Bangkok to Siem Reap Cheap Overland Border Crossing

The logical thing to do is take the simple, hour long, non-stop flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap.

But since I was traveling alone, I wanted a little adventure.

Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia

I picked a hotel in Bangkok close to the Hua Lamphong train station because public transportation does not run early. It was definitely nothing special but it was cheap and close to the train station.

Krungkasem Srikrung Hotel, Bangkok

I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m., but woke up at 4:00 a.m., wide awake and ready to go.

Hua Lamphong Train Station – Bangkok to Siem Reap

A little after 5:00, too early to eat the hotel’s breakfast, I headed out. I wasn’t worried about missing breakfast because I had read online that the shops in the train station are open that early.  Four minutes later I arrived at the train station.  Shops were not open. A convenience store, selling mostly junk food, was the only thing open.  I looked around and settled on a container of peanuts for 20 baht (about $0.66 USD), figuring they would be my best source of protein and calories.

I easily found the ticket window and had no trouble, for 48 baht (about $1.50 USD), getting my ticket for the 6 hour train ride to some town I cannot pronounce or recall enough to type here.  Luckily I remembered it started with an “Ä”.  (Update: the name of the town is Aranyaprathet)

I boarded the third class train (I didn’t know there was anything lower than second class) and scurried from car to car looking for a seat where I didn’t have to sit next to anyone.  I ended up in the front car when I finally found an open bench.  As I was getting ready to sit down, I noticed a sign in the middle of the car that said, “reserved for monks”.  Was the entire car reserved for monks, or just in front of the sign?  I looked back and an elderly Thai lady motioned for me to sit.

Once everyone boarded, I scouted out the car, looking for other tourists who might also be going to Siem Reap.  There were two women in the seats in front of me, and one guy behind me. The rest of the people looked like local Thai people.

Train Ride to the Thai Border

The train rocked and “clickety-clacked” across the rails.  It stopped at a couple more places in Bangkok, and was soon standing-room-only.

The noise subsided at one of the stops and I heard the touristy women were speaking what appeared to be French.  Strike one.  I don’t speak French. I looked over my shoulder, and noticed that the guy behind me was wearing a Sarasota Florida t-shirt.  I kept that in mind for later.

After about two hours, the train made another stop and about half the people left.  I now had my seat to myself again and a little more room to stretch out.

Every once in a while, an elderly Thai woman would come by trying to sell food.  The most interesting thing I saw her trying to sell was very large whole raw shrimp.

Eventually I had to go to the bathroom.  I passed by the “kitchen”. Yes, at one point they were preparing food here.

Bathroom on the Train – Bangkok to Siem Reap

I walked between cars, which was a little scary because there were no sides; it was wide open like in an old Western movie. 

In the next car was the bathroom.  I walked inside.  No toilet; just a hole in the bottom with two marks where you are supposed to put your feet.  Well this is a first for me.  Fortunately I just needed to do #1, and admit I had amazingly accurate aim.

The journey was pretty uneventful.  The scenery was unspectacular but very different, so it kept me occupied.  I was worried that I would overheat on a train without air-conditioning, but the “open-window-conditioning” kept it pleasant inside.

In case it did get too hot inside, there were still rules that needed to be followed.

Bathroom – Cambodia

In case it’s not obvious, do not sit on the roof of a speeding train

With about an hour to go Sarasota went to the bathroom.  While he was gone someone took his seat.  When he returned, he sat across from me.   Since I am cheap, I wanted to find someone to share the cost of the tuk-tuk to the Cambodia border.  Since the other tourists were French, this seemed my last resort.  Now is my chance.  I said, “are you from Florida?”.  He said “No”  I said something else and he replied “I no speak good English.  Sorry”, in a Russian accent. Silence.

Undaunted, about a half hour later, I said “You go Cambodia?'” He shook his head yes.

Here I must explain something.  When I speak normally to people who speak English as a secondary language, I get a blank stare.  However, when I speak like Tarzan, they understand me.  So I speak like Tarzan.

“Share tuk-tuk.  Split cost. Half.”, as I made a motion back and forth between us.

He smiled and said “yes”.

Take a tuk-tuk to the border – Bangkok to Siem Reap

The train arrived in Aranyaprathet, we looked at each other, and, together, Sarasota and I got off the train.

A tuk-tuk driver pestered us as soon as we got outside the train station.

As Sarasota started talking to him, behind me I hear someone say “We go together?” and turn to see the two French girls.

They must have been thinking the same as me – there are some other tourists; maybe we can go with them.

This was good with me because I should only have to pay one fourth of the cost of this tuk-tuk and the upcoming taxi to Siem Reap.

After agreeing with the French girls, I turn back and Saratoga is already packing his stuff onto a tuk-tuk.  I turn and say, “Wait.  How much?

The driver said, “Four people. 50-50-50-50.”‘ as he pointed to each of us in turn.

I know this is a rip-off because it is only supposed to cost a total of 100 Thai baht, but I did not want to lose my potential taxi partners, so I crammed in with them.  I say crammed because a tuk-tuk is designed for two people.  This was like cramming 4 people into the back of a Volkswagon.

For 10 minutes, we sat crammed on top of each other to the town of Poipet on the Thai border.

The driver finally pulled over near a bank and let us out.

Walking Across the Border

I looked around trying to get my bearings to find the Cambodian border.

A guy came up to us pointing to the building saying “Visa”.

I had read about this “scam”

The French girls started to follow him.

I said, “No. No.”  The French girls stopped and looked at me.
The guy said, “Visa. Come.”
Again, I said “No. No.” and began to walk away.
The French girls followed me.

We rounded the corner onto the main street.

Now this looks more like it, as, far down the road, I see a huge Thai-looking gate.

We walked down the road and finally saw an Immigration sign off to the left past a couple of food stalls

and followed the signs to the border.

Things went pretty smoothly, like when you are at customs at the airport.  We got our passports stamped and passed through the Thai border.

We came out into the “no-mans-land” I had read about, which is basically casinos on both sides of the road, and headed straight toward the Cambodian border (it was pretty obvious which way to go).

Getting Cambodian Visas

In Tarzan language, we figured out that Sarasota was staying in Poipet so he said goodbye.  I also found out that the girls did not get Cambodian e-visas ahead of time so needed to stop at the Visa Office to get a Cambodian visa.

Entry gate to Cambodia

We eventually found the office and I waited about 30 minutes with them while they got their visas.

Cambodian visa office on the right

During the wait I found out that the girls, who were actually from New Caledonia, a French Island in the Pacific, were also going to Siem Reap.  I did not want to pay the $48 for a taxi, so I asked if they wanted to share a taxi.  They smiled and said “yes”.

We also found out each other’s names.  One girl was Tamara.  That was easy.  The other girl said her very French sounding name three times, before she gave up and showed me her passport.  Typhanie.  Trying to be nice, I said, “In English, we say…” and I pronounced it just like you probably would.  She said “No.  Tea-fon.”

Okay, Tea-fon it is.

They finally got their visas and purposefully set out the door.  I followed since they seemed like they now knew what they were doing.

You see some crazy sights along the way

Crazy motorcycle carrying way too much stuff

Plus, in Cambodia they drive on the right side of the road, and Thailand they drive on the left side, so in the “no man’s land” between borders there was chaos as everyone had to cross and start driving on the opposite side.

Soon it did not seem right to me and, like Tarzan, I said something like, “Wrong way?  No Cambodia”   They looked at me puzzled.  We stared at each other and shrugged.  They started walking again.  I followed.  Finally we got to someone official-looking.  Tea-fon asked, “Cambodia?”.  The official said “no” and pointed us back the way we came.  I knew it!

We then walked to the Cambodia border, went through Immigration, got our passports stamped, and walked into Cambodia.

Getting from the Cambodian Border to Siem Reap

Online, I read that there was a free government bus that took you to the official transportation station, so I ignored all the taxis offering us a ride because I wasn’t sure if they were legit or not.

Waiting area for the bus

We took a 10-minute bus ride and were dropped off at the transportation center.  It looks more like a tourist sales office to me.

We still needed to find a fourth person to share the taxi.  There weren’t many people there.  Oh well, splitting a $48 fare three ways is better than paying full price.  However the girls were too cheap and didn’t want to split three ways (I guess the difference between $16 and $12 was too much to handle).

I noticed a group of six people standing around haggling with someone, in English, but with heavy German accents.  So Tarzan walk up and say, “Where you go?”

“Siem Reap”

I had read online that they had minibuses that seated 10 people for $10 each, but they would not leave unless the bus is full.

Somehow we all started discussing taking a minibus together.  The guy working there overheard us say minibus and asked, “How many?”


“Okay we go minibus”, responded the driver.

I said, “Nine people.  We go now?” not wanting to be told we would have to wait for a tenth  person.

He said, “Yes.  Now.”

We went to the ticket window and bought our $10 tickets for the minibus.

Van Ride to Siem Reap

The minibus was more like a van. The driver packed our bags into the back seat.  The nine of us squeezed into the minibus.  I took the back row with the bags (because I wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone).

In hindsight that was a mistake, as the air conditioning vents were above the three rows of seats in front of me.

The German couple in front of me eventually dozed off.  I reached over their heads and angled their air conditioning vents toward the back as best as I could.

In what seemed like the middle of nowhere, the driver pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.  We all looked at each other.  The driver got out, opened the back, and started taking out the bags.

What the heck is going on?

The guy hadn’t taken my bag yet, so I waited and watched.  He began piling all the bags up front, next to him and behind his seat.  He did that with all the bags.  Then he motioned to the two German women (who had been kind of cranky to me in the bus station) to move into the back seat with me.  He then folded up their jumper seat and slid in a metal crate that looked like it could hold chickens.  A Cambodian woman followed.

I now sat in the warm back seat with two other people, which made it a little more uncomfortable.

Pit Stop

We drove for about another half hour and pulled into a “shop” on the side of the road.  The driver said “toilet” and motioned for us to get out.

A very enterprising Cambodian woman, with very good English skills, told us we could use the bathroom for free if we bought something for a dollar.  She needs to learn the definition of “free”.

I had to “go” so I went in back to the toilet, only to find another one of those holes in the ground.

When I came back, I watched if other people were paying a dollar.  Someone bought some pineapple, which looked good, for 20 Thai baht (about $.66 USD).  So I did the same.

I then politely asked the driver how much farther we had to go before we got to Siem Reap.

He sternly said, “No”, and pointed to the minibus.

That doesn’t answer my question.  My mistake; I should have used Tarzan language.  But I gave up and sheepishly headed back to the minibus.  I motioned for the two German girls to take the back, and said that I would sit up front, and they seemed happy because they would not have to share it with me anymore.

On the Road Again

I now sat on a jump seat, facing backwards, next to an English couple, who were across from the French girls.

Now that I was in the middle of the action (and next to two people who spoke English), I was interested to learn stories.  It was during this time that I found that the French girls had spent 3 days in Bangkok, were spending 6 days in Siem Reap, and then a month in Nepal (at what I could best understand was some kind of agricultural farm).  I then asked the English couple their story.  They quit their jobs about two years ago and just travel the world full-time.  They go from place to place, and find work, and move on.  After Siem Reap they were “heading to the coast” to look for work in return for room and board.  I asked if they had a plan, and they said that every time they make plans, it doesn’t work out, so they now just wing it all the time.

And you all thought that I was crazy. 

After about a half hour, we again pulled over on the side of the road.  This time the driver got out and opened the hood.

This is not a good sign.  We all looked at each other, smiled at the craziness of it all, and simply opened the windows to get a little more air while we waited.

Fortunately, after about 3 minutes, the driver closed the hood and we got back on the road.

We eventually reached the outskirts of Siem Reap…and drove and drove.  My first impression is that Siem Reap is much bigger than I originally thought.  I then wondered aloud if we are all going to get dropped off at our hotels.  Tea-fon said that, usually, they just drop you at the local bus station and you have to figure it out from there.

The minibus turned down a side street and stopped.  There was no bus station, but plenty of locals willing to take you to your hotel …for a price.

After my day on a train (my version of the Orient Express), tuk-tuk, bus and minibus, I hopped on the back of a motorcycle for a ride to my hotel.

I know.  I could have taken a 70 minute non-stop flight, but where would the fun have been in that?

Costs: Bangkok to Siem Reap

Bangkok to Siem Reap Breakdown

CostItem – (35 baht = $1 USD)
45 baht6 Hour train ride to Aranyaprathet
50 baht15 minute tuk-tuk ride from the train station to Thai border
$36 USDCambodian e-visa (do this prior to your trip)
$10 USD2 hour mini-bus from Cambodian border to Siem Reap
$5 USD10 minute motorbike ride from the outskirts of town to hotel

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