After leaving Pattaya our Thai visas were about to expire and so for the next leg of our journey we planned to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Our main problem was how do we get there without spending too much money on plane flights etc.
We originally thought of going back to Bangkok and catching a train to Aranyaprathet which is a town just 6km from the border crossing. We found out about this from Seat 61 and if we hadn’t been in Pattaya we may well have done this as it seemed like a cheap option and train travel isn’t bad in Thailand as long as you have a seat.
Whilst in Pattaya we began researching other ways to enter Cambodia and that’s when we learnt of a tour company called KCT Angkor that offered a minivan service from Pattaya to the border and then onwards to Siem Reap all for a reasonable price and help with crossing the notorious border.
Our Pattaya hotel contacted the company and arranged for an early morning collection and this went smoothly with everything organised and paid for through the hotel. The minivan wasn’t overly packed and the driver didn’t drive too dangerously, we had a 10 minute break for coffee 45mins in to the journey. All in the 4hr drive to the border was largely uneventful with only a few dozen near misses during over-taking on the dual carriageway.
It was upon arrival at the border town of Aranyaprathet that things became clear.
We pulled into a Thai restaurant and we were starving having not eaten all morning so we were pleased to see Khao Pad Gai on the menu but a man at the restaurant began handing out visa forms to us all and said that to save time we should fill them out now so we could avoid the huge queue of people who would greet us at the border.
Mistake number 1: We agreed to “fast-tracking” our visas along with the rest of the passengers (bar 1 who had an E-Visa) and paid far too much money for this scammy trick.
Solution number 1: Don’t agree to hand over any money, your passports or fill in any forms until you see the border guard. It’s not worth it as you pay a whole lot more than you would other wise and they try to trick you with confusing which currency to pay in and talking about exchange rates. Don’t fall for it. Better yet, get an E-Visa.
After we’d handed over money, forms and passports we were herded back onto the bus and taken to the border car park where we had to fill out the Cambodian arrival ticket before watching our passports be squirreled away again so that the guy could go bribe another official before we moved on to the next part – exiting Thailand.
Leaving Thailand is fairly simple as long as you have your departure slip that you received when you entered. One woman didn’t and was basically stranded in the no-man’s land of the border. Usually these are stapled into your passport by passport control when you enter the county (by plane) and so our own boundary crossing was painless.
Top tip: Check that you do in fact have your departure slip safely stapled into your passport before attempting the border crossing – we couldn’t believe that this woman had got this far before thinking about it.
Once we met up as a group again our shifty tour guide asked for more cash. This time so they could bribe their way to the front of the queue with our passports for the Cambodian entry stamp – we were told by one of our fellow group members who had done the same visa run 3 weeks previously that this was a wise thing to do since the queue would be about 45mins long without air-con. Again, as a group we decided to agree and handed over 200baht each for the pleasure of avoiding a long queue in what was described as no air-con hell.
Mistake number 2: Don’t fall for this ruse! When we rounded the corner so we could see the queue it was no more than 10 people long and moving quickly. It’s just another excuse to part you with your cash.
Solution number 2: Do it yourself… or at least look at the queue first!
Having received our now fully stamped visas and with the all clear to enter Cambodia we stepped into Poipet… and were then herded into a corner where women repeatedly try to sell the group over-priced cigarettes. (As non-smokers we didn’t fall for this one.)
Top tip: Don’t buy anything here including water it’s all over-priced and you’re about to be taken to the bus station where you can get food and water anyway.
Once everyone was assembled we all began boarding the free shuttle bus (anyone crossing the border can use it) that takes you to the transport station in the middle of nowhere. As we alighted we were surprised to see the guy from our group who had the E-Visa already on board and smiling at his triumph of having not only navigated the border alone but much quicker than our “express route.” We were suitably annoyed not to have sorted our own E-Visa after having read other blogs that warned against this after a few bad experiences. If there’s a next time we’ll be getting E-Visas!
Top tip: Get an E-Visa! This guy was British and it worked for him.
Upon arrival at the transport
hell hub we were left to sit and sweat with the promise of an onward ‘big bus’ that would be about 20mins… approx two hours later we were still sat there with the rest of our group and our guide making excuses of it being here any minute now.
There seemed to be food available of the Asian standard but aside from the smallest bottle of water in the world and a Cornetto we didn’t eat.
Top tip: You’re expected to leave a tip when using the loo but I didn’t have any cash on me so I had to mime no money to someone who spoke no English when I had no Khmer.
We eventually all boarded a ‘big bus’ which is a coach to you and me, and basically we had to wait for the thing to be full before the driver would leave which meant that we didn’t arrive in Siem Reap until well after sunset around 7pm (3hrs later than expected.)
After an exhausting travel day that’s gone on way too long and you finally arrive at your destination only to be told that you have to get an unarranged Tuk-Tuk because the ones that were reserved for you either left hours ago or perhaps never existed. It’s nice to be greeted by a charming Khmer man who speaks almost fluent English and wants to shake your hand and welcome you to his country. Unfortunately you soon learn that this is part of the charm offensive and what’s coming is the sales pitch.
Mistake number 3: We didn’t know what the exchange rate for Riel was and being exhausted and desperate to see our hotel and some food we just jumped into the Tuk-Tuk without haggling. 20,000 Riel was suggested and we paid (approx $5 for a max $2 trip.) Onto a winner our driver continued with his pitch about picking us up at sunrise to check out Angkor Wat.
The conversation went a little like this:Driver: I’ll pick you up tomorrow and show you around beautiful Angkor Wat. Us: Not tomorrow, we’re exhausted. Maybe Saturday. Driver: It’s very important to me that I make a booking. I think tomorrow I show you floating village and then some temples. Jack: No, we’re fine thanks. Tomorrow we just want to relax. Driver: Ok, Saturday then. I’ll pick you up Saturday for temples. Me: “How much?” Driver: “Don’t worry about the price. We discuss Saturday, after I pick you up.” Me: Mumbles: I will worry about the price. “Yeah sure, whatever.” Driver finally leaves after 5min circular conversation. Us: We’ll arrange it through the hotel instead.
Solution number 3: Like us just say what you need to say if caught in some sort of circular argument about when the Tuk-Tuk is going to pick you up even though you don’t want him to. He will be over priced at best and at worst we’ve read about stories where they’ve collected passengers and then dumped them in the middle of nowhere after trying to con them out of more money. More on this in our next post.
So we got through the border relatively unscathed especially compared to some of the horror stories you read about online. Here’s our key points if you’re considering navigating this land border crossing:
1. Can’t you just fly in? If the cost of a plane flight isn’t an obstacle to you then seriously do that instead.
2. Have you considered flying into Phnom Penh instead? If the cost of Bangkok to Siem Reap is off-putting then check out the cost of Bangkok to Phnom Penh as we looked recently and you could get a one way ticket for £20 each and then you can go via a company called Giant Ibis bus company and take a relatively smooth journey by road up to Siem Reap instead.
3. Don’t go with the same company we did. I don’t recommend them and although I don’t know if they’re the best of a bad lot or if there is a better company in Bangkok to go with, it might be best to just get yourself there via the train I mentioned earlier and then stay overnight at the border hotel and then arrange a taxi from the transport hub on the other side.
4. If you do go with the same or a similar company: then don’t fall for the visa scam where you stop at a restaurant and you get told that if you don’t do it there and then you’ll struggle getting across the busy/scary/impassable border. It’s nonsense, just firmly and politely refuse and then get back on your bus before heading toward the border.
5. Get an E-Visa if you can.
6. Don’t buy anything from the expensive (just over the border) cigarette and water sellers, wait until the bus terminal.
7. Don’t bother arranging onward transport with the same dodgy company that got you to Poipet as they most likely won’t have anything arranged. Try to contact your hotel ahead of time and see if they can help you out.
8. You don’t need to exchange money at the bus terminal – wait until you’re in Siem Reap (just have $2 for the inevitable Tuk-Tuk ride to your hotel and prepare to haggle.)
9. Comment here with your own experience!
10. Here’s a link to what TripAdvisor has to say.
Here’s some photos from the border crossing and first sights of Cambodia: