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Border Crossings: Bangkok to Siem Reap

Man eating dogs.

Cue the horror music.  Trust no one.  Watch your back.  You have a 50% chance of making the border-crossing between Thailand and Cambodia with your life.

Or something like that.

There are a lot of forums and guides out there regarding the land crossing between Aranyaprathet, Thailand and Poipet, Cambodia.   This is the main crossing for those heading to Siem Reap from Bangkok.  Most speak ill of the experience and rightly so, but it isn’t the slasher border crossing some sites make it out to be.  At least it isn’t anymore.  For those of you out there about to embark on the journey, this article will hopefully put you at some peace as there are a lot of outdated tidbits of info floating around the net.

So here is a rough guide to help you along:

First things first.  Don’t go to sleep (why waste a night in Bangkok right?) and keep drinking with friends until the train departs in the wee hours of the morning from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station.  For about 48 Baht a ticket, the train is definitely the way to go (in our humble opinion).  If you’re going to do this border crossing… forego all offers for a prepaid bus tour.  For one, they are overpriced.  Two, they switch you to a shit bus in Cambodia.  Three, you are not in control of your plans, someone else is.

Early morning departure from Bangkok

The earliest train from BKK leaves just before 6 AM so be sure to arrive well before to get tickets and fight for seats.  It’s all third class seating so it’s every man for himself.  It is important to try to catch this early train because it will ensure you get across the border and also beat the buses with heaps of people.  I would not want to be crossing the border in the evening OR have to stay in Poipet / Aranyaprathet.  The train is about 5-6 hours long and by noon you should be arriving in Aranyaprathet.  Here you will get to experience a horde of tuktuk drivers (most likely running next to the train picking out their prey… ie you).  Exit the train last (sacrificing fellow backpackers) to escape the onslaught of offers and then begin to haggle.  The ride to the border should cost you about 60 Baht and chances are you are going to have to fight for this price.  Anyway, whether or not your haggling skills paid off you now have a driver and it’s time get your game face on.

Some drivers may not mess with you, but ours sure as hell did.  Chances are you will encounter the following scenario…

The drivers will take you to little roadside stands where an official looking guy will tell you about filling out visa forms.  They are incredibly persistent and really don’t take no for an answer.  Your driver won’t drive away and it just gets really awkward.  Regardless… stay in the tuktuk and don’t touch or fill anything out.  Keep saying “No” and “Take me to the border”.  Usually they will do just that… eventually.  Ours decided to try it again and actually took us to a VERY persuasive building telling us we needed to pay 1000 baht for visas to yet another official looking guy.  Anyway, stick to your guns and eventually you’ll get to the border.

Once you get to the border, follow the signs to the crossing.  There are little turnstiles you walk through and at that point chances are you will get corralled by a Cambodian official (while on the Thai side of the border) who will appear very helpful in directing you through the lines of people.  These are paid members of the Cambodian Tourism Board aka “The Association”.  Anyway, get your exit stamp and march on over to the real visa officials.  Here, you will be asked to pay $25 US for your visa on arrival.  This is for an expedited visa which is technically bullshit.  Refuse to pay the extra five dollars and pay the amount for a regular visa which is $20.  They will be persistent about the $25, but it’s a scam.  Politely refuse and be on your way.  We didn’t pay the extra amount and it took less than 5 minutes to get the visa.  You will be marched to Immigration where you fill out the required entry form and get your Cambodian stamp.  At this point you will need to make a decision.

The Cambodian association official will probably be with you directing you to a free shuttle.  You can either try to ditch him by saying you’re staying in Poipet (finding a private taxi on your own) or go with him.  We went with him to the transport terminal (about a 15 min drive).  Here you can hit the head, grab some overpriced food, and definitely NOT exchange your money.  Any currency exchanging anywhere near the border crossing or the terminal is a rip off.  Anyway… from the terminal you can either take a bus to Siem Reap (about $9) or an association taxi (about $45). The taxi, if you can get a crew together, would be a cheaper and faster way to go.  However the 3-4 hour bus ride wasn’t too bad.  If you take a taxi it’ll probably shave off an hour.

For the most part… keep smiling and act friendly through this experience.  If you do have a sour border crossing experience please don’t take it as an overview of  Cambodia.  The Khmer people are extremely friendly and with any country, there are good and bad people.

So good luck, be safe, and venture on.

Quick Reference Notes:

  • Aranyaprathet / Poipet Border crossing times: 7 AM – 8 PM
  • Best time to arrive: BEFORE 12 PM (if you don’t want to fight the hordes)
  • Average wait: 1-3 hours
  • Visa On Arrival cost: $20 US
  • Total transport cost per person (BKK [train] to Siem Reap [bus]): ~$12 US
  • Train ticket (3rd class) from Hualamphong Station to Aranyaprathet: 48 Baht
  • Tuktuk from Aranyaprathet to Border: 60 Baht
  • Bus from Poipet Terminal to Siem Reap: $9 US
  • Taxi from Poipet Terminal to Siem Reap: $45 US

    At ease on a tuktuk in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat awaits.

Tales of Asia: Extremely informative site… we used it before journeying to Cambodia and it proved helpful.

Oh and please don’t hold us responsible if you F up on this crossing and decide to blame us.  This is just an informative article and please proceed at your own risk.