Page 19 of 22 (April 2003 - June 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.
Making a visa run (June 2003):
I was out the door just after 06:00. A taxi got me to Morchit bus station in less than 45 minutes. Inside the hall, ticket windows were organized by destination. The window for the bus company that had been recommended to me for the trip to Aranyaprathet and the border was closed with a sign saying that the fist bus was go leave at 09:00, but only two windows over, was a bus company with a (first-class) bus leaving at 07:00 - in only 10 minutes.
I was assigned a seat right behind the driver. The bus
looked fairly new and was very clean inside. The air conditioning was
very nice -sufficient without being too cold at any time. When the bus
pulled out of the station, a couple of
About 20 minutes before arriving in Aranyaprathet, the bus was stopped at a road block and some military-looking people checked ID cards and passports. The guy who looked at my passport lifted the card that was stapled inside to see if I my current visa was still valid. I guess if it was not, it was a chance for him to pull me out of the bus and give me the opportunity to tip him or be dragged off to the "monkey how" (jail). Fortunately, everything was in order, so the fellow climbed down and we were back on our way to Aranyaprathet and the border.
Four hours and 15 minutes after leaving Morchit, we pulled into Aranyaprathet. Tuk-tuk drivers swarmed the bus and I hired one of them for the 10-minute ride to the border for 50 baht.
I had read about the border area at http://www.talesofasia.com and some other web sites -the confusion, the noise, the dirt, the beggars, and the touts before coming here, but knowing is not the same as understanding. One nice thing was that around noon, there weren't many tourists crossing the border. The longest wait I had in a cue was less then a minute. The tuk-tuk dropped me off and within a half dozen steps,young girls, maybe 6 to 12 years old came and held umbrellas to provide some shade. As soon as I would shoo one away, another would appear. One tout was quite persistent and dogged me all the way into Poipet and back. I ignored him to the extent possible, and at one point looked at him and said "You know, I'm not going to pay you/" and that appeared to dampen his enthusiasm for a few minutes.
With the help of the persistent tout, I found the building from which I would be stamped out of Thailand. The tout wasn't allowed inside the building and so he watched me wait in line and get processed out of Thailand with his face pressed up against the tinted window.
Next, I went to the Cambodian visa service. The price of a visa is US$20, but they insisted on 1,000 Thai Baht, which is about US$24.10. The immigration officers were keeping the difference for themselves. I asked for a receipt but was told the amount would be noted in the visa. It was: $20 was stamped in the space for "Amount". The greedy so-and-so's. The tout continued to pester me as I walked toward the entry point to Cambodia. As I looked around, he kept steering me to the entry point. This was very distracting and annoying. I spotted what looked like a duty free shop and went in to look around. Walking through the tinted glass windows I was greeted by air conditioning and spotless tile floors, a welcomed relief from the hot dusty street outside. Most prominently positioned were rows of slot machines to my left and a fellow with a metal detector immediately in front of me. I walked through the metal detector and the guy sifted through my bag, not finding anything interesting except my camera, which he only inquired about.
I still had yet to get stamped into Cambodia. On the way to the entry line, I was stopped by a guy in a surgical mask. This was the SARS screening station. I filled out a form that asked where I had been and where I lived. It also asked me to check a box indicating whether I was exposed to SARS, not exposed to SARS or did not know. As far as I know I wasn't exposed to SARS. I was not in total isolation the two weeks prior to the trip, and there were a lot of people on the bus, and they offered the "not exposed" option. Which one would you have chosen to avoid a potentially lengthy delay?
At the Cambodian entrance window, my tout told me to only pay the officer 100 baht. This figure was recently reported as the amount of the bribe one needed to pay so they won't prevent me from returning to Thailand on the same day. As the Cambodian immigration officer looked over my visa, I consulted my notes to see where the Thai entry point was. The immigration officer stared at me, as if he was sizing me up. He didn't ask for the 100 baht bribe, and I didn't offer. He just stamped my passport and slid it across the counter to me. I was now officially in Cambodia. As I stepped out of the office, the tout came up to me again. Did I want a woman? Did I need a ride to town? Where was I going?
It was time to get back to Aranyaprathet and catch that bus to Bangkok. Leaving Cambodia, the immigration officer asked for 100 baht (this was a request for a bribe). I told him that I had already paid, gesturing across the street to the entry point. He gave a derisive glance in that direction then stamped my passport and I was out of Cambodia.
Coming back into Thailand was a breeze. The immigration officer joked about my picture (I had shaved my beard since the passport photo was taken), and he carefully studied the Chinese and Hong Kong visas in my passport, then stamped my passport, good for another 60 days, with a smile. I felt sorry that Cambodia was so far behind Thailand in terms of fighting corruption. "My" tout walked back to the tuk-tuks that would take me back to Aranyaprathet, all the while he helped shoo away young girls with umbrellas. I gave him 50 baht for his help. Thinking back on it, this was the wrong thing to do, as he will continue to pester other tourists.
Easy touts and trucks (June 2003):
We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning from the south
of Thailand and after a few hours around Khao San Road decided that we
might as well spend the night at Aranyaprathet on the way to Cambodia.
We took the public bus down
At the train station, we picked a random ticket counter and painlessly paid our 48 baht each for the 1:05pm third class train to Aranyaprathet (certainly don't bother with any of the `official TAT' touts outside!).
We were glad that we got to the platform early, because it was a mad rush onto the train when it arrived. In the end, we were lucky to be standing by a door when the train pulled up. (People STAND on this train, it is so full.) It was a very short train, and we had to run from further down the platform. The train ride itself was not too hot, since all of the windows are down. The leg room was not ideal, but one of us had an aisle seat, which was more comfortable. And the passengers thin out considerably as the ride goes along.
Not long before Aran, some touts (one of whom was a conductor) handed us some advertisement for their guesthouses. One had a fairly good map of Aran (with internet, food and ATMs marked). The other was called "Ploy Siam Guest House"-- and perhaps the name said it all -- the guy said there'd be a car waiting for us to take us the '50m' to the guesthouse. Who knows where we would have ended up! We took the good map and ignored the touts.
Arriving in Aran was a bit disorienting. We stayed at Aran Garden Guesthouse (as seen in lonely planet, rough guide, etc.) which was 150 baht for a reasonalbly clean, double room with fan. After getting the room, the highlight of Aran was the cheap and vibrant night market where we had (vegetarian!!!) phad thai, exotic fruits, sweets, and corn.
We got up early, and re-read all the border crossing instructions (they certainly helped, especially in pretending we knew what we were doing, which seems important!) We found a tuk-tuk to the border, and paid the driver 50 baht on arrival, without any discussion. From here, walking across the border area proved suprisingly straightforward! We were all ready for crowds of touts, and had practiced our snarling and shoving skills, but the touts in the end were disappointingly easy to evade. :-)
At the traffic circle we had a few touts, none of whom persisted
past our first rebuff. We walked about 700m down the road, past the traffic
circle, and found some pickups. The bargaining (for a seat in the back)
went something like this:
Knowing the real price is the simple secret! We may have made a mistake here by getting in a pretty empty pickup, but waited in the end no more than half an hour. Getting in an empty pickup has the advantage of giving you seats just behind the cab, if that's what you want. (It seems easy to hold on, and you can stow your bags more easily.)
We kept being asked where we were going, but we persisted
in saying Sisophon (or Sway -- which gave the locals a good laugh -- and
one of us thinks helped stop their questioning). Just before Sisophon
they tried to get us onto another pickup going through to Siem Reap, but
staying on right until the centre of town seems best if you want a choice
of pickups. The Sisophon pickup stop was chaos. The touts here are incredible,
and take a really hands-on approach. After one of us got in one truck,
the other was being dragged away to another truck! They treat the locals
much much worse, so don't be too
The next section of road was decidedly worse, and our bums and knees paid the price. On the other hand, we've seen equally bad roads back home in Australia and Michigan. It started to rain when we got to the paved section of road, but by then we were almost in SR. We got in around 3:30 -- not the fastest trip, by a long way, but we were happy (especially doing it the local way, and getting to meet a few along the way, particularly some of the kids at Sisophon.) The pick-up drops you off near the Caltex gas station on the road into town, in easy walking distance of everything.
Touts and more touts (May 2003):
My friend's Thai friend was sure the border was closed and my friend's guidebook said we had to get the visas in Bangkok, thanks to your website I assured them everything was going to be fine.
Taxi to Morchit - 110 baht, took the 8:30am bus for 164 Baht (including a juice and pastries) and arrived in Aranyaprathet around 12:45. Immediately set upon by tuk-tuk drivers, one of whom was able to take three of us for 50 baht. In jumped the driver's 'friend' who asked if we were going to Siem Reap, to which we replied, 'no just the border'. We had to stop by some tourist shop, but lingered only a minute after we insisted on only going to the border. This same tout was to appear later, and he continuously attempted to get us on a minibus. I only had to remember your promise to call us 'stupid' if we did this and imagine a hellish 8-9 hour trip to steel my resolve and firmly say 'no!'.
Arrived at the border, immediately set upon by touts. Able to wave all but one of them away. Cursory SARS questionnaire to fill out, which no one even bothered to read. Then, 1000 baht for a visa along with a request for money by some random person in front of the visa office, which I refused. Mass chaos at the border, apparently things are back to normal.
Got through immigration and on to the traffic circle, where apparently it takes 15 people to stand around and try to paw at your bag in order to get a ride. First offered the back of a truck, which we really didn't want, then I mentioned a Camry to the tout that had been following us (he refused to let us speak directly to a driver, standing in front of us each time). His eyes lit up and said 2600 baht. I laughed and said 1000. He wrote some random numbers in the dust on the hood of a car to try and justify his price, but couldn't work it out. While he was doing this, I managed to get a driver's attention and he wrote '1500' on his cell phone. We then made a show of going over and inquiring about a minibus, which pleased the original tout to no end (do they have immigration for these guys? How do they travel so freely through the border?), but forced the other guys to come down on their price. Finally, agreed on 1200 baht for the car (divided by three people). The driver, who spoke no English, wasn't super happy, but happy enough. He did have to pay 100 baht at a checkpoint just outside Poipet. We passed a minibus filled with other tourists just outside of town - I can only imagine the hell. Arrived in Siem Reap three hours later around 4:30pm. The road was in pretty bad shape after Sisophon and improved just before Siem Reap.
Coming back, we had the same driver who would go no lower than 1200 baht for the return trip. Fair enough, I guess. The road seemed improved somewhat, and we got to the border before noon. Touts tried to get us on a minibus - no way. Bus to Bangkok left 10 minutes after we climbed aboard - 140 baht. We had a wonderful trip, thanks for your advice!
Another uneventful ride (May 2003):
After reading your website, I was prepared for WW II on our trip from Bangkok to Siem Riep - thankfully it was uneventful. Took a cab in Bangkok at 6:50 am but the driver took a short cut and the killer Monday morning traffic (April 29) pushed the bill up to 150 baht (50 minutes). At the bus station, bought the 164 baht tickets, left at 8:30 am and arrived 1 pm. Took us 30 minutes to clear border and get a Camry taxi for 1100 Baht (two people). While the border crossings were not pleasant and very chaotic, I found the beggars and touts (much worse in Indonesia) fairly easy to brush off. Got to the traffic circle and just walked away from the touts. About 1 block away, two cops on a moto stopped us, asked where we were going and mentioned that our options were the truck and the Tourist Bus. Since we wanted a taxi and the tourist bus was the same scam (are the cops working for them now or are the cops trying to get people from using the taxi mafia, I don't know which one?), we kept walking and quickly lost the touts. After one more block, two Camry's pulled up from the traffic circle (none were on the way or coming toward the circle) and I bargained down from 1300 to 1100 baht for the taxi. The driver had a young Cambodian guy in the back and I asked him if he was his friend - and the driver quickly yes. Of course it was the taxi mafia but the guy didn't do anything and just stayed in the car until we were close to finishing the negotiations. After that, we arrived in Siem Riep around 5 pm and happily dropped off at the destination of our choice.
A solo female tries the journey (May 2003):
I did this journey on my own on February 22nd and being a solo female traveller I was a bit nervous about it, even though I read your instructions so many times I think I nearly knew them by heart. Everything went very smoothly.
Taxi to Morchit, around 100 baht, bus to Aranyaprathet, had to get the 180 baht bus. When I boarded the bus, I was the only westerner and I started to get worried I might not find any other travellers to share a taxi with. Anyway I decided to worry about that at the border and enjoyed the bus ride. At Aranyaprathet I got a tuk tuk to the border 50 baht, tout closer to the border included. I ignored his questions of where I was going and just made little chit chat as he spoke good English. Once at the border, it was quite a mess as I expected, children holding umbrellas over my head, touts surrounding me and the one that boarded my tuk tuk being so close to me like a bodyguard.
The paperwork between Thailand and Cambodia was ok, a bit slow. A couple of times a guy was trying to convince me to get my visa for me, but I did not buy it. Luckily I found 2 German guys at the border wanting to share a Camry to Siem Reap, so we slowly made our way to the madness of Poipet. We were soon surrounded again by tens of touts, all offering different prices, starting at crazy 900 baht each. We did not move from the initial madness that somehow, with the help of my initial tout (the one that boarded my tuktuk), we got a whole Camry for ourselves for 900 baht in total. I don't know why they agreed on such a good price, maybe because in those days, being just after the riots in PP, there were not many tourists in sights.
I paid my tout a little tip for the help, he probably got his commission anyway, but he was kind to me, giving advice and telling me to be careful at fast hands reaching for my bags etc, so I thought a little tip was earned.
We got a sweet Khmer driver, who spoke not one word of English, but was always smiling. The ride was bumpy but pretty fast, I think we made it to Siem Reap at 4,00pm, less than 3 hours. It was dry season, so the car was cruising at quite a good speed. Once in Siem Reap we had to exchange to a van, as apparently the Camry could not go in the city centre (maybe because no number plate, my guess?), but eventually they took us to the guesthouse we wanted without any objection.
Overall this was a good adventure, with no downsides really and without your website I would have probably opted for the KSR busses, missing out on lots of pretty sights.
Quiet times during the local border closure (April 2003):
So, there we were, 21 pages neatly printed out and ready to face the challenge.
Since we are not morning people we thought we take the afternoon train and overnight in Aranyaprathet. It appears we are not even midday people, we missed the train (only by seconds though!) and went straight on to Morchit Bus Terminal. A breeze: went to the indicated counter, got the indicated ticket at the indicated price.
Arrived in Aranyaprathet and bargained the tuktuk driver down to the
indicated 30 Baht to take us to Aran Garden 2 hotel.
At this point they give up, and the tuktuk driver takes us to the Aran Garden 2 Hotel. We go out for dinner, take the 20 pages printout to study by heart over a beer or two.
The next morning, hardly a word is spoken between us as we both become very nervous and already start putting on a grumpy face to scare away touts (BTW, my then boyfriend, now fiancée reckons I am very good at that, putting on a grumpy face.... :(
We catch a tuktuk and drive to the border. As it is still closed for
Khmers and Thais at the time, there is nothing, not a single soul on the
street, all stalls are closed and no-one tries to enter our tuktuk, let
alone speak to us. Almost dissapointed we take the bags and leave Thailand,
get our visas ("ok, where do we go now?" "Well, I am not
sure, I think the next one on Gordon's plan is on the right." "Don't
look lost, look confident." "Phew, there it is, even has it
written all over the place, we could have found that by ourselves!");
pay 1000 Baht each and, passing all the completely deserted
There they wait, all of them, and here is only us. But Gordon said do not talk to them at the circle, move on, away from the circle and try to find a Toyota Camry further down the road. Challenge no 1: What the f*** does a Toyota Camry look like? If they sell two seats in front, it must surely be something like a pickup? A jeep? Challenge no 2: Gordon also said: Hop on a motorcylce with sidecar and say 'dao dao'. Too cheap to spend 10 Baht on a motorbike and too nervous to spot one in the first place, we simply walk on, away from the crowds, as we usually so. After some walking in the midday heat it dawns on us why Gordon advises to use a motorcycle: They are faster than the walking crowds! You could perhaps get away from them... Well, now there is no turning back and perhaps it is only because the border is closed and thus there are generally less travellers, but they cannot be outrun. They stick to us.
But we are determined. Gordon says, if you walk about 1km down the road,
that is where all the Camrys park and wait. So we walk. After half an
hour (still surrounded by touts) there are still no Camrys on the side
of the road. A quick calculation and a little bit of common sense tell
us that by now we must have walked at least 2 kms. And still no Camrys.
So we face them. We stop and start talking to them. Within seconds there
is a Camry (now that is a Camry, interesting. And they sell two seats
in the front...?! Very interesting) and around 10 people surround it and
shout at us all at once.
Driver and Friend start talking. I overhear 'Sway' and know from my wonderful notes, Sway = Sisophon. I say 'NO, we do not want to go to Sway, only Siem Reap' "Ok, ok"
After a while we stop for gas at a little roadside stall. Friend sticks
his head in the car and says we should give him some of the money now,
so he can pay for the gas. Red bold letters appear in my mind: Whatever
you do, never pay anything
Reluctantly they agree and the crowds dissapear. Friend now says goodbye and wants some money for his valuable services. "How about 50 Baht?" I say his service was crap, he overcharged us and does not even bring us where we wanted to go. In the end we give him the 20 Baht we found in his friends car.....
Despite all our fears of roasting in the midday sun for hours before
finding another person to come to SR with us, it only takes about 20 mins
and less than 2 hours later we safely arrive at Earthwalkers in Siem Reap.
Get off the car, pay 1500 Baht to the driver only. A breeze!
Another successful 'on your own' (April 2003):
The two of us left Bangkok on Feb 27. At this time the border between Thailand and Cambodia was closed to Thais, so this may explain why the crossing was not nearly as frantic as I anticipated. We took a taxi from our hotel near Pantip Plaza to Morchit bus station. Like nearly every taxi driver we encountered, he tried to negotiate a fare instead of turning on the meter. I don't understand these guys, there are a million taxis in Bangkok, you would think he'd be happy just to get a fare. I told more than one taxi driver to get lost as I walked away and hailed another cab in about five seconds. We left our hotel at about 7:15, and reached the bus station in about twenty minutes. We knew exactly where to go because we had been to the bus station the previous week and made a note of where to buy our tickets.
We got the 180B tickets for Aranyaprathet, along with a snack sized cake and a tetra pack yogurt drink. I love travelling in Thailand - they're always feeding you. I was concerned that the bus might be packed with travellers, but it was only about a quarter full. We left right on time at 8:00 AM, made a few stops to pick up passengers and a bathroom/refueling break of about fifteen minutes. We arrived in Aranyaprathet at 12:30 PM. There were three or four tuk-tuks hanging around the bus when we disembarked. The fare to the border was 50B, and we were off. About a kilometre from the border a tout climbed aboard. My partner told him to get lost, but I thought it was just as well to let him be. I had no intention of paying him anything, and I thought that once we struggled to get rid of this one another would just clamber aboard. When we reached the border, children with umbrellas and other touts offering their "services" swarmed us. We ignored them and made our way through the Thai exit office and then on to the Cambodian visa office. It was empty except for a couple of Cambodians.
I made the mistake of not taking a break in the calmness of Thailand. I hadn't eaten anything since 6:30 AM and now it was after 1:00 PM. If I'm hungry I become tired and I don't make good decisions. I was also getting tired of the touts pestering me and getting in my face. And now that I'm sitting in the comfort of my climate controlled home, it's easy to forget the 35 degree heat that caused me to soak through the back of my T-shirt. I was looking for a restaurant, just so I could have ten minutes of quiet time in the shade, but there was nothing. I walked over to one of the casinos, but it was closed because Thais were unable to cross the border. We decided to just walk until we found a restaurant. We passed the traffic circle, and kept on going. We walked for quite a ways, as far as a small row of stores. By this time we had lost most of the touts, but two or three were still hanging on. At least it was much more pleasant to stand in the shade.
We told the tout we wanted a whole Camry to ourselves. The tout began at 2700B, and we laughed. Without your website we would have settled for 2000B, but thanks to you we knew the real prices. After about ten minutes of back-and-forth we settled on 1300B for a whole Camry to Siem Reap. He wasn't really happy at this price and I still don't understand why he was making such a big deal about what I know to be the market price. When they got a car they tried a small scam because there was a woman sitting in the front seat. We said what the hell is this and they replied that she was the taxi driver's wife who was going only a kilometre up the road. We asked the woman where she was going and she said Siem Reap. We might have paid 800B for the rear of the car, but I wasn't going to pay 1300B for a shared car. We held our ground and they asked the woman to leave the taxi. We got into the Camry, and they asked for the money up front and we said "no", and then for half the money. Thanks to your website we just said we would pay the driver when we reached Siem Reap.
The journey to Siem Reap was relatively uneventful and took two hours and thirty minutes, including a five-minute bathroom break. All of the bridges were passable and I guess the road was in good shape because we made good time, though it was the worst road I've ever been on. I can't believe that anyone would choose to travel in the back of pickup. The huge clouds of red dust thrown up by the many vehicles would make breathing very difficult. I found the little bit of dust that filtered into the Camry very annoying, I can't imagine being in an open vehicle.
For the return journey our hotel (the excellent and highly recommended
Mandalay Inn) arranged the taxi for 1200B. That trip on March 3 also took
two and a half hours and was easier as we knew what to expect. As stated
in the website, the touts don't bother you, and it's just a question of
how many people are ahead of you in line.
Does anyone else stop at the casinos? (April 2003):
I crossed the border from Thailand into Cambodia "on my own" three days ago. I wouldn't have made it without your 20-odd page thesis on the subject. So I thought I'd give you a description of the trip: I left Khao San Rd. just before 7 a.m., paid 120B for the taxi, and arrived in time for the 7:30 bus to Aranya Prathet. Indeed, it cost me 164B exactly as you'd written.
The bus took a bit longer than expected, pulling into the bus station around noon. Several touts approached me and offered to take me to the border for 50B. At the border, still more touts - maybe five or six. A boy followed me with an umbrella, asking for 40B or something like that. I joked around with the touts for a minute and then went on my way to the Thai exit booth. I waited five minutes in line, and headed back outside, picking up two more touts. [I think it should be noted that as scruffy and persistent as they fellas are they do a good job of directing you around to the proper offices.] For the most part I just tried to keep a good humor about it and ignored them. That tactic seemed to work.
Next, I bought a Cambodian visa for 1,000B. They asked for 1,200, then 1,100, and without much fuss settled for 1,000. No wait in line. [A quick sidenote, I did get into a brief, semi-friendly exchange with a bus owner/tout who offered to get me one seat in a share taxi for 600B! He even clarified that there would be 5 other people in the car! He explained - incongruously - that a whole taxi would cost 1,200B. When I questioned his math (600B x 6 people = 1,200B??), he didn't seem to care.] After a short laughing spell on my part, I proceeded toward the Cambodia immigration post, but on my way - and this is where the story gets good - I stopped in at the Grand Diamond casino.
I cashed 500B into chips, sat down at the roulette table, and began to win. After about an hour and three drinks later (free, of course) I was more than 1,000B richer. Actually, I must have won more than that because I passed out a lot of tips. So while many people might have a bad impression of Poipet, I rank it as one of the highlights of my trip.
Okay, so I go back outisde, and the same touts are still waiting for me. I go down another 50m or so to the immigration office, get my stamp without waiting 30 seconds, and walk out into the traffic circle. I begin a negotiation with a taxi driver interspersed with a lot of screaming and shouting from a dozen or more touts. The negotiation goes like this:
TAXI DRIVER: 1,500B
The whole bargaining session lasted no more than 10 seconds. I get in, and off we go. Later, I ask him how much he had to pay to the taxi mafia. He said 200B goes to the mafia and another 100B to the police.
We make a brief stop in Sisophon. He asks me if I would mind if three other people get in the back as I was in the front. I shrugged, and they piled in. All told, it was about three hours from Poipet, and we arrived in Siem Reap a little after four.
I thought it was great fun. Not bad at all. Thanks again!
Thanks. Keep 'em coming.
Reports Page 19 (Apr 2003 - Jun 2003)
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