Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bangkok - Siem Reap - Phnom Penh - Bangkok - Overland Simplified

After a lot of research online, reading numerous blogs, travel forums I concluded that making the overland trip would be, to quote an unknown source, 'a journey to be undertaken only if you are a masochist'. Numerous reports of touts, cartels of taxi & bus drivers, corrupts officers at checkpoints more so on the Cambodian side, made me expect the worst. At some point I was even confused whether I would make it all, whether I should just book an expensive direct flight to Siem Reap.

I'm listing down my experience to help future travellers understand how easy it is & not believe the outdated reports on many travel forums.

Bangkok to Siem Reap via Aranyaprathet (Thai border town) & Poi Pet (Khmer border town)

Bangkok - Aranyaprathet
There were multiple ways to reach Aranyprathet from Bangkok, cheapest being a direct train for THB 48 that takes 8 hours leaves twice a day once in morning and then again in afternoon. Accounts of multiple travellers I met at border confirmed it was comfortable & not prone to delays. Morning train is advisable as immigration offices close at 8:00 pm and you might have to spend the night in a hotel at Aranyaprathet.

Another option was a bus to Aranyaprathet which is what I took. They start leaving from Mo Chit Bus Terminal every 30 minutes from 3:30 am at cost about THB 209. Duration of journey is 5 hours.



Upon arrival at Aranyaprathet, I walked directly to the immigration building, politely ignoring gentlemen who were offering Cambodian Visa and pointing me to go to different buildings.

Inside the immigration building there were counters to take departure stamps & a single counter for people who had overstayed their Thai Visa or wanted a re-entry permit. I applied for re-entry permit as I planned to travel back to Bangkok. Benefit of getting this over the Visa on Arrival while returning is that you don't have to show the require funds in cash (THB 10000) to the immigration officer.

At this point I had my only bad experience entire trip. The lady at this counter asked me a re-entry permit fee of THB 1100. After waiting for about 45 minutes my passport was returned with a stamped permit & stapled receipt. After leaving the building & crossing over to Cambodia, I opened the receipt and realized that actual fee is just THB 1000 and the lady had conned me off 100 baht due to my ignorance.

After getting the departure stamp one move on to the Cambodia side & crosses the road as the Cambodians follow opposite direction driving conventions.

Poipet
Upon entry into Cambodia, there is a tiny office with a single window that offers Visa on Arrival. I paid the $30 visa fee & paperwork. Received the Visa promptly, in about 5 minutes. This is where a lot of tourists report about corruption. I witnessed a gentleman being asked to wait because he wanted Visa on a new passport as pages in old one were exhausted. This special requests probably need a special fee. Though later the tourist in question told me he wasn't asked for any bride and that he himself paid couple of hundred bahts after his issue was resolved.

After walking another 50 metres, I came to the immigration checkpoint, could've missed it and walked straight into Cambodia without arrival stamp save for another backpacker who beckoned me into the office. Took another 10 minutes to line up and get the stamp.

On exiting this office there was a shed with many tourists huddled together. This is where you get a free (yes it is free) shuttle to official (probably it actually is) international bus terminal claimed to be about 1600 metres away (felt about 5 kms). Upon arriving to this terminal there were straightforward options to travel to Siem Reap, $9 for bus, $10 for minivan, & $12 per head for taxi shared by 4 people. I opted for minivan.

Siem Reap
The minivan ride was uneventful. The driver decided it was too cold and switched off the air-con at one point about halfway and didn't turn it back on even after multiple requests.

As you'd have already read, all these transports arriving at Siem Reap do not enter the town or drop you near the city centre. They stop at place about 4 kms from the city and you tuks tuks waiting for you. You talent at haggling/bargain will really come handy at this point. Some of them offer a free ride if you book them for next day tour to Angkor Wat. As I was travelling solo I just paid the tuktuk & rented a cycle later for my tour.

Siem Reap - Phnom Penh

This was a simple one, I bought the ticket from my hostel receptionist with a door pickup. It cost $12 for a VRB (Virak bus) hotel bus (one with flat sleeper beds, good for overnight travel). Later I realized there is popular scam where VRB tickets are sold and later tourists realize that they have to travel on a rickety seater bus rather than the promised luxury travel.

Phnom Penh - Bangkok

I realized all the buses were already booked on this route. I got a ticket for Poipet on Mekong Express minivan at 12:30 am. Beyond Poipet it was a simple task of going through the immigration and getting back on the same THB 209, bus to Mo Chit Bus Terminal.

There are also slightly better ways to make this overland journey easier, such as direct buses that do not require a change of vehicle & tickets can be booked online. Cost about THB 750 for Bangkok to Siem Reap. But all of them were sold out & wouldn't be helpful for impromptu plans.

Good Luck on your journey!

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