An overland border crossing between Bangkok and Siem Reap is the cheapest option on the well travelled backpacker journey between Thailand and Cambodia. It’s an adventure that involves taxis, trains, tuk tuks and buses with some scams and bribes thrown in for good measure but it’s a convenient, inexpensive and fun experience that still gives us a giggle!
With flights coming in at around US $200 per person we opted for the overland adventure and managed to travel from our hotel in Bangkok to Siem Reap for less than US $35 per person with a lot of laughs and scam avoiding along the way! Here’s our step by step guide to making the journey across the border so you can do the same!
When planning your travel remember there are a number of direct buses from Bangkok to Siem Reap that cost around $30 and it’s possible to fly directly between the two cities also.
1 | MRT to Hualamphong Station
The MRT Subway and BTS Skytrains are a quick and cheap way to travel in Bangkok. Take the MRT to Hualamphong Railway Station where the train departs for Aranyaprathet close to the Thailand/Cambodia border. If you’re on a BTS line, Asok is the changeover station for the MRT. Taxis are also a relatively cheap transport option in Bangkok as long as the fare is metered.
Tip: Our taxi driver offered us an ‘excellent’ fixed price fare to Hualamphong of 300 Baht. We insisted on the meter being switched on, as is standard for taxi rides in Bangkok, and the actual fare was around 75 Baht. Meters, meters, meters!
Cost: MRT tickets cost between 16 Baht to 40 Baht and BTS tickets cost between 16 and 40 Baht depending on location.
2 | Hualamphong Station
Tickets are available from the ticket office in Hualamphong Station. There are separate windows for advance tickets and same day travel. A reservation is not required for the Aranyaprathet train so just turn up on the day and buy a ticket.
Cost: The train fare is 48 baht
Where to stay in Bangkok
We’ve spent over two months in Bangkok and have had the opportunity to sample some amazing hotels across the city. Our favourites include:
- Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel: Our personal favourite hotel in Bangkok and is a real treat. It’s close to some amazing rooftop bars and shopping centres – Check prices here
- Riva Surya: great value and the river views are superb – Check prices here
- Cubic Hostel: is an awesome choice and the perfect option for travelers who love the social side of travel – Check prices here
- Aldephi forty nine: is fab value and perfectly located to hop on off the BTS Skytrain – Check prices here
3| The Train Journey to Aranyaprathet
Two trains depart daily from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet. The first at, 5:55am, arrives at 11:35am and the second, at 1:05pm, arrives at 5:35pm. We opted for the early morning train given the journey to Siem Reap takes around 12 hours in total. The border reportedly closes at 10pm so the later train is also a possibility and will result in a midnight arrival in Siem Reap if you can secure an onward bus or taxi.
Tip: The train takes between 4 and 6 hours so bring some snacks (also available from vendors passing through the carriages) and reading material for the journey. The views are also pretty awesome and help the time pass. Trains run on Thai time so expect some delays!
Life along the tracks:
4| Tuk Tuks at Aranyaprathet
Aranyaprathet is 6km from the Cambodia border and, after departing the train, it’s a quick 10 minute tuk tuk ride to the border crossing.
If you don’t have an e-visa, it’s highly likely the tuk tuk driver will try to drop you off at a travel agency marked ‘Visa Center’ which sells overpriced visas (around $35). Don’t buy your visa here and also insist on being dropped off at the official border. The drivers don’t want passengers to make a fuss and alert other travellers to the situation so they should drop you off at the real border pretty smartly!
Tip: Negotiate the tuk tuk fare and ensure your driver drops you off at the actual border. The official Cambodia visa office is located after the Thai border exit so if you haven’t exited Thailand and received an exit stamp don’t buy your visa from here!
Cost: The tuk tuk ride costs 80 to 100 Baht (after negotiations!)
5 | Exit Thailand
There are two queues at the Thailand border exit, one for Thais and one for tourists. An official stamps passports on exit from the country.
Tip: Be sure to join the correct line. The Thai line can be very long at weekends or on holidays and there’s no point hanging around at the back of the wrong line!
6 | Walk across the border and enter Cambodia
It’s a short walk across the Friendship Bridge and under the ‘Welcome to Cambodia’ sign!
If you haven’t bought a Cambodia e-visa in advance, now’s the time to get a Cambodia visa.
Cambodia visas are available on the border for US $20 in the visa office after walking across the bridge. The price is a fixed $20 despite handwritten signs requesting extra baht or dollars hanging above the visa counter. If you fancy the straightforward option, pay the extra money as it won’t break the bank and refusing may mean a little extra waiting time. An additional $1 is payable if a photograph is not presented.
After purchasing the visa, proceed to the immigration office, fill out the form and wait in the line. It’s a tiny room with no air conditioning and we waited in line for around 45 minutes.
Tip: The official visa fee is $20 so you can insist on paying only that amount. When asked for the additional cash we said ‘no, $20 fee only’ and managed to make it through to the other side (although we did receive some ominous white ticks on the cover of our passport but I think they were just playing mind games with us as we passed through with everyone else!)
7| Free bus to the Passenger Terminal
After exiting the immigration building you’ll be ushered towards the free bus to the Popiet Tourist Passenger International Terminal about 10 minutes away from the border. Transport out of Popiet is controlled by a transport association who operate the free bus and subsequent onward buses and taxis to Siem Reap.
It’s still possible to get a non association taxi directly from the border and it’s likely you’ll be approached by someone offering a ride and undercutting the official rates. The taxis are parked about 1km from the border. If you do choose this option, never pay up front.
Tip: At this point we were highly suspicious of anyone suggesting we should follow them or take any kind of transport but the free bus is legitimate if you wish to take the onward tourist bus, shared van or taxi to Siem Reap. The bus is located at the large roundabout close to the border.
8| Bus, shared van or taxi to Siem Reap
At the station, the transport choices are a bus or minivan for $9 or $10 or a 4 seater taxi for $48. The buses only leave when full so you might be in for a bit of a wait. The journey time is around 2.5 hours. We opted for a taxi to avoid having to wait around for the bus to depart.
Tip: Don’t pay for taxis in advance or you might find yourself dropped off half way to Siem Reap (especially with the non association taxis)! The guys at the depot will always insist a bus is leaving soon but it won’t leave until the seats are full so you could be in for a wait. A taxi for 4 works out at a similar price!
9| Tuk Tuk to Siem Reap Accommodation
Why do I need a tuk tuk when I hired a taxi I hear you ask?! There’s one final little quirk in the Bangkok to Siem Reap journey!
Despite insisting he knows where your accommodation is for the last 100 odd miles, as soon as you get close to Siem Reap the driver will suddenly forget or insist that taxis are not allowed into the city. As if by magic a waiting tuk tuk will offer their services for free. Of course it’s free because you’ve already paid for the official service to deliver you to your door, right?! The drivers are after commission from either delivering you to a guesthouse or by securing a booking for a temple tour during your stay.
Tip: We insisted we weren’t paying any additional money or booking any tours which did result in a bit of a temper tantrum when we got to the hotel and followed through with our promise! It’s been a long day so you might want to throw the driver a few dollars to keep the peace!
Where to stay in Siem Reap, the hotels we love:
- We opted for the Moon Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap (check out our review here) as we loved the calmness and luxury of the boutique hotel which came at a reasonable price.
- The Golden Temple Hotel is another gem: the hotel is gorgeous and it’s within 10 minutes walk of Pub Street and the night markets.
- the Petit Villa Boutique & Spa is another beautiful boutique hotel located in the centre of Siem Reap, perfect as a base for exploring the temples.
You’ve made it to Siem Reap and it’s been a long journey. There’s only one thing for it: POOL TIME!
Train or Bus?
It might not be the quickest way to the border and the seats may be a little hard but the train is our winner! We’re train kind of people and the $1.50 fare didn’t hurt!
We loved the idea of experiencing a Thai train journey in an open air carriage while the countryside rolls by. On a long journey it’s great to be able to wander around and trains are awesome for some people watching as the carriage was always bustling with new arrivals, other travellers and vendors selling local snacks.
If you’re after an easier option there are a number of direct buses from Bangkok to Siem Reap and cost around $30. While it takes the hassle out of finding transport, you’re still likely to come across the long running visa scams at the border! We opted for the train as we like a little adventure and prefer to do things on our own schedule but it’s a great option!
Gorgeous train views: