Overland Travel Between Bangkok and Siem Reap by way of Poipet / Aranyaprathet
#3 - On Your Own
Information current as of May 11, 2010
On Your Own - Bangkok to Siem Reap
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NOTE: The road was completed on May 3, 2009. It is a real road now.
I always do this trip on my own and have done this trip over one hundred forty times. In most cases, if traveling solo, it will be a bit more expensive than the KSR-package tickets but it will always be significantly faster and you can stay anywhere you want in Siem Reap without pressure from anyone. Depending on how you travel the cost can be as low as $10 or as much as $60 (unless you opt for a taxi between Bangkok and Aranyaprathet, then you're looking at $80 to $100).
Now that the road is finished, a major consideration in overland travel is no longer a factor. The only issue now is how to avoid getting ripped off and to decide what your priorities are: cost, time, comfort. Overall though, many of the scams put upon unwary tourists are a thing of the past and the border, perhaps intimidating for inexperienced travelers, is nowhere near as bad as it was a few years ago. There are certainly worse border crossings around the world. Probably your biggest concerns now are picket-pockets (usually small children) and obscenely long slow immigration queues.
Things move forward and backward and people can still have bad experiences so do read about some of the possible problems and take my advice for dealing with them because people still get ripped-off. But more importantly, be aware that now more than ever, you will probably not have any trouble at all and that the difficulties of this border crossing that spawned this section back in 2001 for the most part ceased to be a problem several years ago.
Bangkok to the Border
The two most popular ways to the border are bus and train. You can also take a taxi which is quite fast and comfortable but will cost from between 1800 and 2500 baht from Bangkok. You can make the border in three hours and if there are several of you to share the cost it becomes not such a bad deal.
The train is cheap, 48 baht (about $1.50). The trains are third-class only (not so comfortable, but people do seem to enjoy the ride) and take about five and a half hours. There are only two trains a day. The first train leaves at the insane time of 5:55 am (#275), the second train leaves at 1:05 pm (#279) - which means you're either going to spend the night in Aranyaprathet and not save any money after all or cross the border too late to get anywhere else but Poipet. Trains leave from Hualamphong station. You can navigate the Bangkok public bus system and get to the station for just a few baht or you can take a taxi. There is sometimes a second-class carriage on the train but to quote a traveler, "The only 2nd class carriage is the last one on the train and you can upgrade your ticket by boarding this carriage and paying the extra 113 baht to the conductor on board, you cannot buy a 2nd class ticket at the ticket booths."
In the past I have always taken the bus to Aranyaprathet, but in the past five years or so - and particularly since entering that stage of life called parenthood - and traveling with said child as well as piles of goods used for our business in Siem Reap that are not obtainable in Cambodia, I've used taxis or private vehicles between Bangkok and the border.
That said, most buses leave from the Northern Bus Terminal a.k.a. Morchit Bus Terminal. You can take a taxi, about 90 baht on the meter from Sukhumvit Road, probably a little less from Khao San Road, plus, depending on where you're coming from, a forty baht expressway toll if you're really in a hurry (or don't like traffic jams). You can also take the Skytrain (BTS) to Morchit Station. Unfortunately, Morchit BTS (Skytrain) Station, and Morchit Bus Terminal are not one and the same and walking from one to the other is not a practical endeavor. At the BTS station there are scores of motorbike taxis who will take you there. Though fares are subject to change, they are posted and the Thais pay the same (I can read Thai) so don't make yourself out to be an idiot and an asshole by haggling over the fare. Tuk-tuks ought to charge the same but may not - the posted fares don't apply to them. The third and cheapest option is to take the public Bangkok buses from wherever you are to Morchit. I never do that so I can't tell you what buses to take. I can only tell you that it's cheap and slow. According to a reader, so I haven't confirmed this information, bus #77 can be taken from the Silom Road area to Morchit, and bus #3 or #9 from Banglamphu. I always take the taxi. Though the most expensive option, using the expressway it's possible to go from Sukhumvit Road to Morchit in twenty minutes - even during the morning rush hour.
There are also "Gambler Express" buses offering a fairly fast and cheap ride to the border, departures from near Lumpini Park as well as Sukhumvit Road. Probably best to check with a hotel to see if they have more details as these buses aren't exactly well advertised. According to a reader you can get one between five and six a.m. in front of Lumpini Park on Rama IV Road.
From Suvannabhumi Airport there are several buses to Rongklua Marklet each day, but they can't seem to keep a consistent schedule. The latest info has buses leaving 8 am, 11 am, and 2 pm but please don't hold me to this. They are yellow.
There are also buses that originate from the Eastern Bus Terminal and stop at the airport along the way.
Upon reaching the northern bus terminal, you might notice the big sign on the roof does not say "Morchit", but in fact says "Chatachuk". Rest easy, you're still in the right place. Chatachuk is the district, but the terminal is known as Morchit to everybody. If you think you might want to tell your taxi driver "Chatachuk" because it's what I told you the sign says, then expect to be taken to the nearby Chatachuk Weekend Market and not the bus terminal. On a weekday this will be especially confusing to your driver as the market is closed. So tell the driver "Morchit". If you want to say it in Thai, say "sat-a-nee Morchit". They also call it Morchit Mai (New Morchit) or Morchit 2 station.
First-class buses depart regularly for Aranyaprathet from 3:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and there are twenty-three first-class departures a day and another fifteen or twenty a day for second-class. Fares for first class buses are roughly in the 200 to 220 baht depending on which route the bus takes and which of the two contractors you're buying the ticket from. Fares for the second-class buses are roughly 150 to 170 baht. Due to the increases in petrol costs, the cost of bus travel in Thailand has been hiked several times in the past two years or so and I've given up trying to nail down the exact price of the buses, but suffice it to say, it should be within or very close to the range I've given.
The difference between first and second class is that first-class sometimes can get you a more comfortable seat (depends on which bus company and simple luck), a free drink (water or juice), sometimes a little (and I do mean little) snack, a toilet on board, and usually less stops along the way. Second-class gets you a ride to Aranyaprathet.
I have showed up at Morchit and been Aranyaprathet-bound in literally five minutes arriving on average 3:45 to 5 hours later, with 4:15-4:30 being average. On every occasion I have gotten the next bus out. Try to leave no later than 7:30 a.m. as you'll want to be sure to arrive at the border ahead of the Khao San Road buses. If the KSR buses get in just ahead of you expect up to two, occasionally three hours to clear immigration.
On weekends and holidays the border can be particularly chaotic as hundreds, no thousands, of Thais head to the casinos and hundreds upon hundreds of Laotians working in Thailand head to the border for their visa runs. Although they have seperate immigration lines for Thais and foreigners, sometimes when the foreigner line empties, they'll let a bunch of Thais into that line. If you show up right behind them, you're stuck. And when the Thai line empties do they let foreigners into their line, too? Don't be ridiculous.
Alternatively, you can travel in the afternoon and overnight in Aranyaprathet which will assure an arrival in Siem Reap as early as 9:30 a.m. the following day. If you do choose, or are forced to overnight at the border, Aranyaprathet is a much better option than Poipet. More details at the bottom of the page.
At Morchit bus station the ticket windows for Aranyaprathet are on the ground floor inside the terminal. If you come to the station by taxi have the driver turn left and not go up any of the ramps. The ticket windows with red letters are for second-class buses, the windows with blue letters are for first-class buses.
There are several first-class ticket windows for Aranyaprathet. The company with much nicer buses but less frequent departures sells from windows 23 and 25. Their buses depart from stall 116. The company with older buses but more frequent departures (and more stops along the way) sells from windows 30 and 31. Their buses depart from stall 121. The company selling from windows 30 and 31 travels to Aranyaprathet on two different routes and offers then, two different prices. If faced with two prices for the same route and bus class, it's the faster route that is cheaper as fares are calculated by distance. The faster route is identified as Bangkok - Ongkharak - Aranyaprathet, opposed to just Bangkok - Aranyaprathet.
The company selling from windows 23 and 25 is the government company while the company selling from windows 30 and 31 is a private contractor, though as a traveler, you would have no way of knowing which is which.
The bus schedule:
These windows are inside the station and should not be confused with the ticket windows on the outside of the station where there are also blue numbers 23, 25, 30, and 31 selling tickets for places that won't be the Cambodia border.
After you buy your ticket walk right and go out the first door - parking stall 116 is about five buses down to your right, parking stall 121 is about ten buses down to your right.
Back in the station, a little ways beyond the door to the buses is a 7-11. Further down are a couple of newsstands that usually have a few English-language publications, as does the 7-11, though both tend to sell out by early afternoon. Bathrooms are down to your right and cost three baht to use. They keep them fairly clean but most (all?) of the toilets are squatters. There's a KFC in the station somewhere, as well as a pharmacy.
The buses originating from stall 121 make one stop for gas and snacks in Nakhon Nayok about an hour and a half to two hours into the journey and make more extra stops to pick-up and discharge passengers along the way. The government-owned buses originating from stall 116 do not make any gas/snack stops and far fewer pick-up/discharge stops. However, as they have only six departures a day, you're more likely to ride with the private company. Both companies will overfill their buses along the way and there may be plenty of folks standing in the aisles. This won't be a problem for you assuming you started your journey in Morchit - you will have a seat.
You'll reach Aranyaprathet in as little as three hours and forty-five minutes or as much as four and a half hours, occasionally five. There's a military checkpoint about twenty kilometers before the border where a Thai Army Officer jumps on the bus and spot checks identification papers, presumably to grab illegal Cambodians. Rarely do they ever ask to check a western passport so don't concern yourself too much with this exercise, I've only been asked to show my passport twice. For what it's worth, I have seen the occasional person or pesons, Cambodian I would presume, get dragged off the bus for not having proper documentation.
Once in Aranyaprathet, you'll need to get from the bus station to the border about six kilometers away. When the bus stops there will be numerous tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis waiting for you. If your luggage is light and you're alone you might get a motorcycle taxi. More baggage or more than one person - take a tuk-tuk. Pay about 80 baht for a tuk-tuk. Prices are kind of fixed. So you shouldn't have to enter a protracted bargaining session. A motorcycle taxi should be around 60 baht.
If by any chance some tout wants to get in the tuk-tuk with you, don't let him. His aim is to redirect you to the tourist buses or rip you off on a visa, though the tuk-tuk driver himself is just as capable of trying to redirect you somewhere. Aside from sometimes having to deal with this unwanted guest, it's also become more common for the tuk-tuk drivers to try taking you not to the border, but to a so-called "Cambodia consulate" where they will try to sell you a way over-priced visa. Do not allow any of this to happen. Be polite, but be firm. But most important - you have absolutely no obligation whatsoever to allow anyone else into the tuk-tuk with you nor be taken anywhere but to the border, so don't. I'm sure back in your home country if you flagged down a taxi and some stranger tried to jump in with you or the driver tried taking you somewhere other than your chosen destination, you'd boot his you know what out in a second, so why do any different here?
And if you are delivered to the "Cambodian consulate" keep in mind you are under no obligation to show anyone your passport nor reveal whether or not you have or need a visa to Cambodia no matter how "official" looking someone appears. You are still in Thailand, not Cambodia, and therefore inspection of your passport or knowledge of your visa status are of no concern, legal or otherwise, to anyone Cambodian, government official or not.
If you're spending the night in Aranyaprathet (see bottom of page for more information), a tuk-tuk or motorcycle to one of the hotels should be no more than 50 baht.
The Border Crossing
Poipet is the end of the line in Cambodia - a filthy border town of casinos, cheap hotels, knock shops, and a market I wouldn't eat at even if I were coming off a hunger strike. It is not a pleasant introduction to Cambodia, nor is it representative of the rest of the nation. Poipet is one of my least favorite places in all of Asia. Simply put, Poipet more or less rhymes with toilet and the two are virtually indistinguishable.
Along the border thousands of Cambodians and Thais cross every day, the Cambodians on day-passes allowing them access to Rongklua Market, the Thais coming en masse to gamble, all in the face of large signs at the border warning them of the dangers of Poipet and the evils of gambling, which is a nice psychological ploy to keep currency at home. More Thais are coming for business purposes. Cambodia produces very little and many basic household products sold in western Cambodia are imported from Thailand. A smaller contingency of Thais are coming on holiday to see Angkor Wat and to satisfy their curiosity about their poorer neighbor, whose culture; language, music, dance, architecture, etc. have all had major influences on the Thai culture, something many Thais don't care to acknowledge. To many Thais, Cambodia is a crude nation of uneducated, dishonest, disreputable people. And while many Thais don't care much for Cambodians, they do have an interest in knowing more about their much poorer neighbor making Angkor Wat and its environs quite popular with Thai tourists now. And many are crossing at Poipet. Their first reaction to Cambodia is usually to hold their noses and try to keep the dust off their clean clothes.
From Cambodia, hundreds of Khmers also make the crossing on day-passes, a slip of paper they pay 10 baht for that allows them to go as far as the market, but is often hardly the only cash they have to part with due to corrupt officials. Just across the border in Aranyaprathet is a large marketplace. Walk around and have a look - most of the sellers are Cambodian. And between it all many dirty young children (mostly Cambodian) beg for money, pick your pocket, and make a general nuisance of themselves. In Thailand a long line of trucks is backed up at the border bringing many tons of goods to Cambodia every day. Touts walk the border, though now in considerably smaller numbers than in the past - Carry your bags? Help with visa? Need taxi to Siem Reap?
The border opens at 7:00 a.m. and closes at 8:00 p.m. However, I suggest that you do not cross this border after dark. I, for one, have no intention of wandering the border area after dark and I'll be interested to see how they ensure the safety of those who do. Poipet is not a particularly safe place to be at night. Furthermore, if you're traveling to Cambodia you're not likely to get transport beyond mid-afternoon and if you're heading to Thailand, the last buses leave Aranyaprathet at 6 p.m.
I also suggest aiming to arrive no later than 12:00 to stay ahead of the KSR scam buses, which depending on the volume of passengers can rather easily hand you two hours of waiting time in immigration lines.
Sundays can also be problematic as hundreds upon hundreds of Laotians working in Thailand in factories and as laborers flood the border on their one day off to update their visas. This can do horrible things to the immigration queues.
WARNING! In the border area be very mindful of your wallet, telephone, etc. There are a lot of pickpockets around and some of them are quite small! Do not allow any kid to touch you and if you put anything down on the ground don't take your eyes off it for even one second, bags can and do disappear that rapidly! Save your sympathies for cute little beggar kids for another time and place. If given the opportunity, the kids here will rob you of everything you have.
The tuk-tuks drop you off in Rongklua market as the main road to the border is only for trucks. As the tuk-tuk pulls up several Cambodian touts may accost you here. Most of them are affiliated with the "transport association(s)*" that control transport out of Poipet for non-Cambodians but a few are touting for the unlicensed taxis. And you'll almost certainly encounter someone with a plan to try scamming you by convincing you to let them get your visa for you. Some want to help carry your bags. Several children will show up with an umbrella to keep you shaded as you walk the border, but you will have to pay them for this service so tell them to buzz off if you're not interested. The taxi/transport association touts can be identified by their shirts - either a yellowy-orange shirt or a white shirt with some kind if company emblem. Touts for the unlicensed taxis tend to be more low key as they don't want to get caught.
There had been for years a single cartel controlling taxis and buses for non-Cambodians (and yes, as Poipet commune is a fiefdom in and of itself they can make ridiculous regulations that are virtually reminiscent of the old Jim Crow laws in the USA and get away with it - separate transport and of course separate prices), but there is now a second "association" that has been given rights to transport. This will no doubt lead to some sort of taxi war the outcome of which is anybody's guess. There are also now two tourist (foreigner) transport terminals (remember what I said about Jim Crow laws) that operate on alternating days (more further down the page).
The offers to help carry your bags are usually legit, but given the overall bedlam of the border and the number of thieves wandering about, do be careful. However, there is a bit of walking to do and on a hot day a heavy bag can be very cumbersome. I have often used the services of someone for this purpose. I usually pay around a dollar, even a bit more of there are a lot of bags (up to 100 baht). For security sake, I still take anything valuable with me inside the immigration buildings and then dump it back on their cart when I exit. I trust no one in this area.
If you have something heavy, go ahead and put one of these kids to work, but be a bit generous, give the kid at least a buck. There are so many beggars and scumbags around the border that when you can find some kid who's really trying to do some honest work, that effort should be rewarded. Still, be careful entrusting your bags to someone, there's a lot of chaos and confusion at this border and a bag that's not watched too carefully could disappear.
Throughout Rongklua Market are a couple of rather unappetizing restaurants, plenty of sometimes clean bathrooms, banks with ATMs and money exchange services and shops galore. This is a HUGE market. There is also a convenience store on the Cambodia side of the border across from the Visa Services building. If you need to change money do it at one of the banks here, you will get massively ripped off if you change money on the Cambodia side.
Shopping or not, head to the big building on the left and get stamped out of Thailand. If there is a massive line of Thais (and if it's a weekend or holiday morning, you can bet there will be one) that stretches out the door and down the street, walk around it and head straight for the foreigner line. Foreigners and Thais have seperate lines and there is no reason why you should have to wait behind a long queue of Thais leaving the country to gamble. However, Sundays brings Laotians by the hundreds and you may get stuck in a line behind them. For what it's worth becuase of this flood of visa runners, the Thai authorities do sometimes allow non-Laotians to cut the queue, but any such luck on the Cambodia side will probably require paying somebody some money.
If you are traveling as a mixed pair (Thai and western) it is sometimes acceptable for the two of you to use whichever line is faster. I have successfully used the Thai line on several occasions in the accompaniment of my wife and once with my mother-in-law. And when the foreigner line was the quick one, they've passed through with me there. Still, given the kind of attitudes shown by the Thai officers, you (or your Thai companion) might just be told to go to the back of the other line anyway. In more recent times, we've found the border guards much less willing to process a mixed group in one line and think nothing of making one wait an hour for the other, never mind the sign says no waiting and one member of the party is contending with an energetic bored four-year-old as well as a baby.
After getting your Thailand exit stamp, walk to Cambodia. Sometimes there are a lot of touts and beggars here, sometimes there are none. Seems to be up to whatever the police feel like doing that day or whether they can agree whose responsibility it is.
Entering Cambodia requires a visa. Visas are available at this border. The office is the first building on the right after you cross the footbridge and enter Cambodia. You need one passport photo and the official fee is $20. There used to be all sorts of problems with overcharging, but in 2006 the Cambodian government clamped down on this and most of the time, getting a tourist visa for $20 is not nearly as difficult as it once was. However, as the border guards are none too pleased with losing this extra income, their new game is to offer an expedited visa for 1000 baht. Essentially processing all 1000 baht visa applications ahead of any $20 visa applications. Generally speaking those who have paid $20 have not been made to wait for any excessive length of time despite what the border guards said, however those they can convince to pay 1000 baht will be processed first. But if there are only five people waiting how much longer could it take? Business visas, which should cost $25 are available, however you'll probably end up forking over as much as 1500 baht (about $45). The excuse they'll give you is that for a business visa you are supposed to be in possession of all sorts of supporting documents, but never mind, you don't have, okay, we give you visa anyway but it will cost 1500 baht. For more information on visa fees see my FAQ-Legal page.
Note: The building on the right was torn down in 2009 to be replaced with a newer larger facility which is far from completion. For the time being they are using a temporary facility on the left side of the road which you'd have trouble missing as you are channeled past it via walkways, anyway.
In front of this building is a health check station which if they are paying any attention at all you might be asked to stop and fill out a form. And yes you might notice many Cambodians and even Thais walking past attracting no one's attention at all. Draw your own conclusions. This station was in response to last year's bird flu scare (or was it swine flu? Whatever...it was a silly scare). Given that they continued a "SARS screening" station for about three or four years well past the end of SARS we can expect this bird or whatever flu station to exist for several more years to come.
There are a couple of helpers who sit outside the office and will give you the forms but they don't normally hassle people for money, except to try to convince you to pay 1000 baht. If you do have to deal with someone offering to assist you with the visa process for money, tell the guy to get lost, the visa process is ridiculously easy to do yourself. The form takes about thirty seconds to fill out and the authorities don't bother reading half of what you write anyway. A monkey could fill out the form and get issued a visa here so long as it had a valid passport and twenty bucks.
Generally speaking, $20 plus 100 Thai baht will satisfy them. If you're not fussed with the 100 THB, pay it, if you don't want to pay it, nothing bad will happen to you though you will have to stand at the counter and argue an extra minute or two.
However, while the whole process is generally a breeze for westerners, for people from non-western nations, especially Africa, the Middle East, or the Indian Subcontinent they are sometimes hassled at the visa office for more money, forms, proof of life, etc. If you are from one of these nations, you might try getting your visa in Bangkok first, or better get an E-Visa. Even one of my contacts who works in the visa services building recommends that people from these areas obtain visas in advance. The official Cambodia Axis of Evil is the following countries: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Sri Lanka. And on the flipside, visa-free entry is granted to passport holders from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Laos. **Thai passport holders are not visa-free** and have to pay $20 like the rest of us.
The vaccination card scam ended years ago. So contrary to what you may have heard or read, no you don't need proof of your vaccinations, the scam is finished, stop worrying about it.
Change money scam. This is a more recent scam and seems largely to be put upon the backpackers on the Khao San Road tourist scam buses, but don't be surprised if you're told by some tout that you have to change money here. You may be told that you must change as much as $100 US (or Thai Baht, Euro, etc) into Cambodian riel. There is no such regulation in Cambodia and the US dollar is in fact the de facto currency of Cambodia. But the real scam lies in the fact that you may be given as little as 3000 riel to the dollar or 70 riel to the baht (now worth about 120 riels). Presently the riel fluctuates at around 4100 to the dollar and has remained within 5% of this for several years now. This rip-off will cost you as much as $15 if you fall for it. DO NOT CHANGE ANY MONEY HERE! And don't believe anything you are told as to why you must. The king is not on TV every night telling people to use riels and not dollars. There are ATMs and money changing facilities all over Siem Reap. The USD is still very much the de facto currency of Cambodia. So don't change any money here!
With visa in hand, head to the immigration office, which is a hundred or so meters past the casinos up to the traffic circle. The Cambodia immigration arrival building is on your right. Fill out your immigration form, available just inside the door, and get in line. If you're unlucky and you arrived just after the KSR-package travelers or a Korean tour group you could be here awhile. Otherwise it could be two minutes. In the event of a long line, express service is almost always available. Price ranges from as low as 50 baht to as much as 300 baht, depending on the officer, the length of the queue, and a host of other variables. Just look annoyed and help should arrive.
Any demand made for payment to receive a form, a stamp, or anything else for that matter is a scam. Cambodian immigration often makes many Cambodians, Thais, and some other Asians hand over 100 baht tea money just to get stamped in or out of Cambodia (Laotians on visa runs from Thailand automatically pay 200 THB). Curiously, I've never heard of a westerner being asked to pay this bribe (except for those on visa runs), so at least you can take comfort knowing that it's not just westerners that have to deal with scams and corruption.
If you are a westerner traveling with an Asian it's best that you approach the window with both (or all) passports, leaving your partner sitting in view but out of earshot. The authorities will rarely ask a westerner to pay tea money. I do this with my wife all the time. Never a problem.
If you're on a visa run from Thailand, you will almost certainly be asked to pay a stamp fee of anywhere from 100 baht to as much as 400 baht, when you receive your exit stamp. Sometimes when you arrive at the immigration counter to get stamped in they'll ask you how long are you staying. Lie. Tell them you're going to Siem Reap for a week. Anyway, they claim this fee is for using their border to re-enter Thailand, never mind you just purchased a visa that you really aren't using. You can also tell them you already paid 100 baht or whatever when you got your entry stamp and they might believe you. Do try.
From the Border to Siem Reap
As soon as you depart the immigration building you will see a covered walkway and advertising for "free transport". The free transport is to the brand new transport station about six kilometers away which is the main place to get transport onward from Poipet and as it's conveniently in the middle of nowhere you're kind of forced to take what they have.
You have two options:
1.) Toyota Camry share-taxi
2.) Tourist bus
The pick-up truck, a longstanding Cambodia institution is, now with the road completed, pretty much relegated to history. You might still find one or two sitting around trying in vain to find customers, but it could be a long wait. Don't bother.
I recommend using a Toyota Camry over the bus, but will explain how both forms of transport work. As for scheduled bus services the only bus I can confirm is a Sorya bus that departs at 6:30 am for Phnom Penh. Seeing as the border doesn't open until 7:00 am this is kind of a pointless schedule and hopefully the Sorya folks will figure this out sometime soon.
Tourist Bus (transport association variety)
The taxi association also runs a few buses and is the one you'd be most likely to be put on if you took a bus from here. Price is $10, which is really steep, and they leave when full. No matter what they tell you, you could wait for hours. These buses are supposed to stop at the Siem Reap bus depot on the east side of town and not at any one particular guesthouse, however apparently they sometimes have trouble finding the bus depot and end up at a guesthouse anyway.
Now with the road completed it's not difficult to arrive before dark so at least the lengthy travel time is less of an issue now. But you'll still be carted off to a guesthouse, and if you're looking for a local experience, forget it, you won't see a single Cambodian on board except for the "helpers".
Toyota Camry Share-Taxi
This has always been the best option, you can put your bag in a trunk and sit in an air-conditioned car and get a direct ride to Siem Reap.
The situation in Poipet is that the local government decided all non-Cambodians have to use the tourist transport service. As ridiculous as it seems, yes, in Cambodia where local areas are often their own little fiefdoms they can and do make rules like this and get away with it.
They implemented this rule in July 2005 and set the price of taxis to Siem Reap at $45 with the driver taking $30, the association taking $10, and the touts/helpers getting $5. And for about a year the system worked. A little more expensive yes, but the problems with tourists getting ripped off by taxis were eliminated. But in the end of 2006 the touts got greedy and began pushing the prices to $60, $70, I even heard reports of $80, for a car to Siem Reap with every dollar over $40 apparently going into their pockets. They would follow you, they would physically threaten any non-association taxi you tried to talk to, they even on occasion physically threatened you. If they caught you appearing to have any success getting a non-association car, not only would they threaten the driver, they would contact the police and have the car pulled over and you would be stuck standing on the side of the road. I've seen it happen. I suppose at some point, somebody started to pay attention and in mid 2007 the touts calmed down a bit, though plenty of people are still paying $60 for their taxis. However with the completed road, competing associations, and not a whole lot of tourists these days it's not too difficult to get association cabs for $40-45 now.
The non-association cars are parked about a kilometer up the road from the traffic circle. The only way you're going to have success getting one - which can be for as little as $25-30, is to jump on a motorbike as soon as you exit immigration and hopefully you can get yourself in a car before the association touts arrive. I've noticed also that more recently some non-association drivers/touts have been hanging around outside the exit from Thai immigration. There's no crime in talking to one if you can.
On the up side, the association cars, though they will try to force you to pay up front, will take you to Siem Reap without any trouble (almost*). The non-association cars have been known on occasion to kick people out in Sisophon - particularly if you made the mistake of paying up front, or filling the car up with six Cambodians never mind you agreed to pay for the whole car yourself.
*The only kink in the system is that beginning in mid 2007 a certain enterprising young man struck a little deal with the Poipet association taxis and some local tuk-tuks. Taxi comes in from Poipet hits the edge of town and stops in front of a hotel where a group of tuk-tuks are parked claiming the taxis aren't allowed into the city, which is of course not true. So passenger gets out of the car and has to take a tuk-tuk who jumps right into the commission crap and hire me for the temples. Several reports I've received indicate that these tuk-tuks are nearly as aggressive as the airport taxis at keeping you away from any establishment they can't get a commission from. And of course the tuk-tuk rides are offered as a "free service". Right, nothing is free. According to my sources, the taxi drivers get $5 from the tuk-tuk who gets the passenger and the tuk-tuks pay $20 a month to the guy that organized all of this. Not sure what you can do other than refuse to get out of the car and see if it works. From reports here, this obviously has.
A thing of the past... this ship has sailed.
1.) Watch your wallet, your phone, your bags.
Sisophon - 50 kms east of Poipet, 30-40 minutes.
If you're in an association taxi or a bus you won't stop here, except maybe at a nearby restaurant to eat, so you can skip this section.
If you're in a non-association taxi you may get switched to another car here. This won't be an issue so long as you didn't pay up front in Poipet. The financials will be sorted out by the old and new driver and you shouldn't pay any money here nor expect to be asked for any additional money in Siem Reap over what you originally agreed upon.
If you're going on to Battambang you may or may not have to stop here depending on whether you're in a truck (which you probably won't be) or in a taxi who plans to switch you to a new car. If you are going to Battambang it's another hour or so at most.
Kralanh - 50 kms east of Sisophon, 30-40 minutes.
If you want a quick break, halfway between Sisophon and Siem Reap is the village of Kralanh where there are a number of rest areas with blocks of toilets, drinks, snacks, etc. Newer "rest areas" are also popping up along the highway.
Arrival in Siem Reap
If you're on a bus you'll be dumped at a guesthouse. If you're in a taxi it's a bit hit or miss whenther the driver will deliver you to the front door of wherever you want to go or sell you to the local tuk-tuks to feast upon you.
By taxi Poipet to Siem Reap:
On Your Own - Siem Reap to Bangkok
Like with the package trips, this is easier than coming the other way. The trip is much as described above, but in reverse.
Siem Reap to the Border
In Siem Reap, taxis can be found near Psah Leu, sometimes around the Koh Ker Restaurant (Wat Bo Rd and Route 6), or near the La Noria Hotel (along the east side of the river just north of Route 6).
Unlike travel from Poipet, there are no regulations on how you may travel going to Poipet.
Many guesthouses and hotels can arrange a taxi for you but you may pay a premium to have a taxi brought to your guesthouse or hotel. Most hotels and guesthouses charge at least $30 and as much as $45-50. If they quote any price over $35 ask them what they are doing with all that extra money - a phone call to arrange a taxi takes ten seconds and costs about ten cents. A taxi obtained yourself would be around $30. Really. Ask them why they need to tack on a $10 or $15 charge to make a ten-cent call.
You can get a taxi anytime in the morning and even in early afternoon, but I wouldn't recommend leaving much beyond two, three pm at the latest, if you want to be SURE of getting through the border in time to get transportation onward to Bangkok (last bus leaves Aranyaprathet at 7 pm). If getting a share taxi from the market, it is possible to share one with locals (though it will be crowded!), pay not more than 200 baht per seat and confirm that the driver is going all the way to Poipet and not changing in Sisophon. If you're sharing you should pay the same as everybody else.
The Border Crossing
In this direction the situation is a little simpler. Touts are almost nonexistent as there is nothing to get from you. The taxis usually let you off at the circle right in front of immigration. If you have any heavy bags a few kids with carts will likely approach you and happily transport your stuff to Aranyaprathet. Give the kid a buck or two for his effort and keep an eye on your stuff.
Walk to the Cambodian immigration departure building on the right and get your exit stamp. As with entering, if there is a long line you can bribe some officer outside to run your passport in and get you stamped out in a minute or two.
Leaving Cambodia there is no checkpoint to verify that you have an exit stamp, but the Thai immigration people inside will look for it before giving you your entry stamp. Head to the Thai immigration booth for arrivals, the big building on the left after you cross the footbridge into Thailand.
Thai immigration tends to be extremely slow, seemingly scrutinizing every last detail on passports, counting stamps, days in Thailand already, looking for visas you don't have, etc. And they tend to be quite rude and arrogant about it. Of the dozens of border points I've crossed around the world, I rank Thai immigration at Aranyaprathet as the second rudest crop of officers I've ever countered. Only the guy working the Afghanistan side of Torkham was nastier. Anyway, to cause further annoyance they arbitrarily ask people to show proof of an outward ticket from Thailand (air, bus, train) to receive a 15-day visa-free* entry stamp. They have notices posted to that effect and may or may not ask for the proof. If you have multiple Thai entry stamps you'll probably be hassled, if it's your first time to Thailand you'll probably get through without much hassle Still, if you have an air ticket out, or an e-ticket out, have the ticket or a print out of your e-ticket confirmation just in case they ask.
*NOTE: Recently Thai immigration changed their regulations and now only issue 15-day entry stamps at land crossings opposed to the 30-day entry still available at the airports.
After you've dispensed with this final exercise head to Rongklua Market for onward transport. Keep walking straight and follow the crowds. After walking through the new and still under construction immigration plaza you'll turn right and pass through a customs checkpoint complete with bag searches and drug/bomb-snififng dogs. Historically, the main thing they look for are cartons of cigarettes (or so they told me) so I don't suggest carrying in ten cartons of 555s. But with the presence of dogs and more officers, I imagine cigarettes are no longer their only concern. When you come out walk to your left and grab a tuk-tuk or motorcycle to Aranyaprathet town. About 80 baht for the tuk-tuk, 50 baht for the motorcycle.
Important: For nationalities that require a visa to enter Thailand, visas are NOT issued here. You must have one in advance.
The Border to Bangkok
Once in Aranyaprathet you need, I assume, to get to Bangkok or somewhere. For Bangkok, it's bus or train. Trains depart at 6:40 a.m. (#280) and 1:40 pm (#276) and take from five to five and a half hours. See above about leaving Bangkok for comments on bus vs. train. There are first-class buses leaving at various hours. There are two first-class options. One is the government-owned service the other is a private company with a government contract - there is nothing dodgy about them as they are obligated to follow government regulations. On the corner is the government bus (newer buses, less stops) with departures at 6:30, 10:30, 13:00, 13:30, and 15:00. The other company next door (older buses, more stops) has many more departures starting from dawn and onward until as late as I've ever needed a bus (their schedule is: 4:30, 5:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 11:30, 12:30, 14:00, 14:30, 15:30, 16:30, 17:30, 18:00, 19:00). First class bus price here ranges from about 200 to 220 baht depending on the route. The government service on the corner has the newest, most comfortable buses, and makes the fewest stops, but they only have five departures a day. There are also second-class buses, roughly 150 to 170 baht which also run very frequently. There are also a couple of buses to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
There are also four daily public bus departures from Rongklua Market (9:30, 11:30, 1:30, and 3:30 I think... or is it 8:30, 10:30...... )
Sometimes if the KSR-bound tourist buses aren't full, a tout will be wandering around trying to get you in one. There are also vans to Khao San Road, Pratunam, as well as Trat and Pattaya. Vans cost from 250 to 300 baht for a tight seat and minimal space for your bags - sometimes they end up on the roof. However, the vans travel a different and faster route than the buses so in their defense, the time spent waiting for it to fill up is offset with one hour less of travel time. You can also hire an entire van for around 2500 to 3000 baht and be delivered directly to your chosen destination in Bangkok. There are also metered taxis back to Bangkok. Set price of 1900 THB, about three hours. Definitely the best way to go if you can handle the cost. This transport is obtained from a travel agent immediately to your left after passing through the above-mentioned customs checkpoint.
If you wish to head somewhere in Thailand other than Bangkok, there are inter-provincial buses here, but they don't travel as often. It is sometimes possible to get a bus to Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) and Mukhaden to the north and also Pattaya, Rayong or Chantaburi (the latter is the way if you want to go to Trat/Koh Chang) to the south. If there is nothing to your liking at Aranyaprathet, at least get yourself to the provincial capital, Sa Kaew, about an hour to the west, which should be sufficient for Chantaburi. Or go to the next station west, Kabinburi, another forty-five minutes towards Bangkok, which will get you up to Nakhon Ratchasima or down to Pattaya/Cholburi. At these stations you'll have many more inter-provincial options. Best thing to do is when you get to the bus station, tell them where it is you want to go and they'll tell you what bus combination to take to get there. They get asked these questions every day, they are quite used to it.
At the Aranyaprathet bus station there is a bit of competition between the first and second-class buses. The touts for the second-class buses seem more aggressive. You can recognize the second-class buses by the paint scheme - they have red on them. The first-class bus paint scheme is blue and white. Buses to Suvarnabhumi are yellow.
The main difference between the two classes is the number of times the bus stops (1st class: some, 2nd class: many) and having a toilet on board (1st class: yes, 2nd class: no).
A number of times I've sat in the bus station at Aranyaprathet watching tourist after tourist get swept away by the touts and put on the second-class bus. Usually it's the claim that this bus is leaving sooner that gets them on. Inevitably, two hours later the first-class bus I'm riding on passes the second-class bus, despite the latter's thirty-minute head start.
The Bangkok-bound buses run by the company on the corner do not make a gas/snack/toilet stop, while the other company makes a stop in Nakhon Nayok, a little more than half way through the journey. But there is a toilet on board all first-class buses and they do stop very briefly at a few bus stations along the way (Sa Kaew, Kabinburi, and Nakhon Nayok).
In Bangkok the bus will deliver you to the Northern Bus Terminal (Morchit). From here to wherever you're going in Bangkok it's taxi, public bus, or the Skytrain. A word of warning about taxis. As soon as you get off the bus expect a couple of taxi touts to approach you, "Taxi?", "Khao San?", "Pattaya" whatever. They all assume every foreigner wants to go to Khao San Road or Pattaya. IGNORE THEM!!! If you go with one of these guys you're probably going to pay at least twice what you would normally pay on the meter. There is a huge taxi rank at the back of the bus station where a sign clearly states in English and Thai that these are metered taxis and the driver is required to use this meter. Find this taxi rank. From where the bus usually parks there's a reasonable chance that the rank is *behind you* as it is on the road that runs along the backside of the station. But whatever, walk around in circles if you have to, find this taxi rank and don't go with any touts. It will only cost you a lot of money if you do. And if you understood Thai, you'd be able to hear the incessant blaring of speakers telling people not to go with these people and instead go to the proper taxi rank. Fortunately, when you walk away, these guys tend, unlike their Cambodian cohorts, not to follow you - which is a blessing. When you locate the taxi rank there should be no games or nonsense. It still happens, yes, but your chances are a whole lot better than if you let some taxi tout cart you off three seconds after you disembarked a bus from Aranyaprathet. And the taxi touts know you just came into the country because it says 'Aranyaprathet' right there on the side of the bus.
If for any reason you decide (or are forced to because of a late arrival) to overnight at the border I highly recommend that if at all possible, you do so in Aranyaprathet and not in Poipet. I overnight here quite often as it's usually more convenient for me to leave Bangkok in the afternoon. I always stay at the Aran Garden 2 Hotel (not to be confused with the more run-down Aran Garden 1 Hotel). 230 baht gets you a fan room with a shower (no hot water), usually a squat toilet, and cable TV with about a dozen stations which may or may not include an English-language station. 370 baht gets you A/C, hot water, a western toilet, and the same deal with the TV as the fan rooms. All the tuk-tuk drivers know it so communicating is easy if you don't speak any Thai. In the morning there are always a couple of tuk-tuks waiting out front to shuttle you to the border. The hotel itself is no great shakes, but it's a fair deal for the price, more than adequate for a quick overnighter, and it's near the night market.
For eating, head to the night market - walk out of the hotel gate and turn left. Go up to the first main intersection where the Aran Garden 1 is and turn right. Don't confuse this intersection with the small soi on the right before this intersection, which you don't want. A few blocks down (just past the 7-11) is the night market with its usual hawker variety Thai food. One vendor has an English-language sign with a small menu and speaks passable English if that's important to you. His main offering seems to be Pad Thai. A block down another vendor speaks more limited English but his offerings are extensive and he keeps a fairly detailed English menu on hand and does some good food. Good pork satay there, too.
If you leave the night market and walk towards the 7-11 and the Aran Garden 2 you can turn right at the first intersection and then turn left at the next road, walk a short distance and you'll find an internet place on the right. If you turn right at the second intersection where the 7-11 is, you can walk up a couple of blocks and find a small night market offering a variety of snack foods and a few full meals.
There is a restaurant across the street from the Aran Garden 2 but I've heard it's not very good. There is also an ATM across the street from the hotel (Bangkok Bank) and another one at the night market (Krung Thai Bank).
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