In this article I will describe my experience in 2016 of crossing the land border between Thailand and Cambodia by using the direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. This border point is one of the most infamous land border crossings in South East Asia.
- The easiest way to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap is by airplane. Since Air Asia started servicing this route, it has become much cheaper than the formerly monopoly of Bangkok Airways, so the price for a one-way flight can be as low as 100 Dollars, with Bangkok Airways often twice this fare. You can check the flight timetables and fares here.
- Another way is to take a bus or train to the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet which in case of train travel involves taking an additional tuk-tuk to the border. So far so cheap. You cross the border on foot with all your luggage, the problem is finding transport on the other side. If you are not lucky enough to catch a connecting bus or do not want to wait, you might end up paying another 50 Dollars for a taxi to Siem Reap.
- And there is the direct bus by Transport Co on the Thai side and Nattakan on the Cambodian side, though it is the same bus which I am going to describe in detail step by step. Update May 2017: Apparently there is another direct bus by Giant Ibis from Khao San Road in Bangkok to Siem Reap. You can check and book both buses, timetables and fares through this link. However I cannot comment on the Giant Ibis bus from personal experience, at least the reviews look good so far, but it is a bit more expensive.
From Bangkok to Siem Reap Step by Step
1. Get the bus ticket.
- You can buy the ticket in person at Bangkoks Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal at the counter of Transport Co, 2nd entrance 1st floor of the terminal. There is a bus at 8 am and another at 9 am. Booking in advance is advisable. Our bus was completely booked. The fare is 750 Baht one way (21 US Dollar).
- As it is inconvenient und costly to reach the bus terminal – and you do not want to go there more often than necessary – you can as well make an online booking through our partner site 12go.asia. The fare is 870 Baht, so you can weigh that against the cost of going to Mo Chit Terminal by taxi to buy the ticket in person.
2. Get to Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal
Note that this bus terminal is quite far away form the BTS Skytrain station Mo Chit and not too easy to find. With heavy luggage you might take a taxi or motorbike from the BTS Skytrain station Mo Chit or MRT Metro Station Kamphaeng Phet. Taking the MRT/BTS from BTS Asok/MRT Sukhumvit to the aforementioned stations would be 42 Baht each and an extra 50 to 60 Baht for a taxi or motorbike for the rest of the stretch to the terminal.
If you are two or more persons, taking a taxi the whole way is a good idea. We paid 160 Baht from Sukhumvit to the bus terminal including parking fee. It took us 50 minutes to get there through morning traffic.
3. Board the bus
Get to the platform on time. Going there much earlier is not necessary. You will be provided with a water bottle and a sweet snack. The bus is equipped with a toilet which was a bit smelly though. After 2 to 3 hours there is a toilet stop. You can also use the toilet later at the border.
4. Wear your badge
You will receive a badge to wear so that the bus staff can recognize all passengers easier during border procedures in case of difficulties. On the badge it says the bus could only wait one hour at the border which I found spreads unnecessary pressure and anxiety among the passengers. Will the bus wait for me? It is not my fault when I have to wait in a line forever. What about my luggage?
But yes, the bus will wait. It took us in total around 2 hours at the border and we were waiting for everyone to get stamped in into Cambodia. Don’t worry. I guess they write this because some happy-go-lucky guys and girls might need that reminder to hurry a bit and not look around for shopping, gambling or coffee breaks at the border.
5. Fill the Departure Card
You receive the Thai departure card in the bus (however not the visa-on-arrival forms and entry forms for Cambodia). They want you to fill these forms on board to accelerate the procedures. Write BUS as your vehicle/flight number.
The bus conductor will maybe give instructions for the border.
- Get stamped out of Thailand.
- Buy visa only when in Poi Pet – on the Cambodian side, not before.
- Collect your entry stamp at the Cambodian immigration.
He offered to take passport pictures for the visa in case you have none. There was no trying to sell some tourist scam visas.
6. Have Lunch
It takes 5 hours to get from Bangkok to the border. Short before the border they stop to get lunch. Start eating immediately, you are given five minutes time before the garbage is collected and the bus continues. We had rice which was okay.
7. Leave Thailand
Get off the bus. Your big luggage stays on board. To the left there is an alley which has a writing Passport Control / Departure on the Thai side. Go in and choose the lane for foreigner (or Thai if applicable). Show your passport and departure card and get stamped out. The procedure is quite straightforward.
8. Walk to Cambodia
After some hundred meters you see the large Angkor gate where you enter Cambodia. Change road sides from the left to the right just before the gate – Cambodia has right-hand-side traffic as opposed to left-hand-side traffic in Thailand. If you have electronic visa already (37 Dollars), you keep going for 200 meters and continue directly to step 10. For visa on arrival you enter the Border Checkpoint of Poipet building next to the border gate.
We were warned not too buy any scam or fake visa before and I have read about it, but actually I have not encountered anyone trying to sell us those things.
Note there is no post or gate where you will be checked to cross. You could just walk into Cambodia without anyone preventing from doing so. However skipping the visa and arrival stamp is not a good idea since you will get into huge trouble when trying to leave the country.
9. Get your Visa on Arrival
You will be handed forms for Visa on Arrival. After filling these forms together you give it to the officer at the desk together with your passport, one passport-size photograph, and the fees. The sign says Tourist Visa 30 Dollar. The officer requested us to pay 1400 Baht which would have been about 38.50 Dollar, anything but a fair exchange rate. We insisted to pay in US-Dollars which was accepted, however he showed us a handwritten paper which stated “30 USD + 100 B”.
Reluctantly I payed the extra 100 Baht assuming it was an extorted bribe. In my prior life I have done academic research on corruption so I am quite sensitive to this subject and do not want to support it. However I had to weigh this against border officials with more power than me and a bus where I was not sure at this point if it would wait in case I delayed this procedure.
After finishing the officer calls your name. You pick up your passport with your visa in it. This procedure also did not take too long, only a few minutes. After that you leave the building.
10. Get stamped in
You have to go about 200 meters from the Cambodia gate into a small hut (after the casino) on the right side which says ARRIVAL. This is the part that takes by far the most time. After queuing you are handed arrival forms by an immigration officer. While waiting you can fill them. After receiving your passport stamp you go back a few meters to your bus.
11. Arrive in Siem Reap
We were dropped off at the Nattakan office at Sivatha Road in downtown Siem Reap. The guy from the company offered free transport to hotels by tuk-tuk within 4 kilometers distance. As we had a hotel pick-up, we did not use this service which probably included trying to sell some Angkor tours. The whole journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap took us 9 hours.
From Bangkok to Phnom Penh or Battambang
The same company also offers a similar bus service to Phnom Penh via Battambang starting in Bangkok at 5 am. The online fare is 1,020 Baht. The procedures with the ticket and at the border are the same. You can use this link to book this bus ticket online.