of town I was quixzed quite insistently on how much I had paid for my rather luxurious seat, and just before that checkpoint the one Khmer lady in the front hopped out into the bed, and just after the checkpoint returned to the front seat.
Sisophon was no problem, I waited about an hour while they tried to fill the last seat in the back of the pickup, they tried to get me to pay for it, but I declined and at 17:00 they gave up and went with just three in the back and two in the front.
Just a few days ago I was in Bangkok and on Soi Rambutri (near KSR) I saw a very interesting price list in a travel agent that shows just how big the commision game is. The prices (o/w) were: Poipet 250 B, Sisophon 450 B, Battambang 550 B and Siem Reap 100 B. They must think everybody in KSR is very stupid (perhaps they are) not to see the possibilities such as buying a ticket to Siem Reap and just jumping off in Sisophon, in that.
Thanks. Keep 'em coming.
Reports Page 18 (Jul 2003 - Sep 2003)
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