In the far eastern reaches of Sa Kaeo province, Aranyaprathet is a small town situated six kilometres west of the most popular border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. The town is home to a mix of Thai, Khmer and Vietnamese, and while some good local food can be scored here, the only real draw for travellers is the border itself.
Most shuffle through Aranyaprathet en route to or from the not-so-charming town of Poi Pet on the Cambodian side, from where it's easy to get to/from Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor. All that many travellers see of "Aran" (as it's known to locals) is the so called "friendship border market" (aka Rong Khlue market) where sweet talking scammers attempt to lure travellers into buying fake Cambodian visas and unnecessary "immigration forms". Both on the Thai and Cambodian sides of the border, it's wise to have your guard up.
The town itself is far more laid back than the border market, and we find it best to catch onward transport from the main bus station in the centre of Aran rather than the border due to there being a far lesser chance of theft or scams occurring on the government buses and trains caught from here. If needing to overnight in Aran, the town has a handful of accommodation options that get the job done but probably won't make you want to stick around.
Aranyaprathet's centre is clustered around a clock tower where the town's main west-to-east thoroughfare -- Route 3 (aka AH1) -- cuts briefly to the north. The bus station is just northwest of the clock tower and the train station just north of it. Route 3 goes straight east from the bus station to the border.
A tightly packed network of streets that can easily be covered on foot are found just south of the clock tower. Some passable accommodation and decent restaurants are scattered around here, and a good day market occupies both sides of Ratuthit Road to the southeast of town.
Both the hospital and police station are located less than one block southwest of the clock tower on Santiphap Road.
Banks and ATMs are scattered around town, including a large SCB branch near the clock tower.
WiFi is free at most places to stay, but Aran Home Sweet Guesthouse next to the bus station has several computers available for 20 baht per half hour.
At the border, Rong Khlue market sprawls just north of Route 3. You can either skip the market and head straight to Thai immigration along the main road or walk through the market and take a right near Border's cafe and where the buses depart from to stamp out of Thailand.
Plenty of eating and shopping options (beware: it's all fake merchandise) are available in Rong Khlue, and a few family-run guesthouses are found along Route 3 just west of the border. Several ATMs and currency exchange booths are also available in this area.
Crossing the border
If crossing into Cambodia, expect to be approached by sweet talking people attempting to strike up what seem to be friendly conversations in the Rong Khlue market vicinity. It usually begins with "Where are you from? Oh, I have a cousin who used to live there! Where are you going now?" After replying, "Cambodia", they will proceed to casually lead you to some pre-arranged visa service as though it's a necessity before crossing. This is a classic scam that consistently dupes naive travellers into purchasing fake visas that are usually rejected at the border or paying obscene amounts to have "professionals" fill out "necessary" forms. In short, ignore anything anyone says to you before crossing the border. All Cambodia entry paperwork is handled at Cambodian immigration just over the border and nowhere else.
Thai immigration is located on the left side of the main road near Friendship market. After stamping out of Thailand, you'll enter an almost surreal "in-between zone" where poor Khmer farmers push wooden carts in front of a large casino where wealthy Khmers and Thais go for kicks. As soon as you enter this area you'll be greeted by more new friends offering to take you straight to the "visa-on-arrival desk" for your Cambodian visa. Ignore them, as they will instead lead you to a fake visa-on-arrival desk and proceed to sell you a fake visa or take your passport to the actual visa-on-arrival desk and charge you a premium for their "service".
Instead, walk straight to the right side of the street after passing through Thai immigration. After less than 50 metres you will see the small Cambodia "arrivals" office on the right where genuine, uniformed officials will check to see if you have a valid visa. The true visa-on-arrival desk is fairly nondescript, but it's located near the arrivals office -- a uniformed officer will point you in the right direction. All that's needed to get the 30-day Cambodia visa is a passport with six months' validity, one passport size photo and 1,000 baht or US $20 in cash, and the process usually doesn't take more than a few minutes. Once you've received the visa, proceed to the immigration checkpoint in the same arrivals office.
After passing through Cambodian immigration, you'll be met by another wave of new friends offering taxis, tuk tuks and more. You can take them up on a lift, but the bus station with buses bound for Siem Reap is within walking distance. If just doing the border run to get another 15 days in Thailand, simply turn around and walk back directly after the Cambodian immigration office.
If coming from Cambodia, the process of entering Thailand is simpler, although the same rule applies -- don't follow random people to makeshift "border crossing preparation" offices, some of which can look rather convincing. If you haven't pre-arranged a visa elsewhere, assuming you are eligible, you'll receive 15 days visa-free upon entering Thailand. Once through the border, Rong Khlue market is on the right and transport is not difficult to come by.
By David Luekens.