Getting There – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Getting There – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Getting to Cambodia (then Siem Reap) takes a few steps and lots of patience, but there are methods to make your journey more enjoyable.

Buses: You can take a bus from Bangkok’s Northern bus station to Aranya Prathet (102 baht for normal buses, 196 baht for A/C). The ride takes about five hours, and from the bus station, you’ll need to take a tuk-tuk (about 60 baht) to the border crossing site. Once you acquire a Cambodian visa, you can easily find a minibus or taxi to Siem Reap. (It’s safe to say that a tout will more than likely find YOU.)

Trains: Trains from Bangkok’s Hualamphong station leave for Aranya Prathet twice daily at 5:55 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. Tickets for third class cost 48 baht and the ride is 3.5 hours. The train continues for another half-hour east of the city to the border for 5 baht. There are no minibuses leaving from here to Siem Reap, only pickup trucks. Riding in a truck can be cheaper than getting minibus tickets (200-350 baht), but the ride will be longer and more uncomfortable (about seven hours of standing up and covering your face to avoid road dust).

Boats: If you’re already in Cambodia at the capital city of Phnom Penh and want to reach Siem Reap, go by boat. There’s a seven-hour speedboat ride for $22 U.S. that traverses Tonle Sap River before taking you across Tonle Sap Lake to the Vietnamese Floating Village just outside Siem Reap. Make sure to bring sunscreen – luggage rides inside the boat while passengers sit on the roof exposed to the heat.

Planes: To avoid crossing the border altogether, you can fly into Siem Reap. The airport is 8 km outside of town along Route 6, the main road. There is an international departure tax of $20 U.S. and a domestic tax of $4 U.S. There are five flights each day to Bangkok on Bangkok Airways; ticket prices are $158 U.S. You also can fly to Phnom Penh or to Vietnam and Laos.

Getting Over the Border:
To get to Cambodia, you’ll have to pass through the border town of Aranya Prathet on the Thai side. Immediately across from Aranya Prathet is Poipet, Cambodia, the departure site for vans and buses going to Siem Reap. All travelers with passports also need visas, which you can get from the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok or at the border. Hours at the embassy in Bangkok are very limited, though, and the building is far from Khao San Road (just north of Lumpini Park, in fact), so call ahead before going there.

The border crossing can be stressful and chaotic if you don’t know what to watch for. Sometimes touts will attach themselves to you once you step off the tuk-tuk, offering help but later demanding a fee. When leaving Thailand, go to the departure office on the left side of the border crossing, have your passport stamped and then walk to the Cambodia visa office on the right side.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Head straight to the window for visa services and NOWHERE ELSE! Touts will try to lead you to tables outside the visa office manned by police officers; these officials will charge an additional 200 baht handling fee to walk your papers 10 feet. It is NOT necessary to have these officers handle your paperwork!

You need a passport-sized photo for your visa, but if you don’t have one, the office will just charge you 100 baht more. Visas should cost no more than 800-1100 baht (or $20-$28 U.S.). After visa services, you walk over the border and arrive at another office on the right; the officials here will validate your visa with an entrance stamp. Past the doors are tuk-tuks to take you to travel agencies that arrange minibus service to your destination.

Watch out for minibus touts, who will push their services until you accept. We each got an $8 ticket for a minibus company that squashed 20 people into a 15-passenger van for a five-hour ride. Another option is to take a truck, where people are packed standing-room-only for a painful seven- to eight-hour journey. It’s only 200 baht to ride in the truck bed, but bring a scarf to cover your face from the omnipresent dust. Riding in the truck cab costs 350 baht. Taxis are also available, but the cost is much higher. Whichever method you choose, try to leave in the morning or early afternoon – the roads are deserted and dark at night, and safety could be a concern.