With 2 days left on our 30-day arrival visa in Thailand, I frantically searched for how to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia from Bangkok, Thailand. Seeing as how Southeast Asia is so well trodden by backpackers, I assumed a cheap and relatively simple bus option existed. Google, and many travel forums pointed me to Tales of Asia, a very detailed guide of how to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
According to the guide, the trip would cost a maximum of $75 USD if you travelled by land. It could be cheaper if you were willing to rough it more or had people to do the trip with. However, the trip was far from simple.
The path was described to be rife with scams and aggressive touts. There were several legs to the trip, and you had several options for each leg (ex. bus, taxi, train, tuktuk, “gambler express”, minivan). The more I read about it, the more stressed out I got. In summary, the bus trip involved:
- Get from your hostel/hotel to the Mo Chit (Northern) Bus Terminal. (A to B in the map below)
- At Mo Chit, get on a bus that takes you to Aranyaprathet (“Aran” for short), the town right next to the border. 170 baht for second class, or 220 baht for first class. (B to C)
- At Aran, get a tuktuk to take you to the border (80 baht) (C to D)
- Cross the border into Poipet, the border town in Cambodia.
- Get a taxi to Siem Reap for $45 – 60 USD, cheaper if you could find people to share the ride with. (D to E)
- Ignore touts and watch your stuff at all times.
The segments would’ve looked something like this:
I shared my findings with Adam, and he was prepared to follow me through that mess. However, curiousity about one leg of the trip led him to the interwebs, where he discovered that there was a new bus that takes you directly from Bangkok to Siem Reap!
Apparently this bus has only been operational since February 21, 2013, but several people had shared their experiences on travel forums, so it seemed legit enough for us to give it a shot.
Here’s our detailed account of the entire trip.
Hostel/Hotel to Mo Chit Bus Terminal
The cab ride from our hostel in Silom to the Mo Chit (Northern) Bus Terminal was less than 10 minutes (we left around 7:20 am), and cost 150 baht ($5.25 CAD). This included 95 baht for the cab ride, 45 baht for an express toll, and a 10 baht tip.
Side note #1: A cabby was waiting outside our hostel for customers. When we asked him to take us to the bus terminal, he quoted us 500 baht ($18 CAD). Adam’s immediate reaction was “f@&# that!” and went back into the hostel to ask how much the ride should cost approximately. The hostel staff said it should be less than 200 baht ($7 CAD).
Side note #2: The cabby we ended up going with used the meter, and asked if it was ok to take the express toll road. When we asked how much, the cabby said 60 baht. Once we reached the toll booth, we could see very clearly on a sign that the toll was 45 baht. So Adam confirmed with the cabby that the toll should be 45 baht and not 60 baht, to which the cabby agreed to very quietly.
Granted that 15 baht is about $0.50 CAD, which is really not worth fighting over, we simply don’t like being taken for suckers. We would much rather hand over the money as a tip, instead of being scammed out of it.
Mo Chit (Northern) Bus Terminal
The bus tickets to Siem Reap, Cambodia can be purchased from booth 22 on the ground floor, for 750 baht ($27 CAD) each, and leaves at 9:00 am.
We arrived at the station around 7:30 am. By the time we got to the booth, there were only 2 tickets left on the bus leaving that day. We were very, very relieved to have gotten the last 2 tickets! If you want to avoid potential disappointment, I have read that you can purchase tickets the day before to be safe.
I have also previously read that there were supposed to be two busses each day, leaving at 6:00 am and 4:00 pm. As at April 16, 2013, the agent at the ticket counter confirmed that there is only one bus each day, and it leaves at 9:00 am.
Side note #3: There is a booth 22 outside the bus terminal too. You want the booth that’s inside the terminal, it is a few feet away from the 7 Eleven and has a sign that says “The Transport Co. Ltd.” above.
Once we got the tickets, we were free to wander around the terminal, get some breakfast and buy some snacks for the bus ride. There is a small food court, a 7 Eleven and several ATMs if needed.
The Bus Ride
The bus was comfortable enough, not brand new or anything. It was air conditioned and had a toilet on board, which I would suggest using for emergencies only. It was pretty grimy… Your luggage would be stowed at the bottom compartment of the bus, and there is a small overhead compartment on the bus for carry-on items.
Once on board, a small breakfast was served. It consisted of a small orange juice and muffin, which was actually very nice and unexpected!
Lunch was also served around noon. A small hot meal of rice, pork, some veggies and a bottle of water. Also unexpectedly good.
Around 12:30 pm, we stopped by quickly at a market. I assume it was the Rongklua Market near the border. The passengers were not to get off here. We simply saw the luggage compartment open and close, and a few minutes later the bus continued on its way.
Side note #4: We’ve seen the luggage compartment open and close a few times during the trip. I was worried that the driver may have been letting people get on and off to rummage through our luggage as I’ve read about that happening with other bus companies. I did not expect this type of activity on this bus because The Transport Co. Ltd. is a government operated company, but I was still a little worried. As it turned out, one of the times the luggage compartment opened was because the driver had a huge fish in a bucket stashed down there, and he needed to add ice to it. Luckily, nothing seemed to be amiss once we got to Cambodia.
Shortly after, a Cambodian gentleman came onboard (we will call him “John”) and handed out laminated passes to all the passengers. John said something about how we needed them to get our visas.
The Visa Travel Agency (Scam Alert)
At 12:45 pm, we arrived at a travel agency. John said we would get our visas here.
Adam and I have read extensively about all the visa scams and how easy it is to get one at the border. Apparently it’s so easy that a monkey could do it, provided that it had $20 USD. As such, we could not understand why we were dropped off here, especially because this was a government operated bus, so you would think it should be scam free and go directly to the border.
I hopped off to ask how much they were charging for the visa, and was told 1,100 baht if I already had a photo (which I did). That’s ~$38 USD, when the visa should only cost $20 USD.
We spoke to John nicely, and asked if we could get our visas at the border. He said it’s raining and it will be easier and quicker this way. Adam said 1,100 baht is too expensive, and somehow gave John the impression that we did not have enough baht on us. It was then that John divulged the travel agency only accepts baht, so with Adam’s quick thinking, he said we had already spent all our baht and only had USD left. At this point the Thai driver and John said “ok, you can get visa at the border”.
So Adam and I waited on the bus while all the other passengers filled out their paper work, and continued to wait even when everyone was back on the bus. At 1:40 pm, one of the travel agents came onboard to hand out passports back to the passengers, and we were on the road again at 1:50 pm.
In less than 1 minute, we were at the border. Everyone got off the bus and walked.
Side note #5: If you prefer to be prepared, you could get an eVisa online for $25 USD. There is a 3 day processing period.
The Border Crossing
Step 1 is to get stamped out of Thailand which is easy enough. There are foreigner lines and Thai lines. Once that’s done you pretty much walk across the border into Cambodia.
Step 2 is to get your tourist visa, which should only require $20 USD, a passport photo and filling out a VERY easy form. The visa office will be to the right of the path that you get ushered through. It’s called the “The Office of International Border Check Point of Poipet”. Here’s a picture of what it looks like, stolen from Travelhead2010′s Blog, because we were too rushed and it was too rainy to take our own.
We have already read about a bunch of scams the Cambodian officials will try to pull, one of which simply involved asking you for an extra 100 baht ($3.50 CAD). You could pay it just to make life easier, but we didn’t want to on principle. What’s funny is that we didn’t expect how blatantly obvious it would be. Once we handed over our completed forms, $20 USD and a photo, they pointed to a clipboard on the counter, with “20 US + 100 baht” written on a white piece of paper, in bubble lettering… I asked Adam to recreate this drawing, it looked something like this:
We assume the “800″ is for Thai bahts if you didn’t have USD on hand.
Right above the counter there’s a proper sign on the wall that says “Tourist Visa: $20 US, Business Visa: $25 USD” etc. So I looked and pointed at the sign and acted surprised about this 100 baht. Then Adam said “We didn’t know about this 100 baht. We don’t have any left, we only have US dollars!”. Both of us played the ignorant and flustered tourist card and it worked quite nicely. The Cambodian official didn’t even put up a fight and our visas got processed just fine (although I must admit I was a little nervous). We may have waited a whole 5 minutes for them, but I should mention that there was only one other couple in front of us at the time. We were in and out in about 10 minutes.
Side note #6: We’ve read that it’s not a big problem if you don’t have a photo ready, you simply have to pay a bribe and you’ll still get your visa. A friend of ours also got away with using a coloured photocopy of her passport photo that’s been cut to size. Interesting tip there!
Side note #7: While we waited for our visas, we could see a Cambodian guy off to the side of the office with a stack of passports, filling out a bunch of forms. We suspect this is what happens when travel agencies “help” you get your visa. They take your passport, money and photo, and run over to the visa office to fill out the forms for you. We assume the travel agency did the exact same thing with the passengers on our bus. Adam recalled seeing a guy come and go in a golf cart with a bunch of passports back when we were parked next to the travel agency.
Armed with our visas, we went on to immigration office, which is about 100 meters further, past the casinos and such. Remember to fill out your arrival/departure card while you’re waiting in line. I would suggest choosing the line with the most foreigners in it, as they seem to get waved through more quickly than the asians. I don’t really understand why that is, so please leave a comment if you know!
Side note #8: Pay attention while you’re standing in line. On a busy day, if you look away for one second, you might notice a little asian person standing in front of you who wasn’t there before.
We were back on the bus by 2:45 pm, and were the last ones to get on. Despite taking a little bit longer than our fellow passengers because we had to get our visas, this was not what made us slower. We saw people behind us in the immigration office line get stamped in before we did, simply because we chose the wrong line. So don’t worry about getting left behind by the bus if you decide to get your visa at the border instead of the travel agency.
Arrival in Siem Reap
After another 2 hour ride, we arrived in Siem Reap at 5:00 pm. The bus was supposed to drop us off on Pub Street, but instead took us to John’s travel agency, Nattakan Cambodia Co. Ltd., which was at 22 Sivatha Road, or 500 metres north of Pub Street.
Not too big of a deal, but we have a sneaking suspicion that the bus driver got kickbacks for 1. taking the passengers to the travel agency for visas, and 2. taking us to the travel agency in Siem Reap, instead of Pub Street. Although it is also quite possible that The Transport Co. Ltd. is involved as well.
Even though the travel agents were trying to sell us further trips to Phnom Penh or wherever, they were perfectly nice. There was also free wifi in the travel agency office, so we used that to get our bearings. In the end, we used one of their tuktuks to get us to our guesthouse for $1 USD.
Direct bus from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Company: The Transport Co. Ltd.
Price: 750 baht
Duration: ~8 hours (1 hour was spent waiting at the travel agency for people who wanted to get visas there, and it took about 1 hour to do the border crossing. This time is highly dependant on how busy it is at the border. You could get lucky and arrive at a slow time. We were unfortunately behind a large lineup of people crossing the border to go to the casinos.)
Departure Time: 9:00 am
Approximate Arrival Time: 5:00 pm
Where To Get Tickets: Mo Chit (Northern) Bus Terminal, Booth 22
Destination: Should be Pub Street in Siem Reap, but more likely, in front of the Nattakan travel agency at 22 Sivutha Street, Svay Dangkom District
Phone Number: 0066 (0)2 936 0657 (call center) 1490
The trip went pretty smoothly. We were prepared for any potential scams we may have to face so we were on alert, although it seemed like some passengers were fully aware of the visa scam, but chose to pay double the price anyway for convenience or other reasons. To each their own.
Keep in mind that this is a direct bus, so it does not make stops for bathroom breaks or to buy snacks. The light breakfast and lunch were nice, but might not be enough for some people.
All in all we were happy with the bus ride and very glad Adam found out about it, instead of having to do the trip with several legs and fight off aggressive touts.
April 27, 2013 Update: Siem Reap to Bangkok
We personally have not done this trip from Siem Reap to Bangkok, but it looks like it can be arranged through the Nattakan office we were dropped off in front of. Neil C. described his experience on Trip Advisor.
Nattakan Cambodia Co. Ltd.
22 Sivutha Street, Svay Dangkom District, Siem Reap City
Siem Reap Office H/P: 063 96 48 96 / 078 795 333
Departure time: 8:00 am
May 8, 2013 Update: Bangkok to Siem Reap Bus Tickets Available Online
We just found out on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum that the bus tickets can be purchased online from Thai Ticket Major. The bus ticket selection will show up on the right sidebar. In the drop down menus, I believe you want:
- “BKK (Mochit 2 (N&NE))
- Type in “SiemReap”