Photo: Bright lights, big city.

The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat is one of the most talked about routes in the region: scam buses, visa rip-offs, over-priced taxis and a whole legion of shysters and con artists to boot. But in the end, it’s a straightforward trip that’s as easy as pie — if you know what to expect. Here’s a cheat sheet to get you there and back without having to lose your sanity.

Fly

In one of the more dubious chapters of open skies agreements, Bangkok Airways was for a long time the only airline flying the Bangkok to Siem Reap route, and not surprisingly, for the distance it was one of the most expensive flights around. Rumour long had it that the road from Poipet to Siem Reap was kept in crappy condition in order to steer people onto the Bangkok Airways planes — who would have thought!

Thankfully, a pair of regional airlines — AirAsia and Cambodia Angkor Air — cracked the monopoly. While Bangkok Airways still charges more than 5,000 baht for a one-way ticket, flights on AirAsia can be found for as little as 1,800 baht, and on Cambodia Angkor Air for around 2,500 baht (all including taxes). While that’s still not cheap for an hour-long flight, it’s a major improvement.

Keep in mind that AirAsia flies out of Bangkok’s old airport, Don Muang, while both Cambodia Angkor and Bangkok Airways will depart from Suvarnabhumi. We’ve not yet tried Cambodia Angkor; it’s 51% owned by the Cambodian government and 49% by Vietnam Airways. Reviews are patchy but, as with Bangkok Airways, checked bags up to 20 kilograms are free, unlike with AirAsia, which charges 500 baht for the first 20 kilograms. Bangkok Airways is still probably the most comfortable choice. If you’re not up for spending a fair chunk of cash to fly, read on for the details on doing the trip overland.

Overland

The full trip has two segments: the Thai side (from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet and the border) and the Cambodian side (from Poipet to Siem Reap). The border crossing opens daily from 07:00 to 22:00 and Cambodian visa on arrival is available for most nationalities.

Bangkok to Aranyaprathet

Unless you’re willing to hire a taxi from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet (expect to pay around 3,000 baht) your choice is down to train or bus. If you’re travelling slow and maybe considering overnighting in Aranyaprathet, then the train is great, but most people opt for a bus or minibus (van) as they're a lot quicker.

Train

Two ordinary third-class-only trains depart for Aranyaprathet daily from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station. The morning train leaves at 05:55, the afternoon one at 13:05, and the trip takes a solid six hours or more. You must catch the morning train if you want to get to Siem Reap on the same day without hiring a taxi. The train is slow but scenic — if you have time on your hands it’s worth doing at least once. While neither of the border towns is charming in the least, Aranyaprathet has a better selection of accommodation if you need to spend a night in the area.

Bangkok Chachoengsao Prachinburi Aranyaprathet Fare

05:55

07:51

8:58

11:35

48B

13:05

14:21

15:19

17:35

48B

Aranyaprathet Prachinburi Chachoengsao Bangkok Fare

06:40

09:21

10:22

12:05

48B

13:55

16:33

18:00

19:55

48B


Bus

There is now a direct bus service running from Morchit (Northern) Terminal in Bangkok to Siem Reap, with buses leaving at 08:00 and 09:00 every morning. Tickets are 750 baht and can be bought from Transport Co. Ltd at Morchit -- look for the orange booths with the 999 logo.

The bus will take you directly to the border at Aranyaprathet. There the staff should provide some instruction for getting through the Thai immigration checkpoint, from where you walk a couple of hundred metres across a casino-studded purgatory before securing your Cambodian visa. Once through to Poipet in Cambodia, the same bus, with your gear still on it, will be waiting to take you onwards to Siem Reap. In terms of ease of use and value-for-money, this seems to be the best option for getting to Siem Reap overland.

If those travel times don’t work for you, or tickets aren’t available, there are other options. From Morchit Terminal, buses to Aranyaprathet depart hourly from 03:00 to 12:00 and three more times up to 17:30, and cost 205 baht. Tickets can be purchased from booths inside the ground floor and buses depart from the massive parking lot out back. These buses should run straight to the border crossing at Rong Khlua Market; if not you might have to take a tuk tuk from the bus station to the border.

From Bangkok’s Ekkamai (Eastern) Terminal, buses to Aranyaprathet depart roughly every two hours from 07:00 to 16:00, while minibuses run hourly from 05:00 to 17:00, both for around 200 baht. Compared to Morchit, catching buses at Ekkamai is easy and the location right next to the same-named BTS skytrain station makes it more convenient. These buses should also run straight to the border.

At Aranyaprathet

From Aranyaprathet train or bus station you’ll need to take a tuk tuk, motorbike taxi or songthaew to Rong Khlua border market (aka Friendship market) around seven km away. The ride should cost around 60 baht for a motorbike and 100 for a tuk-tuk, depending on the number of passengers, or 15 baht per person for a shared songthaew. Under no circumstances allow a tout into the tuk tuk with you, and do not take the driver up on offers to take care of your Cambodia visa on the way to the border.

At Rong Khlua market

Your transport will drop you at the border market where you need to clear both Thai and Cambodian immigration. As you walk towards the border crossing, you will be approached by touts who could win Oscars for their skill at acting like concerned locals trying to assist weary travellers with what they say is an extremely complicated border-crossing process. Ignore them — seriously. Do however pop into the market to pick up a few fresh-baked baguettes for the road.

Immigration and customs

Clearing Thai immigration and customs is straightforward. Once you’ve been stamped out of Thailand, you’ll emerge into a surreal “in between zone” where weathered farmers push wooden carts past wealthy Thais getting their kicks at the on-site casino. This is where the touts get really pushy, trying their hardest to lead you to desks where an “official” will charge a premium to run down the street and get your Cambodia visa, or possibly even sell you a fake visa.

The actual immigration checkpoint is located a short walk up on the right; it’s a fairly nondescript building with a roof and a few counters. This is where you can fill out an application and meet the friendly immigration officer who will issue your visa-on-arrival and stamp you into the country. On one occasion we were sent to a separate booth just outside to acquire the visa, then back in to pass through immigration.

Unless you’re a citizen of an ASEAN country, you will need a visa to enter Cambodia. It costs US $30 or 1,000 baht at the border, and you’ll need to supply one passport photo. You are well advised to have enough crisp US notes at the ready, as they will save you money. The standard tourist visa is valid for a 30-day stay. The Poi Pet crossing also now supports e-visas.

At Poipet

Once you’ve been stamped into Cambodia, take the government shuttle bus from the border to the transport depot. From there you have some choices: share- or private-taxi, government bus or pick-up truck. Apart from the transport depot there’s virtually nothing of interest in Poi Pet, but there are plenty more touts and conmen so don’t let your guard down just yet. Also don’t be pressured into exchanging your crisp US or Thai bank notes for a stack of Cambodian riel at poor exchange rates; both US dollars and Thai baht are widely accepted in Cambodia, and riel is worthless (and cannot be exchanged for other currencies) outside of the country.

Leaving Poipet

One of the best things about Poipet is leaving it. A taxi to Siem Reap will cost US $30 to 50, so try to hook up with other travellers to split the fare. The government bus costs $10 and is a lot faster than it used to be. A ride in a pick-up will cost you 30 baht in the back or 100 baht for two seats in the cab — note this is only to Sisophon, from where you’ll need to organise another ride on to Siem Reap. If you’re going by pick-up we’d suggest splurging and buying two seats in the cab as it’s a dusty, uncomfortable ride in the back. When shopping around for a pick-up, be sure to choose one that is almost full. Some hotels and guesthouses in Siem Reap also supply a pick-up service from the border with advance notice.

Poipet to Siem Reap

This road has gained near legendary status for its poor condition but that is all in the past now. The road is completely sealed and a trip by taxi from the border to Siem Reap can take as little as an hour and a half. If going by bus, expect a slower ride that will probably include a stop at a restaurant.

Scam buses

At both Khao San Road and Siem Reap you’ll see minibuses offered for next to nothing for the Bangkok to Siem Reap run. These are invariably scams that in some cases have taken in excess of 20 hours to deliver the passengers. Do NOT use these services.

Summary

Don’t use the minibus scam service

If you have money, fly

If you have loads of time, take the train

Never talk to touts

Don’t use the minibus scam service

Don’t try to get your Cambodia visa before you’re stamped out of Thailand

Don’t use the minibus scam service

See — we told you getting from Bangkok to Siem Reap was going to be easy!

Further reading

Looking to sort out your accommodation at either end of the trip? Read our independent reviews of guesthouses and hotels around Khao San Road in Bangkok and Siem Reap, or, if you’re looking to book something online, try Agoda’s discounted hotels in Bangkok and Siem Reap.


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