Page 4 of 22 (January 2009 - June 2009)
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The usual... (June 2009):
Overland from Bangkok by bus to Aranya Prathet, then the fight begins to get to the other side of Poipet. I tried the 5:55am train from Hua Lomphong, but it wasn't going due to a strike so I jumped into a tuk tuk to get to Mochit bus station and just made the 7am to Aranya Prathet (Window number 30 for 207 BHT).
Cheaper than flying (June 2009):
I left my Bangkok hotel at approximately 5.00am and caught a taxi to Morchit bus depot. The hotel tried to organise me one for 300 baht, but I said too expensive. I ended up getting a metered cab that cost me 95 baht.
Made my way in to the bus terminal and found window 31. Purchased a ticket (first class) to Aranyaprathet for 207 baht. If I had read your notes further down I would have seen that windows 25/26 supposedly have better quality coaches with less stops. Nonetheless, the coach I was on was good. Air-conditioned, clean, drink of water, not too crowded and comfortable seats.
I was the only farang on board but that only added to the experience! We departed at 6.00am and, after making 4-5 stops we arrived in Aranyaprathet at 10.20am. An interesting trip. I only had a back pack, so when I stepped off the bus a young lady gave me ride on the back of her scooter to the border for 40 baht. She did try to make a detour to the 'Consulate', but I just tapped her on the shoulder and said "straight to border please" and she did.
As soon as I got off the scooter and started walking towards the crossing a taxi tout latched on to me. He was very helpful in showing me where to go for my visa etc (which I ended up getting for US$25.00. They were very adamant I wasn't going anywhere until I paid the inflated price, so I thought oh well it's only another $5.00), and offered to get me a taxi for US$40.00. I was a bit dubious, especially when he was telling me to spin a bit of a yarn to the taxi association guy about where I was going.
He wanted me to say that I was just going through the border to take some photos, and then he'd get me on the other side. As I said I was dubious so I said I was going to go to the new transport centre and see what I could get there. So I was walking down the road looking for the supposed free transport out to the transport centre and I had the tout walking along side me, the taxi association guy riding a pushbike on the other side of me and a taxi crawling along behind me. I was finding this all a little amusing.
Anyway, I couldn't seem to locate the transport I was after, so I turned around and just said, Okay $40.00? Let's go. So I hopped in the taxi (relatively clean, air-conditioned Camry), gave the tout a tip for his help and off I went. It was noon by this time. I'm still not sure if it was an association taxi or not, but the driver dropped me off at the door of the Two Dragons at about 1.45pm, an hour and 45 minute drive. There was only 2-3 kilometres still being worked on, otherwise all good, paved road. An excellent drive.
My friends who flew over arrived about 15 minutes before I arrived, and they were surprised when they saw me! I think they thought I would get lost in transit or something. The driver gave me his card and said when I was ready to return to the border to give him a call and he would do it for US$25.00, which is what I did. I left at 9.30am a few days later, picked up at the door, and arrived at the border at 11.15am. A bit busy getting back into Thailand, probably an hour, then walked through to the markets. Didn't see any young pickpockets, touts or the like.
I caught a tuk tuk back to the bus station at Aranyaprathet for 80 baht then asked around for a bus to Pattaya (I was competing in the Top Of The Gulf Regatta which is run out of Jomtien Beach) and in about 10 minutes I was on my way for 220 baht. Again a very comfortable coach, though a little more crowded this time. Arrived in Pattaya four and a half hours later, then a short taxi ride down to the Ocean Marine Yacht Club. Funnily enough, the 10 minute taxi ride cost more (300 baht) than the bus ride from the border. My friends had to fly back to Bangkok and then make their way down to Jomtien, and I beat them to the Yacht Club by more than two hours. And they paid about AU$430.00 each for their airfares!
When $30 becomes $40 (May 2009):
...The potential problems started during the tuk-tuk drive to the border with a detour to a travel agency to buy the visa, I was able to decline and ask to be taken directly to the border. Once there I was able to refuse attempts at over-charging for the visa and also to avoid the guys in the pink shirts with their offer of a free shuttle bus to the station, which was some distance outside town and would have left me with no option but to take their bus ($10 each) or taxi. Was able to arrange a private taxi for $30 for 4 to Siem Reap. The only problem arose on arrival in town when our driver shot out of the car to be replaced by a local guy because "He didn't know the way to our guesthouse." The local guy wanted $40 and so we went through the sketch of him refusing to give us our bags and us demanding to be taken to a guesthouse or the police. We stuck to our guns and things went our way. I suppose we should have gotten the agreed price down on paper. The cost was 48B for the train, 80B for the tuk-tuk, $20 for the visa and $7.50 for the taxi.
Even at the Embassy! (May 2009):
I thought you might be interested to know that yesterday I went to obtain a visa from the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok and was charged 1100 Baht. It seems you can't even escape the scams by going direct to the embassy!
Rip-offs at the "Cambodian Consulate" (April 2009):
Unfortunately I found out about your website just after my trip. However, if I would have read it before my trip I could have saved a lot of money and annoyances. I would like to tell you my story about the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I would appreciate it if you could publish the following text on your website to let other people know about.
Because it was there at the train station in Aranyapratet I must have gone away during the time I used the toilet at the dubious "visa-office". As I already was in Cambodia I couldn't just walk back to them.... so that I decided to take the next taxi to Siem Reap. I met two other backpackers which shared a taxi with me. The taxi driver dropped us off at the taxi stand from where we took a tuk-tuk which took us into town.
I want to warn all other travellers. Be aware of these guys and get your visa directly at the border (which also is cheaper)!!! If a tuk-tuk driver takes you to any other place than the border don't get off and tell him to go to the border. You definitely can get a visa there no matter what they tell you.
[Editor's note: The above is good advice, the so-called "Cambodian Consulate" is a complete rip-off and serves no good purpose but to rip *you* off. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, you don't need to get your visa here. Ever.]
Success with a non-association cab and then on to Phnom Penh (April 2009):
Crossing the border and getting the Cambodian Visa
I live a one-hour-ride away from Aranya Prathet, so I asked a friend of mine to drop me off at the border. It is about 9:30. The queues at the Thai checkpoint are already pretty filled up with tourists coming from Bangkok. It takes me about 30 minutes to get through. I go straight to the Cambodian Visa Office where a tourist group of about 6 people is waiting. I go to the small table in front of the counter and a guy comes and gives me the application form. (This is a rather small paper, just a quarter of the typical letter size.) I fill out the form (Visa: T, Purpose: Tourist, Intended Stay: 30 days, Destination: Siam Reap - just wanted to let them think I'm the typical tourist who will spend some time in Siem Reap). Don't forget the photo and bring a pen, so you don't have to bother the guy and he is not tempted to charge you for his 'services', and bring the 20$ (you can change at the Siam Commercial Bank office located in the market area, though I don't know the opening hours.)
I put the form, the photo, and 20$ in my passport and turn to the counter. The officer opens the window and I hand my and my girlfriend's passport to him. When he sees the 20$ he asks for 100 Baht per person. I tell him the Tourist Visa is 20$, and that I phoned to the 'official' Cambodian embassy last week (Thanks for the hint) and they told me it is 20$. The officer says that this is at the embassy and you have to wait 2 days, here it is 'express', you need not wait, and this is why they charge more. I say 'no', they told me it is 20$ at the border. After just this short conversation it is settled that I know the tourist visa is 20$. (No need to refer to the sign above the counter that says 'Tourist T 20$', I did this on my previous Visa Runs and it only brought up a discussion about whether the sign was old or not.) The officer looks through my passport, notices my previous Cambodian Visas and finally says: 'But then you have to wait long long time'. I say I am fine with that and smile politely, and take my seat on one of the chairs in the waiting area. The conversation is surprisingly short, and never before did they accepted my Visa without any fee. And even more surprisingly, I get our passports back after less than 5 minutes. The tourist group has left just, so there are probably no more passports to be processed at that moment.
I proceed to the immigration counter where you get the exit stamp. A guy sitting at the table in the room in front of the counter asks me where I go to - 'Siem Reap' - and hands me two forms, the arrival and departure card. I fill in the form and queue at the counter with both passports - I heard that they sometimes collect tea money from Thai citiziens (stamp fee) but hardly ever ask this from tourists - and hand one at a time to the officer. He wants to see my girlfriend anyway because they take a picture from every person arriving, but he does not ask for the 'stamp fee'.
Finding a taxi to Siem Reap
So we're finally done, and prepare ourselves for the most difficult step, getting the taxi to Siem Reap. We start talking to a tourist couple that is queuing for the stamp. They want to go to Sisophon, the next town, and try to take a bus from there (and save some money and avoid the scam). We agree to look for a taxi together and see what offers we get and then decide where to go. I tell them about my plan to hop on a motorbike to get past the touts. While we wait for the two to get their stamps a friendly officially-looking Cambodian asks us to step out of the waiting area and proceed. We don't want to get involved with the touts yet, so we say 'no thank you, we are waiting for our friends'.
The four of us then step out and proceed to the area in front of the small roundabout where all the touts are waiting. I try to check out the location since I don't exactly know where to go with the moto. The touts start coming in on us, offering us the free bus ride to the taxi office and all that crap. I try to ignore them, and start talking to the moto driver. The moto driver seems puzzled when I ask him to bring us down the road. When the other drivers understand we want to take a ride they come in on us, too. Everyone of us gets involved talking to some of the touts or drivers. We argue about the price and settle for 20 Baht each. While everyone of us gets on a motorbike and the moto drivers exchange puzzled and smiling looks, the main tout with his officially-looking sticker on the shirt kind of panics and tells us the moto drivers will cheat on us and will ask for 80 Baht or more when we arrive at the bus station. Why he thinks we want to go there I don't know. While we head off he still yells after us.
Like a gang we slowly drive down the street. My girl-friend starts talking to her driver who speaks good Thai. He tells us he will bring us to a taxi and kind of takes the lead. After just maybe 500 metres we see a couple of cars standing on the side of the road. The taxi drivers wave us down enthusiastically and we stop. Soon we have a few drivers around us and chaos brakes loose again. We tell them we want to go to Siam Reap for 30$, and somebody is offering 40$. We insist on 30$, and after a minute or so one of the driver agrees. I get his OK for my short checklist (directly to Siem Reap, no pickup of other people, we pay when we arrive, drop our two friends in the city centre and us on the bus terminal since we want to go to Phnom Penh). But this is actually a mistake because now the other drivers/touts slowly realize that somebody has undercut the 'official' price. They start arguing and it is getting more chaotic and loud. Our driver stays surprisingly calm and we get into the car. An angry driver blocks the driver's door from being closed and argues with our driver, threatening to call the police. Our driver calls his boss and hands the phone to the guy. The discussion goes on but after about two explosive minutes we can go. We talk to the driver again and make sure he will bring us to the centre in Siem Reap resp. to the bus station. He tries to get another 5$ extra for this but we refuse. We find out that our driver works for a company, too, but obviously not for the same as the rest of the Poi Pet 'taxi mafia'. He says 30$ is the lowest he can go and he makes 6$ profit for himself on that ride.
To Siem Reap
We have a comfortable ride to Siem Reap since the road is nearly finished now. We stop one time to take gasoline and one time at a small shop to relieve ourselves where we buy a slightly overpriced drink. We arrive in SR after about 2-3 hours and stop near the riverside at a travel agency. We ask for a bus ticket and get offered 12$ and 9$ p.p. (with and without toilet on the bus). I consider buying here, since it is already 1:30pm and I remember reading somewhere that the last bus to Phnom Penh goes at 2:00pm, and I am not completely sure that the tourist buses all leave from the same place and it will be easy to get a ticket in time. But eventually I find the guy too pushy and remind myself that my original plan was to go to the bus station. I ask the driver, a bit moody because he brought us to another tout, and he says no problem if we don't want to buy here. It seems the taxi company has a deal with the agency to bring people here, but if the tourist says no they will bring them to any place they like. We say good-bye to our fellow traveler-friends who will stay in SR and try to find a room there. If they had decided on a guest house before the cab would have brought them there. Now they have to deal with the tout from the agency. We get back into the taxi. The agency guy gets a bit angry why we do not buy with him. This makes me more confident that I made the right decision NOT to use his services.
To Phnom Penh
It's another five minutes ride to the bus station, where two buses are waiting for departure. The bigger, better looking one (Paramount Express) is already closing the doors and ready to leave, but after checking the price with the tout (7$) and asking for a toilet on board ('yes') and the travel time ('5 hours') we hop on the bus. Our taxi driver is very helpful and brings our bag, and we pay him the 30$ (15$ we took from our friends when we stopped at the agency) and give him 2$ tip since he was nice and friendly and did not hassle us too much (and we just had saved another four dollars commission for the ticket since other travelers on the bus paid 9$ - I guess 1$ commision and 1$ for the tuktuk to the bus station). Of course there is no toilet on the bus, and the air con takes about an hour to battle the heat successfully, and it takes about one hour more until we arrive in Phnom Penh.
Btw, for the trip back to Phnom Penh we took a direct bus all the way to Poi Pet (via Batthambang) for only 8$ (same company, bought directly at the office not at the hotel). Even if you take the bus at 8:30am you will still arrive in time to catch a tourist bus from the border or a public bus from the Aranya Prathet bus station (last one at 7:00pm, take a Tuktuk for 50-80 Baht to the terminal) to Bangkok, On the way to Poi Pet we also noticed a partly finished building saying 'Poi Pet International Bus Terminal' (or similar) outside of Poi Pet about 5 km away from the border (maybe 3 km away from the city border). The current bus station is in Poi Pet next to the town market, and a 1$ ride with a moto from the border. All the ticket counters were already closed when we arrived at about 6:00pm, so I could not find out about any new buses going to Siem Reap. The companies going Poi Pet - Phnom Penh directly (via Battambang, not Siem Reap!) all leave between 6:00 - 8:00am. Since the border opens only at 7:00am it might be hard to impossible to catch even the last one.
Watch the lines (February 2009):
Left our hotel at 6:45AM and took a meter taxi to Morchit station. Caught a first class bus at 7:30AM, they gave everyone a bottle of water, good air conditioning and a bathroom on board. The bus made one stop about 2hours in for 10 minutes at a gas station/convenience store.
At the military checkpoint there was a brief commotion and three people were hauled off the bus never to be seen again; when the guard came to us we tried to show our passports but he didn't even look at them, they're not the least bit interested in causcasian tourists obviously.
Got to the bus station at Aranyaprathet at 11:15AM, I told the first Tuk Tuk driver I saw that I wanted the border and I would pay 80 baht. He said no problem and off we went. He did try to drive us to this little sketchy shack where two guys told us they could get us visas for cheap. I said we already had e-visas (I lied) so take us to the border. He then drove just a little futher up the road to the "Cambodia Consulate" where a couple more official looking guys said I need a visa from them, I again said I have e-visas so I don't need them and shouted at my Tuk Tuk driver and get a move on to the border. He finally dropped us off right next to the market where I could see the border.
We were hungry (it was 11:45 now) and stopped in the market to eat, while we were eating I saw two tourist buses pull up to the market so we gulped our food and dashed for the border. I'm glad I did rush for the border, you don't want to get stuck behind that mass of people.
We got to the Thai exit building just on the Thai side and it was a little confusing because there was this huge mass of Thai people in one line but the "foreigner" line was empty. After a couple of minutes we just opened the gate blocking us and went inside to get stamped out of Thailand. There was a few people inside so we had to wait about 15 minutes, not bad. While waiting in the Thai exit building a HUGE mass of tourists started arriving and so luckily we beat the rush of them. When we went through there was probably 200 people behind us! If I was ever to do this trip again I'd definitely just head right for the border and get across, it looks like arriving there anytime after 12:15 would be a huge mistake!
After stamping out we crossed the border (ignoring a few touts who were trying to offer us taxis), and went to the Cambodian Visa building. The sign says $20 but the official held up a sign saying for 1000baht it would only take 2 minutes. This was deispite the fact that no one except me and my mom were there (we had just beaten the flood of tourists behind us).
I lied and told him that I didn't have any baht left but we had just $25 each. I wasn't in the mood to sit around and wait and just wanted to get moving quickly. He seemed happy with that and in about 5 minutes both of us had our visas in our passports (we did have photographs already) so that was no problem. Just like you said, the visa application could be filled out by a monkey it's so easy. I suppose I could have whined and cried and tried to save a little money but I was worried about the flood of people behind us.
Went to the Cambodia border checking station just a little further up the road. Got our entry forms from a guy by the door, they were free but I did see some people pay him small amounts of baht, maybe tips? All the guy did was sit there and hand out forms. Filled out the forms while in line. Had to wait in that line about 15 minutes as well to get stamped in no problem. The line behind us continued to grow dramatically so we must have timed it just right. The line was at least three times as long by the time we were at the front from when we were at the back.
As soon as we exited the border station we were swarmed by touts, there was one in a yellow shirt who I talked to who said that a share taxi was $15 per person. I said I wanted a taxi for just the two of us, I didn't want to share and didn't mind paying more. He said it's $60 then. I told him that's too expensive I'll pay $50. He argreed quickly (maybe I could have argued it down more but oh well).
He loaded on this sketchy bus and we were driven with him down the road about a kilometer. He stopped at the "taxi agency" and while there he told us some sob story about how we should change our money into Riel as that is the official currency and by using American dollars we are not helping the people of Cambodia. I didn't exactly follow this logic and told him I wasn't interested, where is our taxi please.
He took us to a Toyota Camry with a driver that was in this sketchy back alley filled with garbage. He asked me to pay up now to him. I said ok but you tell the driver (who's English was minimal) to take us to our hotel at which we have a reservation. I told him I am not interested in any side trips. I heard him speaking to our driver in Khmer and heard our hotel mentioned so it was all good.
Off we went, the road was pretty crappy at first, dusty, potholed, lots of detours for partly completed or washed out bridges. No wonder all the windshields are so cracked there! Once we hit the paved section is was great, smooth sailing all the way to Siem Reap. The driver was pleasant and could speak a little English as I discovered, he stopped about 1/2 way for a restroom break which was good because I would have asked him to anyway. Got some more bottled water and off we went a few minutes later.
The driver took us straight to our hotel in Siem Reap, I suspect because I already had made it known I had a reservation, no crap with tuk tuks or anything like that for us.
We arrived at 4:15PM, so hotel to hotel was 9.5 hours, we stopped for about 1/2 hour in Aranyaprathet. I suspect if we hadn't stopped there we would have gotten through the border a few minutes quicker too due to the fact that as we got there the foot traffic was starting to pick up. I'm guessing if we had hustled just a bit more at the border, the entire trip could be done in 8.5 hours, maybe even 8 if everything went perfectly.
Good luck to anyone else who takes this trip. I'm very glad we did it this way, we still had the late afternoon and evening to enjoy Siem Reap and if you're travelling as a group of 2-4 people this is definitely the way to go. After hearing your horror stories about 18hour trips, arranging it yourself for perhaps only a few dollars difference (and making the journey in under 10 hours) makes way more sense.
Thanks (January 2009):
Just a quick e-mail to let you know we followed your instructions on the border crossing from Bangkok to Siem Reap on Jan 21, 2009 and we managed to avoid ALL scams. We took the train from Bangkok and ovenighted at the Aran Garden in Aranyaprathet. The Poipet visa people tried to insist we pay 1000B for our visa - even telling us the sign posted there stating the cost was $20 was ""very old"". We stood our ground and refused to pay more than $20 USD - then they told us "sit down you will wait a very long time""....we only had to wait 20 minutes for the visa. We were not asked for tea money, and did not run into the "change your money into Riel scam". We paid $15 per person for a taxi to Siem Reap and had to wait abut 45 minutes for another 2 ppl to share the taxi with. Thanks for all the advice, it was very helpful!
Details (January 2009):
We came to Bangkok after a five month trip in India and Nepal, so we were accustomed to: touts, rip-off travel agents, lousy buses, bad roads, long uncomfortable rides, many stops on the way, and lots of dust. What we weren't used to was official corruption, and this intimidated us. Besides that, we didn't want to give the scam bus operators the satisfaction of getting our money.
After less than 3 hours, we got to the outskirts of Siem Reap and the driver pulled in to an empty lot with motos and tuk-tuks waiting. He got out of the car and another guy, speaking fluent English, explained that the taxi doesn't have a license to actually go inside Siem Reap, and that we would have to take a moto or tuk-tuk to the guest house of our choice. He said that this would be included in the price of the taxi. We didn't expect this, but realized we have no choice but to get out and take a tuk-tuk into town. It was a very short ride, and in the end we payed the tuk-tuk driver the $20 of our share of the taxi fare. When we got out we realized the driver had dropped us off about 10 minutes walk from the market, and we had to walk a bit to find a hotel. By the time we found a hotel room, it was only 3pm!
All in all, the trip really wasn't as bad as I'd imagined, and in fact went very smoothly. I don't know if we were lucky and happened to fall on easy border officials and taxi drivers, or maybe it just isn't that bad nowadays. In any case, even if it costed a bit more than the KSR option (I'll sum up the costs below), it was worth it: we decided where and when we wanted to go, no one forced us to do anything we didn't want to, we got there early and not in the middle of the night, and didn't give money to any travel agents. To sum up, I'd recommend to anyone to do it by themselves
The costs (keep in mind it's for two people, with sharing the taxi to Siem Reap with two others):
In total: about 2700 baht ($77) for two people, compared with around 1000 baht for the KSR bus, not including another 2000 baht for scam visas! Hey, maybe we even managed to save some money! I guess one of the morals of this story is to share.
Sorry for the long mail, but we are proud of our achievement, and I think the more details people can find out in advance, the better they can handle it (I know it was true for me).
Thanks. Keep 'em coming. E-mail your story here
Reports Page 4 (Jan 2009 - Jun 2009)
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