Bangkok to Siem Reap Overland

On the September 25, 2011 my girlfriend and I travelled overland from Bangkok to Siem Reap. This is a famous route, and I had read a few horror stories. However, many were a few years old and I had also read that things had improved a lot recently in terms of road quality.


Overland, Bangkok to Siem Reap. As captured with  Geospike

We managed to do this journey spending less than US$25 each, arranging everything ourselves (no end-to-end bus), avoiding land-mines and without getting ripped-off. For anyone interested in this journey, here’s how ours went down:

Day Before – Bankok. Fiona bought bus tickets the day before at a ticket center located near the cinema in Siem Square.

8:15AM – dep. Siam Center Skytrain, from our hostel


Victory [over Cambodia] Monument in Bangkok en route

8:36AM – arr.  Mo Chit BTS. Taxi from here to the Bus Station. 60฿. Due to short distance, hailed cab rather than used taxi rank

9:14AM – dep.  Chatuchak Bus Station for the border. 218฿ for the government bus

2:14PM – arr.  Aranyaprathet Bus Station, a few km from the border (annoyingly).

2:14PM – Took a rip-off Tuk-Tuk from the border bus-station to the actual border (price 60฿, rip-off factor at least 30฿, or $1 so not all that bad). They first took us to a “visa center”, which we declined (we were smart enough to have gotton visas already, and even if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have done anything at this palce…). We then had to walk to the actual border.

2:31PM – Border:  Thai side. No dramas getting out of the country.

2:40PM –Border: No Mans Land. Don’t linger here too long (I’m kidding, mostly – Thailand and Cambodia are not exactly friends, and the name of our destination city literally means “Flat Defeat of Siam”, the old Thai empire).

2:57PM – Border:  Cambodian side. Things got a little more interesting here, we were approached by government “guides” who appeared to actually be legitimate, and who walked us to the immigration area. As we both had Visas already, this was pretty smooth. After the immigration checking, the guides took us to a free tourist bus. This took us to the Bus Center a few km away from the border. Everything was above board.

3:36PM – arr. Bus Station / Tourist Center. At the  bus center, these friendly guides then did give us some patently bad advice (which we ignored). I don’t know of it was malicious or not, but you do not need to change any cambodian money. For tourists it is used only as small change, and is utterly useless for anything costing over $1 (since you’ll lose money on the conversion both ways). Everyone accepts USD, and if the amount is less than $1 will give you change in cambodian money. Trust me. Don’t even change $5…

Here we could have waited a few hours for the next bus, but instead found 2 American tourists who were interested to split a cab to Siem Reap. The cab ride is about 2h, but split 4 ways is quite affordable (if I remember correctly it was just $50 for 4ppl).

5:31PM – arr. Siem Reap. Upon arrival in Siem Reap, we were dropped  somewhere random in the town. It was almost sunset at this point, and there were a bunch of taxi drivers waiting, willing to tell us all the misfortunes that had befallen our planned accommodation (“oh that guy, he is in jail now, drugs”). As per my information we totally ignored them, and rang (using global roaming) our host who came to pick us up. Our American friends were a lot more believing, despite my strong advice that the guys were full of shit, they jumped in a taxi, likely to be taken to some crap, overpriced accommodation. Well can’t say I didn’t warn them.

It would have been hard without a phone to call the guy to meet us, but fortunately it all worked. We walked about 100m up the road away from this den of taxi drivers (who were not at all threatening, but definitely out to get some money) and waited near an expensive looking hotel. Our host greeted us, and said my name so I knew it would be him :)

5:41PM – In the Tuk-Tuk to our Hostel.
Turns out Siem Reap was totally flooded! But, that’s another story!

Conclusion

All up, it was a long day of travel. But quite inexpensive, the roads were all good quality and fast (once you were on your way that is), and the scams were pretty harmless and easily avoided. Probably the worst that could have befallen us was ending up with $50 of funny money, and spending $10 for a night in a cockroach ridden hotel – but with some common sense even that was avoided. So I would definitely recommend this route to any travellers wanting to save a bit of cash, and experiencing the country as you can only do via overland travel. Do keep your wits about you, but at least in my experience the tails of horrible 8h bus rides on dirt roads, and worrying about land-mines when you go to pee are a thing of the past.

Things I highly recommend:

  • Get your Cambodian visa in your home country. Nice and relaxed, compared to delays and uncertainty if you wait to do it at the border.
  • Start early. It’s easier to avoid scams during the day.We started at 8:15AM and arrived just on Sunset. Next time I might start even earlier.
  • Don’t buy any Cambodian Money. Keep your USD, that’s what people use. Make sure you do have some USD though, as there are no ATMs until Siem Reap.
  • Have an international SIM card & phone so you can call your host in Siem Reap so they can pick you up. Or at least know their phone number so you can call them on arrival. Or – walk to the street and find an honest taxi. Just don’t jump in the first taxi you see on arrival and you should be OK.

Of course YMMV, so check the conditions before you embark on your journey. Remember that this tale is dated September 25, 2011 and that things change.

 View our entire journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap on Geospike


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