Ok let’s get the truth out in the open here. Crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia isn’t exactly Hell on Earth, even though it can feel that way at times. It is scam after scam, it is hot and tiresome and it will drive you to the point of freaking out. It doesn’t have to be though! If you keep calm, ignore the many many touts, stick to your gut instinct you will pass through with no real problems at all. There are literally hundreds of buses, mini vans etc offering the service. There is the option highlighted on Seat 61 http://www.seat61.com/Cambodia.htm whereby, you get a train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station to Aranyaprathet near the border. Jump on a tuk tuk to Poipet, cross the border (and all that goes with it) Walk to Roundabout, get a free Shuttle Bus ‘Poipet Tourist Passenger International Terminal’ and try arranging a shared taxi or mini van to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Now I don’t know about you, but that to me sounds like it’s a lot of hassle. We went for option number two.
After arriving in Bangkok from Chiang Mai on the sleeper train to Hua Lamphong train station, we jumped in a taxi. The driver had no issue with using the meter but did inform us that he had to pass through a toll to avoid the rush hour traffic through the city an that it costs 50 Baht (€1.35, $1.52, £1.01). We were ok with this as I had read about it online and knew that it was legitimate. We arrived at Mo Chit bus terminal about 15 minutes later. The taxi cost just under 100 Baht. At Mo Chit, when we walked in the door there is a glass information desk in the middle of the hall, straight in front. Directly behind that there is a ticket booth for tickets directly to Siem Reap in Cambodia. This bus drives to the border, and collects you at the other end, driving the whole way. No need for tuk tuks. Tickets one way are 750 Baht (€20.26, $22.91, £15.19). To the left of the booth we walked through the doorway to a seating area, and waited to board the bus. Now this was a little bit of a calculated risk. The bus to Siem Reap, much like the sleeper trains, have to be booked beforehand as they fill up pretty quickly. We arrived from Chiang Mai at 6:30am and the bus left Mo Chit at 8:00am so we were chancing our luck turning up for tickets. There were 4 seats left. We had a plan B, to just stay in Bangkok until the following day but we were glad that we got our seats. Bangkok is a great city and we love it but it’s nice to keep moving instead of wasting a day waiting to cross the border. There is a way to book these online apparently but there have been varying reports about how good this option is. I’d rather physically hold my tickets so doing it in person always works for me. Our seats weren’t together but we sat beside each other anyway. There were a few people who were solo travellers so it worked out fine for us. The bus gives a small breakfast of a pastry, orange juice (the type that the crazy woman on the Chiang Mai train fleeced me for https://roomz4two.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/the-lord-of-the-train/) and water. So far so good, painless, straight forward and no scam.
On the way to the border, the bus makes a ten minute stop at a garage with restrooms. Not the best mind you and ladies you will have to squat. Then the fun part begins… Now as mentioned before, this journey is notorious for scams. Private buses are known to stop here and there, open the luggage compartment, let an accomplice climb in and go through the luggage while you are none the wiser. It’s a common occurance. This, being an ‘official’ bus shouldn’t have such behavior but the bus did stop. A lot. In fact I’m sure it stopped every fifteen minutes for the whole journey. But it wasn’t to open the luggage compartment. No this driver, who I’m pretty sure was Cambodian as he stopped more frequently on the Cambodian side and spoke away to the locals, was on a shopping trip. Food, wood, trinkets, you name it. If there was something on offer, well damn it this guy was going to have a look. I’ve heard of Thai time but this was torturous. Not half as torturous as the actual border crossing was though. We stopped at the office of the bus company, in a little stretch of misery and a guy hopped on board. He was wearing a denim shirt and jeans and sunglasses. He didn’t look in any was official at all. Well this ‘cowboy’ started a ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ speech about how we would be all filling out the Cambodian visa application (a white sheet of photocopied paper) and then he would collect our Passports to speed up the process for us. What a nice guy! What a load of bollox! Now this was a scam. While this was happening the second ‘official’ driver handed out a laminated company logo to hang around our necks. And then handed around a warm rice and sausage dinner. It was half edible, but as Denise is coeliac she couldn’t chance eating the rice due to cross contamination. There was a general grumbling on the bus about this stop and no-one knew what was going on. I knew it was a scam, and mentioned it to a couple sitting beside us. They agreed, having done some homework before the journey also. This made up my mind. No way was I handing back the form, no way was my Passport leaving my side and no way was I paying a single Baht. The Visa for Cambodia can be bought two ways. Online at http://www.evisa.gov.kh or at the other side of the border on the Cambodian side and is payable in US Dollars. We also had Passport photos with us (1 is needed) for the Visa. The ‘cowboy’ got back on the bus. Of course he came to us first, typically. Even though I knew it was a scam I was still a little nervous. “I’ll get mine at the border.’ He nodded and moved on. More and more people said the same thing. He didn’t make any fuss. I guess the tourists are slowly copping on to this and they have stopped pressurizing people. A few people did hand over their details. The thing is, the white ‘form’ said two copies needed on it. Surely then we should have been handed two to fill out if it had been genuine, no?
We then arrived at what I can only describe as Satan’s Lair. The minute we stepped off the bus there were several guys shouting, about our visa. We couldn’t go anywhere if we didn’t have it first, we would be left behind, come into the office for processing. This is as up in your face as you can get. If you are ever on this trip, ignore them, spot the sign for Passport Control, and walk to it. Walk fast, as it stops people haggling and also gets you ahead of the que. You then enter a building for Passport and exit visa control. The details are checked and you leave Thailand. Simple. No money exchanged. Then you will be stopped at a little tent, fill out a small form to say you are healthy, receive a yellow slip and walk towards the big concrete Welcome to Cambodia sign. Once there, on the right, there is an office where, surprise surprise you are handed the REAL Cambodian Visa application form. It’s smaller, and in colour. Again, easy stuff, but there is always room for another scam right? The border officials insist on 100 Baht per person for absolutely no apparent reason. The sign above says Visa $30 US Dollars and that’s all you have to pay. So I was clever, and hid any remaining Thai Baht. I can’t give them any bribe money if I don’t have it can I? ‘It’s ok,’ says the lovely official. No Baht then $3. Now I had just handed over a $100 dollar note to pay for myself and Denise so I couldn’t pretend I only had enough for the Visa. Bastard. I had to pay it. Instead of $60 it cost $66. I nearly had my phone taken off me for taking pictures for this blog but the guy who looked through the pictures saw I was doing no harm was sound, and I had a bit of banter with him. ‘One more step,’ he said cheerfully. I noticed one of the people from our bus walk in with his ‘white’ Visa in hand, after paying for this fake one earlier on the bus, to realize he still had to buy the official one here. The look of rage in his face. He couldn’t do anything about it either. The ‘cowboy’ though still floating around would be long gone once we got back on the bus. We walked out the other door into Poipet in Cambodia. This place is full of huge Casinos and is generally an absolute shithole. Poipet should be called Toilet. Once outside we walked up along the path for a minute or two (there are no signs) and there was a massive que. Our bus was waiting for us there. There are children everywhere here begging, people with no limbs too. It’s a bit overwhelming, along with the whole process, the searing heat, it’s hard to grasp. We went into the final room where our Passports were checked and our fingerprints taken electronically. Apart from the que it’s pretty painless here too.
Once we were back at our bus, we were approached by two little girls begging for money. We gave them the second meal that Denise hadn’t eaten from the bus. I told them to share it. They spent the next ten minutes or so laughing hysterically. They were so happy. The driver seemed a bit pissed off when he realised they had one of the trays of food from the bus and shunted them away. Prick.
Back on board we headed off for another 3 hours to Siem Reap. Cambodia is all open flat land. It looks like the Plains of Africa. It’s very barren, but very beautiful too. There seems to be a lot of rural farms, I’m sure I spotted a Massey Ferguson (tractor) or two, a few cows here and there. Still a lot of run down shacks and very poor looking people.
We arrived into Siem Reap home of the world famous Angkor Wat temple complex and we were surprised how clean and built up the place was. We had nowhere to stay, having left Chiang Mai in a bit of a hurry so had to find a bed. The bus dropped us off at its office and we were swarmed by tuk tuk drivers who were all on a cut. At first we were wary, as scams and commission based work is rife here, even more so than Thailand. Cambodia is very poor, and has a high crime rate because of it. We opted for a nice friendly younger tuk tuk driver and he brought us around searching for accommodation. The tuk tuk’s here are different from the 3 wheel vans in Thailand. They are basically a moped or small bike with a cart hitched on. I’d imagine Thailand’s tuk tuk’s were once like this. They are generally on the commission buzz and it didn’t take long to find a place to crash. Our tuk tuk cost nothing. The hope is that we would call on him for the duration of our stay and give him the business. As we wanted to visit Angkor Wat the next morning we agreed on a pickup time. If I was to do this trip again I would FLY haha! For overland travel go to Mo Chit and get the official bus. Ignore the potential scams, follow the signs and it is straight forward enough. There’s a really good step by step guide here also: http://artydubs.com/2013/04/18/direct-bus-from-bangkok-thailand-to-siem-reap-cambodia/ From what we’ve seen so far, Cambodians are very poor but they are extremely friendly, have pretty good English and seem to have a spirit about them. The journey here might have been testing at times due to the overall unfamiliarity of it, but I think we are going to like it a lot here. When you understand the mentality of the people, know their (recent) history from the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge genocide years, realize there are still landmines undetected here and still admire their spirit for friendliness you can forgive the reported high crime and corruption. People are just trying to live here and we are guests. Tomorrow should be a good day.