We woke up early on our 4th day in Bangkok to catch the 05:55AM train to Aranyaprathet, the closest Thai town to the Cambodian border at Poipet. There are buses that ply directly from Bangkok to Siem Reap but we chose the train because we wanted the tour to be more indulging – blend closely with the locals and try every public transport available.
The following is the narrative on how we commute from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
Taxi to Hua Lamphong station
From Lub d Hostel in Siam Square, we took a taxi to the Hua Lamphong station of the SRT (State Railway of Thailand).
The taxi was our last resort since the Skytrain (BTS) and the MRT weren’t operating yet that time of the day. The driver asked TH฿200.00 for the trip and we had no choice but to take it. We knew that it would be hard for us to find cab drivers who’ll proactively use their meters, especially when we were coming from Siam Square, a known tourist hub. Well, it wasn’t that bad because we were three in a group, so we paid TH฿66.70 each.
Train from Hua Lamphong to Aranyaprathet
We immediately bought our train tickets inside the station. The fare for the third class, 255-kilometer railway transit route was very cheap at TH฿48.00 (as of December 2013).
Remember: There are two trains that leave Bangkok daily to Aranyaprathet, the other one leaves at 01:05PM. Travel time is 6-7 hours.
Since both the Thai and Cambodian Immigration counters close at 08:00PM, it would be better to take the first trip (05:55AM) or else, you’ll end up staying overnight in Aranyapathet and wait for the 07:00AM opening to cross the border.
We boarded the train waiting at the platform 6 of the station. I am not sure if the train to Aranyaprathet parks at the same platform at all instance, so verify it at the ticket counter. Though train destinations are posted at the platform corner, it wasn’t too obvious for the first timers (see photo below).
Couch officers randomly inspects travel documents of Thais and Cambodians crossing the border. Make sure you have yours ready just in case they’d mistakenly identify you as one (Filipinos have similar features). It actually happened to us when one of the officers asked the innocent-looking Aaron to show his passport.
Songthaew from Aranyaprathet to the border
The distance from the Aranyaprathet railway station to the Thai Immigration office is roughly 6 kilometers. We took another ride after the disembarkation. Available rides are tuktuk and songthew. We rode the songthaew because we were lead to it by a mob of tourists who were also going to cross the border. While my companions squeezed themselves with the locals and tourists packed like sardines inside, I secured myself on the rail extension just outside the truck. Well, I have no reason to complain – I just paid TH฿15 for the fare.
Con: The Songthaew made a stop at Thai Customs Office to inspect suspicious-looking passengers and unload those without proper documentations. Some refused at first so it caused some minutes of delay.
Pro: At some point on our journey, there were men who stopped the songthaew and call for all the foreigners to get off for document inspection. The lady conductor did not allow us – that saved us from falling into an impending visa scam. We were so grateful to the lady who also made some “word fight” with those guys. Note that taking tuktuk would make you vulnerable to this type of scam because some drivers may take you to the swindler’s lair.
Thai Immigration Exit Stamp
To clear our immigration obligations with the Thai authorities, we had our passports stamped. That was to inform the the immigration that we moved out within the allowed length of stay. Also, we won’t be allowed to enter Cambodia if there were no exit stamps on our passports.
The songthaew dropped us close to the Thai immigration walkway so we just followed other tourists, queued in a very long line, and had our exit cleared.
Entering the Cambodian Border
Upon completing the exit procedure, we walked along the friendship bridge to the Cambodian Arch. A big information sign board was posted close to the arch stating the distance to the Visa-on-Arrival office (for those travellers requiring visa / 50 meters) and to the Passport Control (for travellers with visa or with visa-free entry privilege / 200 meters).
Filipinos can enter Cambodia without visa so we walked 200 meters further after passing the arch. The passport control office is just across the casino with blue glass windows in the photo below.
For foreigners who are required with a visa before entering Cambodia, you can get your Cambodian visa in advance to avoid the hassles.
By the way, Poipet is the name of the Cambodian town that welcomed us after crossing the border from Aranyaprathet.
While walking to the passport control office, a guy approached Aaron. He made the right choice since Aaron is divinely accommodating, entertaining, unassuming, and undoubtful. The guy asked information like our destination, the number of individuals we had in a group, etc which I believe Aaron cheerfully answered.
I called Aaron out and told him to hurry. When we reached the immigration office, we filled up the arrival card, fell in a very long line (again), had a little chat with immigration officers, and had our passport stamped.
Free Shuttle to Poipet International Bus Terminal
While I waited for Roderick and Aaron in the waiting area next to the immigration office, I met the guy who previously approached Aaron. He told me to get inside the shuttle to the international terminal. I told him that I am still waiting for my companions, then he replied, “Yeah, you have two more friends, right?”. Then I thought “Aaron, what else did you say to this guy?”.
We boarded the shuttle bus when Aaron and Roderick completed their entry process. The guy from before kept on tagging us. He also rode the shuttle bus telling some stories and, of course, offering a minivan to Siem Reap for TH฿400 (US$13) or a bus for TH฿350 (US$11) (Yes, they still accept Thai Baht). Since he was really friendly, we took the minivan offer. Also, I anticipated that the bus may take some time to get filled because most of passengers in the shuttle preferred the minivan.
Minivan to Siem Reap
Upon reaching the terminal, the guy who offered us the ride advised us to exchange some of our Dollars and unspent Baht to Riel. He told us that even though US Dollars are widely accepted in Siem Reap, some local vendors preferred Riel. We changed some to Riel and we later realized that we had so much paper to carry in our wallets. The exchange rate in the terminal was 1 US$ = 3800 Riel.
We left the terminal immediately after settling our fares.
We reached Siem Reap nearly 5 in the afternoon (now that almost 10 hours). The long lines in the immigration counters and the songthaew stop in the Thai Customs office were the major contributors of the extra hour of our land trip. Also, the train left on time but arrived late.