Page 22 of 22 (November 2001 - May 2002)
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.
Poipet, another perspective (May 2002):
I wanted to tell you that Poipet is a very traumatic experience for most of us (my first time was in 1999 when I even had to face the pill scam, lost my Cambodian "guide" due to the delay and had to repay another 300 baht for a new truck --back seat, inside--, for the trip which lasted from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. in those days). I admit that travel conditions have improved remarkably (after facing gun-toting hoodlums on bridges and uncrossable mudpits in 1999), but most of us tourist-type people (even those who say 'I'm a traveller, not a tourist.') just want a hassle-free trip to Siem Reap. The Khao San Road agencies do indeed waste a lot of time on unnecessary pit stops but I have to admit that they take good care of their victims and do not rip them off (I already had my Cambodian visa from Paris, but the price they were asking at the border stop was not at all outrageous). Your advice about negotiating transportation at Poipet and then again at Sisophon is kind of scary even though your objective is to be reassuring. But each of us will decide on the best method, because all of the prices are laughably cheap.
What I am hoping to discover as soon as possible on your site are the new ways of getting from Sihanoukville to Thailand now that the Koh Kong bridge has opened. I did not really care for the boat scam (boat + little boat + moto to the border) in January and am hoping that the bridge will completely change the travel options. The latest I read on the Thorn Tree was that buses were not yet plying this route, but I hope that the situation will change soon.
A recent journey (May 2002):
... just crossing a border has made Thailand seem utopian by comparison. Before I even got to the border I was swamped with touts trying to get me to ride on their trucks, hold my luggage, carry an umbrella over my head, let them process my visa, etc. That last one is a particularly cynical scam, since processing my own damned visa took about a minute and a half, though I still had to pay about five Canadian dollars extra to the border guard to make him do his job.
Then, lining up to get my arrival/departure card signed and stapled to my passport, I noticed the guy took five dollars off the tourist ahead of me for the service. I looked suspicious, went and pretended to talk to a cop across the street for a second, and came back. He didn't charge me a thing. But then I got soaked for five dollars on the pickup truck ride, realizing too late that the Cambodians on the truck were paying about a third of the price I was paying for the same trip. Even this was not bad though, by the hurt and wounded face of the guy who closed the deal I can tell that most tourists cough up even more.
It took about five hours to get to Siem Reap, the nearest town to the Angkor temple complex, wedged into the back of two different pickup trucks, each carrying five people and one small farm animal in the cab and at least ten more people in the back. The terrain from the border to Siem Reap is all flat and mostly farmland. It reminded me a bit of eastern Alberta, only wetter, and in Alberta you don't see women and children busting rocks for road construction, nor guys riding 150 cc motorcycles with presumably dead cows and pigs strapped to the back. The roads were OK in some places, but cratered moonscapes in others, and I arrived in dire need of an ass transplant. At least the driver wasn't as suicidal as I've become accustomed to in Thailand and Laos, slowing down for small children and bridges, perhaps because one of the the bridges had a gaping hole in it.
Helpful tourist police (May 2002):
bus left the Northern Terminal at 5.30am and as we travelled in our tuk-tuk
to the border from Aranyaprathet we were preparing ourselves for WW3 (especially
as the guy had a sticker of Saddam Hussein in his window!). A few touts
jumped on as we got near the drop-off point and then we got swarmed when
we actually got off. A few firm "no thank yous" got rid of all except
one determined tout who followed us through as we checked into immigration.
He disappeared when we crossed the border and we had a hassle-free entry
into Cambodia (no medical record scams).
You think only Westerners have trouble? A report from a Thai tourist who purchased a bus ticket on Khao San Road (April 2002):
... It was an awful, long and tough journey, only around 300 kms but took all day long from 6 am. to 6.30 pm. About the trip from Bkk to Siem Reap, it was very very terrible and worse than you told me earlier. Firstly we took an elegant bus from Bkk at 7.00am. The bus seemed all right and in the perfect condition. A few hours later, the driver tried to show us he had some problems with the engine, then he stopped for more than an hour to have some food and pretended checking the bus. Then he kept driving for 15 mins, and stopped again and talked to each other about something wrong with the engine and finally he told us some of the cylinders were broken. So the bus could not work. They called the company and told us we had to wait for the new bus about 1.30-2 hrs. At 3 p.m. there was no new bus and he told us we had to take songtaew to the border because it would close at 5 p.m. No time for waiting a new bus!!! Just only 2 songtaews for 45 passenger with the luggages. I had to sit on the pile of backpacks. We arrive the border around 5.30 p.m. All of us were in hurry to finish the visas. We left the border at 6 p.m. and arrive Siem Reap at midnight. What a terrible journey!!! It was 18 hrs, incredible!!! All of tourist stayed at the guest house we were dumped. Everyone were too exhausted to find the guesthouse. Everything you told me is absolutely right!!!
Haggling (April 2002):
Poipet we were asked, very aggressively for $7 US up front and $7 US more
when we arrived at Sisophon (we were saying Swai, which was great advice!).
This threw us a bit, I mean 600 Baht! My girlfriend starting haggling,
which I was against, but it was a very disconcerting experience so I can
not blame her for anything. I was threatening to leave, and we were both
At Sisophon we walked to and got into the most full truck, people were grabbing us which I didn't enjoy too much. We were not asked for money at the time. About 30 minutes later when we were in the middle of nowhere the driver slowed down the truck, put his arm in front of me and asked for 200 baht each saying "New Year 200 baht, 100 baht for back" I didn't believe him but felt threatened and happy that we were going to be in Siem Reap by 3:30pm so agreed.
Oh, we left Bangkok on the 6am bus and arrived at about 3:30pm.
Thank you for your website, your info was spot on, and has given me an experience to remember.
A tough reminder - DO NOT PAY UNTIL YOU REACH YOUR DESTINATION!!!! As described by the writer, "The Hells of Poipet" (April 2002):
recently returned in April I have a couple comments and considerations
for your Cambodia overland crossing page. The first is to agree that the
touts were completely out of hand, especially at the circle after crossing
into Poipet. Since we were heading to Battambang we found it extremely
difficult to find a truck that wasn't going to Siem Reap -- and this seemed
to make us an easy target. We also made the mistake of paying up front,
this was the largest mistake of my entire trip through south east Asia.
Once they had our money we sat in the truck for close to two hours, I
then began to get irate and so to appease me they started driving around.
First they took us to a small market in Poipet and tried to unload us
to a bunch of taxi drivers, when we refused to get out of the truck they
drove us further and further into Poipet, finally stopping and pretending
that the truck was broken. Realizing that we had been pretty much abducted
we got out of the truck and demanded our money back -- at which point
I argued with the men for about 15 minutes, and luckily caused a big enough
scene that about 25 villagers came out and watched (possibly preventing
any sort of violence). Finally, we got the majority of our money back
but we still had to find our way out of the shantytown and back to the
highway. . . with our backpacks on and in the noon heat and dust. The
truck we were in then raced ahead of us and told just about everyone they
met on the way to rip us off -- some how every next truck, moto, and taxi
knew we were headed to Battambang -- I wonder how?! In the end we found
a decent truck with a driver who spoke moderate English and had already
been hired by three monks (a good sign). But I can't stress enough how
important it is not to just go in the first truck that promises to
take you, to not give them any money, and to keep your cool no matter
how overwhelmed and over heated you are.
There and back (April 2002):
7:30 am bus to Aranyaprathet, hour or so struggle through the border chaos
(the tuk-tuk driver kept trying to veer off into the parking lots of various
transport companies, until firmly redirected by me). Then a search for
a truck; nothing obvious at the roundabout, total confusion, harassed
by touts, etc. Found a taxi, agreed to share with a German guy also heading
to Siem Reap; began negotiating price. Somehow with jet-lag, chaos and
miscalculation, we ended up agreeing to $25 each instead of the $12 each
we at first thought. Argh. In defence, I can only say I was just 30 hours
from my last real sleep in California, and I was being cheated by a Professional.
About 10 km past Sisophon, the driver hit an upturned plate on one of
the steel bridges, breaking a tire. After the tire was fixed, the car
refused to start. A slight buzz of paranoia that this was some sort of
extra payment opportunity, but no, the driver was indeed angry and disgusted.
Off he went on the back of a moto, looking for a mechanic. The German
and I took our ease beneath a large tree in a pair of those ubiquitous
white plastic chairs, testing different flavors of tropical fruit sodas
from a roadside stand and playing "peek-a-boo" with the local toddlers.
The driver reappeared with an unprepossesing colleague clutching a handful
of spanners, who proceeded to dismantle parts of the taxi's engine. Within
a surprisingly short time, the car started. Congratulations all around!
I gave the mechanic an extra tip of $1, at which his face lit up, causing
me to realize his fee-for-service was probably somewhat less. Anyway,
we arrived in Siem Reap at 5:00 pm, in time to find good rooms and see
the sunset. I slept like a stone.
Stroking my ego with this report (April 2002):
Just a quick note to say that my girlfriend an I have just travelled overland from Bangkok and found that your information was entirely correct. Prices, times and everything. I think we did it in about 9 hours, hotel to hotel. The truck touts who jumped onto our tuk tuk as we approached the border were actually quite helpful, pointing us in the right direction, and allowing us to look as though we knew what we were doing to everybody else! We easily found a nice full truck at the circle, leaving for Battambang. We haggled the prices down to what you suggested they would be and off we went, feeling pleased with ourselves. The road was a bit bumpy and very dusty, it is very hot and dry at the moment so I can see how the road is deteriorating. It was ok though, no major hassles.
Slow boat to China, how about a slow bus to Siem Reap - count the hours it took! And a 400 baht visa scam!! (April 2002):
We opted for the easier method. Stayed at the New Siam Guesthouse near the Khao San area in Bangkok. Its pretty clean and for 550 baht/night you get a king size bed, air conditioning and a private bath.
So we booked our bus ride to Aranyaprethet next door at a local travel agency for 250 baht each and boarded the bus down the street at 7:00am the following day. It was a double-decker and they packed it full. Took about 4 hours to get to the border town. They stopped at an outdoor restaurant to fill out forms so they could help us part with 1400 baht for the border crossing (that's 1000 for the fee and an additional 400 for those greedy bus bastards). They then bussed us to the border and we hoofed-it into Poipet. Gordon was right on the money describing the frenetic border culture, poor beggars and touts. What a sight! Waited in line at immigration for 1-1/2 hours then walked 1/4 mile to meet our mini bus. Took 4 hours to get to Sisophon where we stopped and had dinner for 2 hours then another 5+ hours of bone-jarring road to Siem Reap. That was a pretty long day, but I have to say it was nonetheless, interesting as we passed through many small villages.
My recommendation for those considering this trip is to definitely do it! Its a bit uncomfortable at times but the culture and temples at Angkor are unbelievable and worth it.
A short report (March 2002):
idea was to come [to Siem Reap] by the minibus until I read your text.
I started making precise questions to the agencies in KSR about guesthouses
and arriving times and I decided to do it myself.
There and back, a report (March 2002):
...I did overnite in Aran, out of convenience, and this had the advantage of being well in front of the KSR crowd. The only hitch was when I sat down in a pickup (inside, 2 seats), some yokels did start a conversation. They said 300 baht, for Poipet to Sisophon. I had to reply to this, because silence is saying yes, so the haggling started and never ended. At some point this guy introduced me to "the manager" of this, I had trouble to keep a straight face. So finally, as I would not budge, they threw me out. Me thinks they had to do this because two very timid-looking Japanese sat also in there, and I suspect they had gotten them to pay up front and pay their price, so they could not have another falang there and get away with the locals price. No problem, I just took the next pickup, and this one went without discussion, and when in Sisophon they said they would even go to Siem Reap, so I did not have to change!! In SR, I gave them 300 baht, the correct fare. They demanded 400, I smiled, said 300 is ok and enough and he smiled and we all smiled, and then I bade good-bye.
For the return, another story. I guess I had gotten fat and old, so I went for the muchly advertised direct buses for usd 5 to the border, just. It was cheaper than the trucks, no hassles, so why not ? Ok, pickup was at 630h, and then we went circling for more than one and a half hours in SR, having picked up all the pax. I was hopping mad! And would have bitten myself in the arse if I could, but you know that's not possible. Well, when in Sisophon they pulled into a restaurant, a stop, and that was it. I let everyone out, then grabbed my bag, spoke briefly to a motodop, and jumped ship. We were out some secs on the street when I saw a pickup, Poipet now? Yes, but they started circling also! Then they stopped, turned to me, and asked about the price. I told them in no uncertain tone, Svay-Poipet 50 baht, Poipet-Sway same-same, no fuss, 100 baht I pay, always pay. they took it. We circled some more, needed more pax, and suddenly two ladies appeared, and off we were!
Arriving in Poipet, I did not see the minibuses I left at their office, so I had beat them! No doubt they had been looking for me, and I hope for long. May they all go bankrupt and rot in hell for ever. Of course .....this late arrival meant I was not the only one, so thanks to the agency I was in company of many other falangs, and that at both borders. some more curses went skywards. (it did not impede me from reaching my destination of the day, but as a matter of principle). So, for the rest of the day I gloated over this initiative in Sway, and swore never again change a winning team.
All in all, it was great fun, and I saw less touts really that I had expected, or did they not dare approach me, because of my Eat-Shit-you-lousy-little-Scambag -look behind my raybans ?? I may have run over some of them without noticing it, also, but whatever.
An alternative way to travel (March 2002):
small details of our trip:
I kind of screwed up with the moto price. I figured 50 a seat for a truck would amount to 150-200 (two of us, depending on how how many seats I would need for two bags). Since he gave as a nice trip, was friendly, had to go back and spent quite some time I figured to give him 300. Little on the high side but I really liked the trip so I didn't want to be cheap. However when I paid him I asked him if it was ok? Hoping for a big thank you from him that I was so generous....One of the jeep drivers then indicated that he wanted 1 more, and after that he himself also said that.
Eventually I did, so I paid 400 baht. I think it is way too much but I can only blame myself. I did not arrange any price beforehand (thought he would just drop me of at the first truck in Poipet!) and he didn't speak much English either. I might have gotten a better deal if I had asked him to stop just before the truck stop, so I could pay him without 6 people around us, probably encouraging HIM to ask more...Cant blame him for giving in to that.
Still apart from that moment I had a great day. Must say that generally touts in Cambodia are nicer than Thailand. Most want to give you a ride or sell you something but charge decent prices. All motos in Siem Reap ask 6 dollar for a day tour and so on...
Adventures trying to buy a Bangkok to Siem Reap bus ticket on Khao San Road (March 2002):
Informed here in Bangkok for a ticket 'without scam' to Siem Reap. She
asked if I had a visa. I said no, I get it at the border (read your site!)
Visa fees and long queues (March 2002):
my first trip across at Aran/Poipet, I offered up my two passport photos,
passport, form and $20. The Immigration officer wanted 1000 baht. I politely
told him that the fee was $20. He insisted on 1000 baht. I showed him
two previous visas evidencing that I'd been in Cambo before and that I
*knew* the visa fee was $20. It wasn't a "Mexican stand-off" or anything.
I just wanted him to know that I knew. What looked like to be a supervisor
behind him at a desk just kind of smiled (acknowledgly that I'd caught
this guy in their little scam). Finally, the officer (with a scowl) took
my money and stamped my passport.
Sleeping in (February 2002):
Just like to add that it is possible to depart Bangkok from Morchit with the 12.20 bus and cross the border before 17.00 - though that really doesn't give you any margins. But with the 11.00 bus one can sleep in and make it to the border well in time to cross. I took the buss and arrived in SR around 21.30.
Visa games (January 2002):
We were told by our guesthouse information centre (New Siam 2) at about 9:30am that we were too late to get our visa processed through them in order to leave sometime in the next few days (it being Friday, and the embassy being closed over the weekend), but after some persistence they put me on the phone with a "visa agent" who promised us transport to the border, and on to Siem Reap, plus zero extra fees for the visa at the border, all for 1,500 baht (up-front, to our KSR guest house info centre). We bring the forms and our passport photos on the bus, the rest gets done for us at the border. After reading your note, and those of the other travellers, I can already see that we may have paid more than we needed to, and I am concerned that we will be subject to the same scam you warn about, although with a receipt through a relatively reputable guesthouse that clearly states that we have already paid for our visa, I am still hopeful that we will get through without much of a problem.
Dealing with touts and scammers, my kind of guy (January 2002):
I think all scammers should be put in from of a Comando of Fuseliers in some backyard with no onlookers. Asked by a Grand Inquisitor ( I might volunteer for the role ) just one question, is "why you hassling touriss wid scam, you scum? " , and if they don't come up with a real good answer, one that satisfies even the Grand Inquisitor Himself, and he is not an easy one to satisfy, then just an almost unnoticeable slight movement of His Excellency by head, in direction if the Comando who would instantly understand the gesture, and one dirty lousy scambag less.
Siem Reap to Bangkok and confusing visa information (January 2002):
the trip from Siem Reap to Bangkok (Khao San Road) it is much cheaper,
convenient and with comfort to travel by air-con mini bus from Siem Reap
to Bangkok (Khao San Road) for only US$8.00. Tickets were purchased from
Ta Som guest house the night before. The mini bus left at 0900 hours and
stopped at 1030 hours at an isolated "Phkayprode Restaurant" for about
half an hour, and we arrived at the Poipet border at at 1330 hours. There
was a large number of travellers at the Cambodian and Thailand Immigration
Check Points then. We finally arrived at Bangkok (Khao San Road) 23/12/01
at 1830 hours.
Border scams beginning in Bangkok: (January 2002):
...The only caveat I have for you readers is that the Kao San road agency tells you the border fee is 1200B but once you get there the tour guides hit you for 1500B. The guard at the kiosk where you pay this fee asked me out the side door how much I paid, presumably to calculate his own kickback?
Border scams (December 2001):
...bus leaves from Khao San at 7 am (though it's supposed to be 6; standard repacking everyone in one bus deal). Bus gets to a cafe near Poipet at 11:30. from then on, we wait as more mini buses drop people off. at 2 the "visa man" arrives. everyone is told to get their visa from him, or otherwise they will have to wait hours at the border, and "the buses wont wait for you."
But he's charging 1300 baht. and it's only 1000 at the border.
Twenty people do it anyway.
What to do with your bags? (December 2001):
I was recently robbed on a pickup truck from Poipet to Battambang. Got in a pickup on the traffic circle--against your advice, I know, but for 150 baht in the cab all the way to Battambang, I didn't mind and was happy to just get going, as it was getting late (and we literally stopped in Sisophon for less than 1 minute, as promised). There was only one seat free in the cab, so I put my big pack in the back of the truck (no way was it sitting on my lap!). I had valuables in a locked compartment of the pack, and the entire thing was covered with a rain cover. Someone opened up the rain cover, forced the zipper on the locked compartment, and stole my valuables--cash, camera, CDs.
What's more, INSIDE the cab, an old woman sitting next to me stole something out of my day pack, which was at my feet. Nothing valuable, as the valuables were in a locked compartment, but still. She must have been pretty good--I didn't notice a thing. I don't know if the two thieves worked together, or were independent and it was a coincidence.
Now, I posted this on Lonely Planet to warn people and got the typical ''if you're so stupid to leave your pack on the back of the truck, you deserve to get robbed' replies. Maybe that's true, I don't know. I guess I was foolish in thinking that the rain cover and lock would prevent casual theft, as it wouldn't be possible to steal something subtly, without everyone else on the back of the truck seeing. So either they all just turned their heads, or more likely got a piece of the action. I guess what I've heard about Cambodians being generally honest people when it comes to this sort of thing just aren't true. Went and spent three hours in the police station in Battambang for shits and giggles, answering questions like what my mother did for a living and where my father was born. Fortunately, I'm now in Siem Reap and am liking Cambodia a bit better than I did at first.
In any event, for future reference, was I really absolutely crazy to put my bag in the back? Is the norm to buy an extra seat for your bag. [Gordon here: The writer is not the first person to have this happen to them, but it's not that common of an occurrence. I'm guessing the two thieves had nothing to do with each other and the writer was having a really bad day. As for the folks in the back - half of them probably weren't paying attention and those that might have seen what was going on either decided it wasn't their problem or were told to shut up under threat of violence. But we'll never really know. Also, that the writer got the truck at the circle likely had nothing to do with being robbed. As a rule, I always keep my bags up front with me and buy two seats. I either take the front seat, or if I'm in one of the back seats I put my bags against the window/side of the truck and I sit in the middle and use my bags as a pillow when I go to sleep.]
Fun with tourist buses (November 2001):
We made our way on Thai Public bus from Khorat to Aranyaprathet. Once through the border we needed to get to Siem Reap. At this stage it was about 12:30pm. There were as usual a lot of touts hanging around and we got taken up by a couple of likely lads and brought to a bus. We paid 200 baht each for the trip. The tickets were issued in the name of Neak Krokhom Travel & Tours (Red Dragon Travel & Tours). There was about 10 of us a 20 seater bus. We started down the road at about 1.15. We had gone all of 1/2 mile when we pulled in in front of an office belonging to Rasa Khmer Travel/ Lin Da Tours. They told us another group of travellers would be coming from the border, sure enough after about 1/2 an hour another 10 weary souls turned up. We waited another hour outside the office (we were told they were waiting for petrol money!).
Eventually about 3 pm we left, 1 hour later we stopped for food in Sisophon. We were told it was going to be a 15 minute break. Once everyone had got off the bus, it promptly drove away leaving us abandoned for 2 hours at this restaurant in Sisophon. Eventually the bus came back, at around 6. They said it needed to have its spare tyre fixed, its air-conditioning fixed and to be filled with petrol.
We were 10 minutes out of Sisophon when there was a loud bang and a hissing sound, the air-con had broken (2 hours well spent). [Gordon here: It is highly unlikely that any repairs were ever made to either the air-com or the tire and the breaking of the unit was an amusing coincidence.]
We finally arrived in SR at 10pm. We had e-mailed ahead to another hotel the previous day to get a booking. This information the driver ignored and brought us straight to the gates of the Beng Mealea hotel. At first we demanded to be taken to our chosen guesthouse, but when we realised this wasn't going to happen, we reluctantly spend a night there. We left at 7:15 am the following morning never to return.
More fun with tourist buses (November 2001):
I travelled to Siem Reap overland on November 11, 2001. I had printed out your instructions on how to do the overland trip on your own and we followed it to a T until we got off the bus and needed to find a tuk tuk to the border. We were accosted by a transport agency who offered to take us to Siem Reap for 200 Baht. I told them that I had read about their scams and that we wanted to arrive before night fell. It was 11:30 am and she assured us that the trip would take only 4 hours, so depending on how long it took for us to get our visas, we should be there between 4 and 5 pm. I didn't believe this, but my travelling companion did not want to go through the hassle of finding a pick-up, so we went with this girl. She paid for the tuk-tuk, showed us where to go at the border, and was quite helpful, actually. It took us about 30 min. to get through immigration. She told us to wait in a cafe. Here we waited, and waited, and waited. We wanted to leave, but we had already paid... (should have just seen it as sunk costs!) Finally, at 3:30, the girl had rounded up enough victims to fill a bus and we were off. The road was rough, NOT made for buses. Although it did not make any stops (save one short bathroom break), we did not arrive until 10:30 pm. We were dropped off at the Happy Guesthouse and pressured into staying. I told my fellow travellers that Siem Reap is not dangerous at night and that we could simply walk away. Although the touts from the guesthouse were very unpleasant as we staged our mass escape, we ignored them and guided nearly everyone to the main street (the touts physically prevented 2 Korean girls from going, and one Canadian guy decided he liked the rooms and decided to stay). There we found some Motodops and we went our separate ways to various pre-planned guesthouses.
Thanks. Keep 'em coming.
Reports Page 22 (Nov 2001 - May 2002)
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