By Land Vehicle Through Poipet
– If you are coming to Siem Reap from Thailand by bus you will most likely first pass through the Rong Klue market in the Aranyaphratet district of Thailand. This flea market sells an eclectic variety of items, many of them used or copies of name brand items – things like sunglasses, clothing, and cheap imitation jewelry and watches. Poipet is the very seedy border town that lies on the Cambodian side of the border. The reason one will pass through Rong Klue market and Poipet is that the primary highway to Siem Reap begins in this town. Be aware of pick pockets on both sides of the border – if you are alert and aware of your surroundings you almost guarantee that you will have no problem with these criminals. We have also heard first-hand reports of travelers being offered drinks in Poipet, drugged and then robbed. Don’t accept an invitation to someone’s home for drinks in this town.
In the Rong Klue market on the Thai side of the border “street urchins” will run up to you and beg or try to be your “tour guide”. They will quickly approach you with open umbrellas in hand – if you let them walk next to you – they will demand payment for their service of providing you with shade. In mid 2003 a Cambodian group kidnapped Thai children & held them for ransom.
Before you actually enter Cambodia you will be approached by tour guides who will offer to “guide” you and provide transportation to Siem Reap. Your guess is as good as the next persons as to which tour guide to pick from. The guides will not let you tell them you want to travel alone – they will surround you until you pick one. One transportation company is Hangtap Tours – they offer mini buses and pickup trucks. We have used them for the ride from Poipet to Siem Reap – they tended to be a little more expensive then other tour operators. Sara Tours is an alternative; their phone is: (855) 12 833 252.
Something to be careful of is what happened to me when using Hangtap tours. This company waited about 90 minutes to leave after I arrived and as a result we arrived in Siem Reap quite late and well after dark. They dropped us off at a hotel and told us it was unsafe to walk around at night and it would be best for us to stay at this hotel. Unfortunately it also happened to be raining. This is problem you might run into if you leave Poipet late in the day.
Be aware that the mini-buses or pickups will NOT leave Poipet until they are full – and by full this means every available seat in the bus is filled, including the uncomfortable pull out seats which effectively fill up all the aisles. This may mean you might have to wait for an hour or longer until the driver can find more tourists. If somehow you make it across the border to Poipet without having been finagled into transportation on the Thai side of the border, be sure to check out your seating arrangements before you commit to transportation.
It will usually take between 20 to 45 minutes to cross the border from Thailand into Cambodia (we have done this numerous times). Although note that if you return to Thailand through this border (which we strongly discourage) it will generally take between 2 to 3 hours to clear customs on the Thailand side.
Entering Cambodia from Thailand, one has to pass through several small buildings, first the Thai customs and then the Cambodian customs – getting stamps and filling out forms as you go…typical border paperwork. As of our latest update to our notes, the cost of a visa is $20 to enter Cambodia – you can either get this before your trip as an electronic visa, or you can get this at the border. If you decide to purchase your visa at the border be sure you bring 1 or 2 small passport size photos with you, otherwise you will be charged an additional amount (around 200 baht) (a photo of yourself is required for the Cambodian visa). If you don’t have a photo, you have to pay for one, but in my experience they do not take a photo of you, they just pocket the extra money. The Cambodian visa takes up an entire page in your passport.
The road to Siem Reap from the Thailand border has finally been paved and now instead of the former bone jarring crazy pot hole filled 10 hour journey you can now make this drive in several hours. For reference, this road was once voted the 2nd worst road in all of Cambodia by readers of Lonely Planet! Humor came in handy during the particularly bad sections of this road. When you would hit a nasty pothole and you and everyone else on the bus went flying into the air, the situation became almost funny, and you wondered if the potholes could get any worse! With the paving of this road, the “adventure” has been taken out of this trip, but at least you are no worse for the wear once you arrive in Siem Reap.
Many of the buses are in very bad shape – you might even be sitting on springs where the cushion used to be or on hard seats. Some buses have cushions. For this ride you definitely want a seat that has some padding on top of it.
One can take a truck/pickup to Siem Reap in which you will be seated on benches in the back of the vehicle. This is a bumpy ride to be sure – its probably faster than a bus but if it rains it can be quite miserable. The truck driver should have a tarp that he can give you to put over yourself, but this only helps so much. During the rainy season, especially if you are traveling this road in the late afternoon or night you might want to consider taking a bus instead of a truck.
– Flights are available to the international airport at Siem Reap from most major SE Asian cities. Aside from often being cheaper (especially when one factors in the time involved in overland travel) flights avoid avoid the often terrible Cambodian roads. Some of the guest houses and or travel agencies in Siem Reap can arrange airfare.
In & Around Town
It used to be forbidden to rent motorbikes to tourists for use outside the main part of Siem Reap. The main reason for this is that there were still too many un-exploded land mines and its not good to have tourists accidentally running over these. Many areas around Siem Reap have still not been cleared of land mines. However, as of our latest update to this review, both motorbikes and electric bikes are easily rented – just be careful driving in the often chaotic traffic.
Tuk Tuks are another option – these run about $35 day for unlimited use – driver included. You can also rent regular bicycles.
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