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Deciding Not to Cross the Border Between Thailand and Cambodia

Deciding Not to Cross the Border Between Thailand and Cambodia
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Wat Pho Lit Up
Wat Pho at night

Planning my travels through Thailand and Cambodia were fairly straightforward and stress-free, except for one thing. I was nervous to cross the border between Thailand and Cambodia, on my way to Siem Reap.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people cross this border everyday. It’s by far the most popular border crossing between these 2 countries. The key for many people seems to be doing your research to know about your transportation options, understanding the border crossing formalities, and readying yourself for the seemingly endless number of scams waiting for you.

scam photo
Scammers don’t really unload by the truckful, but it can seem that way! Photo by jepoirrier

Seat61 details how to cross the border by taking the train from Bangkok.

Wikitravel also has 2 informative guides with loads of information about Aranyaprathet and Poipetthe towns closest on either side of the border.

No matter how much I read, though, I just couldn’t get this 1 day of my trip to feel comfortable.

I’d reluctantly accepted the time commitment the border crossing would take. All the information said to plan for the travel and the time at the borders to take an entire day.

On average, the total time from Bangkok to Siem Reap is 11-12 hours. If you get to Siem Reap or other points in Cambodia in less time and don’t feel entirely drained, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

thai border crossing photo
Photo by james_antrobus

Southeast Asia is hot. There’s really no way around this. The train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet takes 6 hours on a 3rd class train with no air conditioning. Some of the bus options claim to have air conditioning, yet travelers report this air conditioning to be spotty at best.

There are lines at both the Thai and Cambodian crossings, which could require a couple hours of waiting. The searing temperatures certainly would make an epic day like this sweaty and sticky, but it wasn’t causing my nervousness.

inside thai train photo
Photo by Clay Gilliland

There are intimidating warnings about scams. On both the Thai and Cambodian sides of the border, scams abound. There are fake consulates to “buy” your Cambodian Visa. Buses, even Thai Government buses, make numerous stops along the way, where they get kickbacks for bringing busloads of tourists to buy snacks and drinks.

These buses may even drop you off at a fake border crossing so you can buy your fake or overpriced Cambodian Visa. Cambodian officials are known to charge extra “fees” and even stop your taxi for a bribe on the way to Siem Reap. Some taxi drivers even claim they can’t drive into Siem Reap, dropping you outside the city limits, forcing you to have to haggle with yet another driver, who might try to convince you the guesthouse you booked is closed and bring you to a “better” guesthouse, where, of course, he gets a kickback.

I definitely didn’t want to be scammed!

For me this was the deciding factor. I’ve learned to trust my gut and respect what I feel comfortable with when I’m traveling solo. The bottom line was I didn’t want to cross this border solo. I’d crossed numerous land borders in South America on my solo travels through Patagonia and to Ushuaia and never once felt uncomfortable.

bus patagonia photo
Patagonian Bus Photo by sergejf

All the research I did on this border crossing didn’t reassure me. My feelings weren’t just from the thought of getting scammed for extra money. It was a nagging feeling that, as a solo female traveler, I would be a target for every scam the touts could throw at me.

Fake border crossings, corrupt Cambodian officials, buses and taxis making unscheduled stops, and Thai trains running late weren’t things I wanted to deal with on my own.

What’s more is, after crossing into Cambodia and without anyone to share with to defray cost, it’s likely I would’ve ended up in a taxi to Siem Reap.

Taxis from Poipet to Siem Reap can cost anywhere between $25-$65 depending on how well you haggle and whether or not the price includes a police bribe.

In the end, I chose to fly.

Air Asia

Of course, it cost more than the bus and train options, but not as much as I thought it would be.

AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, and Camboda Angkor Air fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap Airport.

AirAsia offered by far the cheapest ticket, at just $70! This cost included all taxes and fees, as well as the additional and optional weight I purchased for a bag I knew I needed to check.

(I also used miles to book my round trip flight to Thailand, so I’d already saved this money!)

The flight was super quick, at just under an hour. I barely got my immigration paperwork filled out before the flight attendants were asking everyone to lift up all tray tables and to get ready for landing.

What’s more is that I took an 8:00 p.m. flight, which allowed me the whole extra day in Bangkok. Among other things, I was able to explore the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which would have been nearly impossible otherwise.

Angkor Wat Selfie

It ended up being the best decision because, as soon as I booked my ticket, all my uncomfortable feelings disappeared. I had a fabulous time in Siem Reap and exploring Angkor Wat. This experience reaffirmed for me just how important it is to trust your gut when traveling solo.

Have you ever made a decision (or wish you had) that made you feel better while traveling solo? 

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30 thoughts on “Deciding Not to Cross the Border Between Thailand and Cambodia”

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for all the great info Tara! It really made a difference! Yes, I smiled the whole way to Siem Reap on that AirAsia flight!

  1. Great write up.

    One piece of advice I would throw in if you’re going to fly from Bangkok to Siem Reap:

    Take at least $40 usd or ฿1,500 Thai baht in cash.

    Cambodian immigration won’t accept Cambodian Real and prefer USD.

    There is only one ATM machine in the immigration hall at Siem Reap airport and although I have travelled to Siem Reap many times (withdrawing cash on arrival), all my cards were rejected on my most recent trip.

    I think it was down to the machine not working as a couple of other travellers couldn’t withdraw cash.

    Not a word of English was spoken by the immigration staff and they didn’t understand that the ATM machine wasn’t working.

    I was lucky to have some Thai baht in my wallet, but the other travellers who had no money were having a real tough time.

    So pro tip: take some cash if you want a Visa on Arrival.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Excellent tips Adam! Thanks! USD are the currency to have in Cambodia for sure. I also learned (the hard way!) that the bills need to not only be crisp, but also dated in a recent year. A woman at a restaurant would not take a $10 because it was dated 1999!

  2. Sounds like you did a lot of research before! Back in 2009 when we were planning to cross between Laos and Cambodia, we didn’t do any research at all and ended up at an unofficial border crossing. We had to pay $1 (!) bribe in order to cross and on the other end there was no transport so we had to pay through our teeth to get 50 km to the next settlement. So yes, it’s probably good you did your research!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Yikes! That really stinks! I had the same feeling I’d end up paying the same or near the same amount as the AirAsia ticket and be kicking myself for dealing with such an uncertain situation.

  3. I completely agree about trusting your gut when travelling solo. Even in Europe there are places I hesitate to try at night. But, there’s plenty of other things to see and so much better not to be on edge when you are visiting

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Exactly what I kept saying to myself, Fiona. What’s the point in feeling on edge? Solo travel has its pros and cons. It’s important to be smart about activities after dark.

  4. Sometimes it’s totally worth the extra expense to feel comfortable and secure–sounds like it was a great decision! I would have a hard time dealing with the scams too–I think I can be a bit of a pushover sometimes. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Me too, Jenna! The scams made me feel really vulnerable. Flying was the right choice for me!

  5. Land transit seems arduous and that was 20 years ago for me, I ended up flying to Phom Penn sp.on Air Asia for the first time and it was easy and quick

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Noel, I think that’s a good point. With regional, budget airlines increasing their routes and improving their service, it may not make sense to waste the time and energy to cross by land.

  6. I’d probably fly, too, mostly because I’m lazy. I did go into Burma for a day from Mae Hong Son in Thailand and it was super easy, but tourists weren’t allowed to continue far into the country. Not sure what it’s like now. I flew from Chiang Mai into Laos, which was so quick and easy.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Ohh, I wish I’d gone for the day into Burma. I considered it, but couldn’t make it work with my timing. Tourists can still on go so far. Flying was super easy and I think totally worth it!

  7. Another tip would be to find other travelers in the bus and stick together. I have gone through many border crossings (as a solo female traveler) and normally find no problem. I even did a 30 hour bus ride from Vietnam to Laos. After that bus ride, the people I met on the bus were practically my bestfriends! haha

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Great tip, Anna! I’ve met some amazing people this way. I’m still friends with a girl I met and hiked with through Patagonia.

  8. Travelling solo is what I love and stand for but it does have its downsides, i.e. constantly having to made decisions by yourself and a lot of times, having to make them on the spot in the moment and situation you are in. I understand why you decided to fly and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Like you said, do what you feel comfortable with and choose what makes you personally happy!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      So true, Alice! Solo travel comes with positives and negatives, just like anything else. It’d be nice to have just one other opinion when you’re debating back and forth over a decision like this. Then again, though, it’s what makes you a more confident and self-sufficient traveler.

  9. Wonderful tips on crossing the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Clearly you did your research. Deciding to go this your gut instinct really made your journey a lot more pleasant. Thanks for sharing the info!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks Sue! There’s a lot of information out there on this border crossing and trusting my gut eliminated a whole lot of stress.

  10. reading your post i can just feel that anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach! traveling is such an amazing experience, if something doesnt feel right, it just doesnt! glad to hear the plane ride (while a bit more expensive) gave you much more time and avoided all of the hassles!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      So true Lindsay! What fun would traveling be if we were anxious and constantly feeling like something wasn’t right? Thanks for your comment!

  11. Good choice. I was supposed to meet up with some friends for dinner in Siem Reap on the day they were crossing over from Thailand. I bet it’s no surprise to you that it took much longer than they thought, and they missed the dinner entirely. There was some problem with finding an ATM, at least that’s what they were told.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      I’m not surprised, Michele. The crossing is a very long day at the absolute best! At least they made it to Siem Reap eventually! The Angkor temples are gorgeous.

  12. Definitely important to trust your gut! As I was reading this post, I was thinking I would not want to cross this boarder this way. There had to be another way. The heat and crazy line would have been a deciding factory enough to fly.

    That picture of the scam truck goes perfectly! Lol

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, Jojo. I definitely think it’s easy to get caught up thinking you’re not getting the authentic experience. Trusting your gut is key no matter what. In the end, AirAsia was an absolute no-brainer for me. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  13. Thanks for the information and tips! I’m planning to do the same trip later this year after studying in Australia. As i’ll have a suite case and will probably be traveling solo, i think i’m going to wind up flying as well to avoid the hassle of the border crossing.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Yasmine. I was so happy I flew. Made all the difference in getting from Thailand to Cambodia. Happy travels!

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