Siem Reap in Cambodia is only around 400km (250 miles) from Bangkok in Thailand. It's not so far. There are however some challenges that must be navigated along the way. The typical route is Bangkok, Aranyaprathet on the Thai side, through immigration, Poipet on the Cambodian side then on to Siem Reap. The Aranyaprathet / Poipet border crossing is legendary for the many possible rip offs and scams you may encounter.
There are a number of ways you can travel this route.
- 1 Options for travelling from Bangkok to Siem Reap
- 2 The Border Crossing Itself
- 3 Possible Scams
- 4 And in Conclusion
Options for travelling from Bangkok to Siem Reap
Bus all the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap
In early June 2012 I read in a Cambodian newspaper that the Thai and Cambodian governments have made an agreement that will allow buses to travel all the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap and vice versa. You still have to get off the bus for immigration but the same bus will apparently then meet you over the border. This is brand new, its still being implemented and only a handful of companies are allowed to do it (assuming it is successfully implemented at all).
Otherwise you will bus to the border, get off the bus with some sort of ticket, go through immigration then hopefully a bus or minivan will be waiting for you on the other side. Scams in this area are common and range from the bus on the other side simply not existing to the bus actually consisting of a hilariously overcrowded minivan.
Train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, bus from Poipet to Siem Reap
Trains within Thailand are generally fairly comfortable and are an excellent way to get around. Trains to Aranyaprathet leave Bangkok at 5:55am and 11:35am. Third class is not air-conditioned and doesn't have assigned seating so there is a mad rush to get a seat when the train arrives. It is however only 48 Baht.
The early morning train arrives at Aranyaprathet at 13:05 while the lunchtime train arrives at 17:35. If you catch the early train you can head straight through the border. If you catch the lunchtime train you may want to consider spending the night in Aranyaprathet. (We spent the night at the Aran Mermaid Hotel)
Once over the border you will be directed to the free shuttle bus out to the Poipet Tourist Passenger International Terminal. It is apparently possible to get a bus to Siem Reap from elsewhere in Poipet for around $5 although we looked and were unsuccessful in finding one. The international bus terminal is out of town so once you're there, you're stuck there. There is overpriced food and drink available while you wait for your overpriced bus. Bus tickets are $9 or $10 and take around 3 hours.
The road from Poipet to Siem Reap used to be terrible but is now great making the ride relatively fast and smooth.
Train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap
Train to Aranyaprathet as above. Once you're over the border you can politely decline the shuttle bus to the Poipet Tourist Passenger International Terminal and get a taxi. We paid 1100 Baht for an air-conditioned taxi that we would have to ourselves and which would leave immediately. It's probably possible to haggle them down further however people paying as much as $80 is not unheard of.
Once you have agreed on a price a police officer will materialise and take a cut. It is apparently compensation to whoever runs the Poipet Tourist Passenger International Terminal. Someone or other has a monopoly on transport from Poipet and they get paid no matter what.
Once your taxi is on its way, sit back and enjoy the air-conditioned ride.
The Border Crossing Itself
In our experience everything is done by the book at Thailand immigration. Passport control is to the left as you approach the border. You'll queue, get stamped out and you're on your way.
Next there is an office that will issue you with your Cambodian visa. Visas are $20 for a tourist visa. $25 for a business visa, also known as an E visa. Business visas can be renewed without leaving the country so consider getting one if you'll be in the country for a while.
After that are a handful of casinos. Gambling is illegal in both Thailand and Cambodia but some casinos have been set up between the two countries. The potential dangers of gambling in a no man's land between Thailand and Cambodia should be immediately apparent to anyone. Dress codes are enforced so spruce yourself up if you want to join the visiting Thai businessmen at the tables.
After the casinos you'll go through the remainder of the immigration process. Your photo will be taken then you're in Cambodia!
Aside from the previously mentioned scam where you're told that a bus will meet you over the border then doesn't, there are a number of famous Poipet scams.
Overcharging for visas or the imposing of additional fees is widely believed to occur. Generally the difference in price is small so argue it at your own discretion. It can be wise to have a few US $1 bills available for any unforeseen expenses.
Also make sure that you have exact change for any fees. Despite taking handfuls of small notes from each person, change may not be available should you only have bills larger than is required.
Dropping you at Sisophon
Siem Reap is quite a long way from Poipet. Much closer is a town called Sisophon. Bus and taxi drivers have been known to drop people in Sisophon, tell them its Siem Reap then dash off before their victims figure out what's going on. A taxi ride to Siem Reap should take around 2 hours or more. The bus should be more like 3.
Transport Turf Wars
Just as a taxi must pay a cut to the transport monopoly at Poipet, they must share their customers at Siem Reap. Taxis and buses may stop on the outskirts of town, tell you that they are forbidden to enter Siem Reap and will hand you off to a Siem Reap tuk tuk driver. Some people have found themselves coughing up more money for this unexpected extra leg of their trip.
Tuk Tuk drivers seem to make most of their money from providing tours of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. That explains their desire to get access to tourists when they first arrive in town. Expect to be asked repeatedly about visiting Angkor Wat. Be aware that in the same way as a taxi driver from Poipet is forbidden from entering Siem Reap, a Siem Reap tuk tuk driver can drive you around the temples but is forbidden from acting as a guide. The tuk tuk driver can only provide transport. You'll need to hire someone else if you want a guide.
Old Fashioned Theft
There are a lot of people wandering around between Thai immigration and Cambodian immigration and near where travellers first enter Poipet. Many are transporting wagons of goods from one country to another however there are plenty of people who don't seem to be going anywhere. Politely but firmly brush off anyone who tries to strike up a conversation. Watch your valuables very closely. Be aware of your environment.
And in Conclusion
The overland trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap is an experience. It's an adventure. It wouldn't be an adventure without a little danger and hardship. Just remember that you're here looking for new experiences, be firm but patient and you will get there eventually. Good luck.