The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap is a classic backpacker trip full of tribal history and stories that defy belief. The border crossing has long been know as a landmine field of scams and the road from Poipet to Siem Reap is infamous for bus sized pot holes and violently aggressive taxi drivers looking to make a buck at every opportunity, including extorting passengers for gas money, extra fare to go to their original destination and so forth. Today, much of that has improved.
The biggest change is in the infrastructure. The road from Poipet to Siem Reap is now fully paved and in great condition. Gone are the days of horror stories and 12 hour trips. It’s now a modern paved highway that can be done in 1.5 hours with no stops.
The second change is the strong arm of the Poipet bus station. According to many sources, the bus station and taxi fares are kept artificially high by a travel monopoly. This may very well be true but the result is a safe and clear path from Poipet to Siem Reap is now possible, if at an inflated price of $48/taxi (note that a taxi takes 4 people).
Lastly, the border guards in Cambodia do not seem to be as profiteering as in the past.
All this is not to say there aren’t scams to watch out for. But it’s gotten much better.
Here’s how we crossed.
Get to the Northern Bus Station in Bangkok
Whatever you do, Do NOT book a ticket on one of the many Bangkok – Siem Reap private transports advertised by travel agents and guesthouses in Khao San Road. You will be asking for trouble and will likely be left at the border with no onward transport or be subjected to many of the scams you read on the web. Take a bus from the northern bus station in Bangkok. If you’re staying in the Kao San Road area like most backpackers, take the #3 bus which ends at the bus station. The fare to the station is around 15 THB.
Bus to Aranyaprathet
Once at the bus station, go inside the terminal and approach stall #22. It will be clearly marked as the government bus destined to Aranyaprathet. The one trick here is that the first government bus leaves at 9:30 am which is quite late really. If you have missed this bus, ask where the private bus stall is (I believe it was stall #30) and take a private bus. Ours left at 6:30 am. We took the first class bus for about 200 THB. You’ll get a cup of drinking water but nothing else.
The bus trip to Aranyaprathet will take about 5 hours or so. You will likely be stopped a couple of times by the police and military for some random spot checks of your passport. Nothing particularly alarming here but you might have to flash your foreign passport at them.
Arriving at Aranyaprathet
Once you arrive at Aranyaprathet, you will NOT be dropped off at the border. Instead, you’ll be at the north end of a market and will be delivered into the hands of waiting tuk tuk drivers. They will ask for 70 THB a person to take you to the border. Ignore them and walk away, flag down other tuk tuk drivers that will inevitably approach you. We got 3 people to the border for 40 THB total (not per person). A good tip is to always walk at least 50 to 100 metres away from where you a dropped off before arranging tuk tuk, taxis, etc. Those that are waiting for you are there for a reason.
We didn’t experience this ourselves but a number of tuk tuk drivers will drop you off somewhere in the market where someone will pretend to be from the border. The real border will have a blue sign that says “passport control” and will lead you down a laneway split between Thai and other foreigners.
You’ll enter the Thai exit border control. If you are being sold ANYTHING before you get a stamp from the Thai border patrol, you are being ripped off. Lock up your wallet until you have cleared the Thai exit border patrol. Leaving Thailand costs nothing but you will need to have your exit card fully filled out.
Once you have had your passport stamped, exit and head towards the main gate. On the right side across the street is the Cambodia visa office. Inside the office it will have a sign indicating that a tourist visa costs of $20 USD. If you have a passport photo, you will give them it now. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. They will photocopy your passport photo for an extra 200 THB. You’ll be asked to sit down for a few minutes while they prepare the visa.
After you have your visa and paid your $20 USD (don’t pay for your visa in THB as the exchange rate is terrible), you are done paying for entry costs. Do not listen to anyone that tells you to pay for any further entry costs. Walk down the road where you’ll need to get your passport stamped and have your photo and finger prints taken. This is standard.
Shuttle to Bus Station
Once you have your stamp, you have some choice. You can try and move around and find a taxi or you can take the free shuttle to the bus station. We took the bus station option. The shuttle will take you to a simple booth where you will be offered either a mini van, taxi or bus. By this point, we had picked up a group of about 11 people so we opted for a mini van. The price per person ended up being about $10 USD. The trip into town on the mini van will take about 2.5 hours and will include some kind of lunch stop off, where if you’re hungry, you can buy a decent meal at somewhat inflated costs.
The bus station had officially posted costs: $9/person for bus, $48/taxi that holds 4, no official minibus rate was posted. You may be able to arrange a better rate with a taxi by walking away from the border and negotiating with a taxi driver. Once you’re at the tourist bus station, you’re pretty much stuck with one of the options on offer.
Arriving in Siem Reap
When you arrive in Siem Reap, you’ll need to pick up a tuk tuk to your hotel. The minibus folks said that the transport to our hotel by tuk tuk was included in our minibus fare. We got the free ride although I’m not sure if everyone did. The real prize that the tuk tuk drivers are looking for is to secure some future day trips with you to see Angkor Wat. Use this as leverage if you need.
The tuk tuk driver will also likely try to take you to a guesthouse (even if you tell them you’ve already booked accommodations) as ours did in order to try and get a commission. Refuse to get out of your tuk tuk till they take you to your actual accommodations. If you don’t have accommodations prearranged (highly recommended) beware that you will probably pay for the tuk tuk driver’s commission through your bill at the guesthouse.
Here are some points to keep in mind while making the trip.
- Leave Bangkok EARLY. If you follow only one tip, this is it. We got up at 4am to start our trip. You lose a lot of leverage once the light goes down. The trip is long. Don’t risk getting into Siem Reap after dark. Get up EARLY and you’ll be OK.
- Once at the border, do NOT pay a cent until you have passed through the Thai border control. Anyone that tells you to open your wallet for any reason (money exchange, express visa, anything) is scamming you. Find the blue sign and get to the Thai border patrol.
- Make friends with other travelers on your bus. Ask them if they are going to Siem Reap and see if they might be interested in a shared taxi.
- Do not take the Khao San Road bus scams. The government or private buses at the north bus station are cheap and effective.