Having already experienced the Thailand to Cambodia border crossing in the past, I knew how rife scams were in this area. Ten years ago when I first traveled between Bangkok and Siem Reap in Cambodia, there were no established transport connections that took you right from Bangkok all the way to Siem Reap. Back then I took a bus from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, then an overpriced tuk tuk to Poipet (the Thai border), walked with my backpack to the Cambodian border, paid a corrupt official $20 to ‘jump’ the huge visa queue (they deliberately kept us waiting for hours in the searing heat) then took an unofficial ‘taxi’ to Siem Reap town. This whole ordeal took a whole day – I left at Bangkok at 9am and arrived in Siem Reap at 9pm! The roads were awful rickety dirt tracks, the border crossing itself just chaos! It was the longest day of my life but I survived it somehow!
Travel direct from Bangkok to Siem Reap by bus
A bus company called TRANSPORT CO. is now providing an official daily service (bus 2556) between Bangkok all the way into Siem Reap or Phnom Penh (as of February 2013). This is the service we took recently and we couldn’t recommend it enough. We bought the tickets online via Thai Ticket Major (TTM) – link here which is a safe and secure online ticketing website (similar to SeeTicket and TicketMaster in the UK) and bus ticket cost 750 baht each (if you buy via TTM there’s a small booking fee as well). We then collected our tickets from the TTM office on the 5th floor of the Paragon Mall (there’s a few places listed that we could have collected the tickets from including Mo Chit Bus Station but we were within walking distance to the mall). You could also buy them in person from Mo Chit Northern Bus Station in Bangkok before or on the morning of travel, but we bought them in advance in case there were no seats left. Our bus was two thirds full in off-peak season (May) so in peak season (Dec-Apr) may get fully booked – you might want to book in advance.
NOTE: MO CHIT BUS STATION IS NOT REACHABLE BY FOOT FROM MOCHIT BTS STATION as there is no pedestrianised path over the motorway/highway or park and is a 30 minute walk. You need to take a taxi from the Mochit BTS station, with traffic is approximately 10-15 minutes. We took a taxi from Phaya Thai BTS station which cost 87 baht and took 50 minutes with lots of morning traffic. The bus station has a 7-11 and other shops if you need to buy supplies.
Transport Co. provided a small breakfast snack (either veggie pizza bread or a croissant) with a small pot of orange juice and a 500ml bottle of water. They also provided lunch, a box of vegetable rice with two slices of sausage and a portion of cucumber – there was no vegetarian option, everyone got handed the same lunch. It’s an aircon bus and also has a toilet on board (but bring your own toilet paper).
The Transport Co. bus itinerary:
09:00 – Depart Mo Chit Bus Station
10:30 – Service station stop
13:30 – Lunch & Visa stop (you eat your lunchbox on the bus but they try and coax people into their private visa agency for those people who hadn’t yet got a visa but DO NOT BUY A VISA HERE AS IT’S OVERPRICED AT $38 OR MORE! Just buy one at the border). They also hand out Cambodia arrival cards so make sure you fill this in on the bus. The bus company also gave us a tag we had to wear around our necks so that when we got off the bus at the border they could tell who belonged on the bus and who didn’t when we had to board again
14:00 – Arrived at Poipet border, got off bus to get Thai stamp (make sure you have your departure card filled in) then walked through to the Cambodian border.
We walked out of the thai passport building leaving the Thai border gate behind us
Straight in front of us we got to the Cambodia gate, the cream building on the right was the border checkpoint office where you buy your Cambodian visa
As we already had our visa we just walked through the Cambodian gate passing various casinos and hotels. Then about 5 minutes later on the right hand side was a small building called ‘ARRIVALS’ where we had our visas checked and passports stamped. As we already had e-Visas it only took 30 minutes for the whole process. For those that had to buy a visa took 1 hour with a stop at the checkpoint to buy a visa (don’t forget those passport photos or they fine you). It was here the bus then picked us up again.
17:00 – Arrived in Siem Reap at the bus company’s office. They provided tuk tuks for only $1 to take us to our guesthouse.
(TIP: stay at Golden Butterfly Guesthouse it’s AMAZING! Like staying in a four star hotel but for only $18 a night for a balcony view room! No I don’t earn commission from them we just had a wonderful stay there! Tripadvisor link here we booked via booking.com here. There’s plenty of brilliant budget options in Siem Reap, some even have swimming pools so you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Buy a visa online or at the border
Luckily things have dramatically improved since my last trip. Sadly scams are still rife in this area – there are accounts of dodgy agencies on Khaosan road in Bangkok offering a direct bus or minibus from Bangkok to Siem Reap – but book with caution! Many are not genuine services and can sometimes leave you stranded at Poipet despite paying for a ticket for the whole journey. Some minibuses take you all the way but they’re slow and can waste a whole day for no reason. They may also take you to an unofficial visa office to get your Cambodian visa where you’ll pay much more then the $20 it should be at the real border.
To save time and hassles from scams we applied for an e-Visa for Cambodia online – link here (beware fake sites this is the only real one). It was super easy and we received our e-Visa within 24 hours. You just fill in the form and pay $25 online via debit or credit card (this is $5 more than at the border but having the visa in advance can make the crossing much smoother). Then in an email, attach a passport photo an send it to the visa office – just take one using your mobile phone against a pale background as you don’t need one done professionally in a photo booth. You then need to print two copies of the e-Visa to take with you to the border crossing.
Buying a visa at the border is also easy – it costs $20 and you need one passport photo or they charge you a small fine for not having one. There’s a cream building called ‘BORDER CHECKPOINT’ next to the Cambodian gate (see photo above), this is the only place to buy your visa. There are numerous accounts of the border officials demanding extra fees (100 baht or $5 ‘stamp fee’ or ‘express processing fee’ is the most common) but these are all just bribes or scams and you do not have to pay them! Make sure you have just enough in your wallet to cover the cost of the visa and perhaps an extra dollar but no more. Show the border official that you have no more money & tell them you need to go to the ATM in Siem Reap. If they persist just give them a dollar and save yourself $4!
Compared to my previous border crossing experience the bus journey was a breeze! It was quicker, more efficient and we weren’t exposed to any scams along the way (well apart from the overpriced visa agency at lunchtime but it’s your choice if you buy with them). The roads have greatly improved too, they are now well-surfaced roads, the whole journey was really comfortable – crossing the Thai/Cambodian border couldn’t be easier.