It’s one of the most infamous and scam infested border crossings in Southeast Asia, and can sound downright scary, but it’s really not that bad if you’re prepared.
I first did the trip in 2009 and got through with no major problems, so I wasn’t too worried about doing it again this time. Even so, new options have sprung up, including straight through bus services. You don’t really need them in my opinion. Here is how to do it.
1) Get the public bus from Mo Chit bus station
Don’t be tempted to buy a package trip from any travel agent, there are too many scams and stops for them to be worth it. Check online for various stories of trips taking 20+ hours when booking with an agent on Khao San Road.
Get a taxi to Mo Chit. Buy a ticket to Aranphathet at the main counter, nowhere else. There is a new option to buy tickets for an offical bus direct to Siem Reap, and this does seem to have many fans online. However, there are some reports that it still stops at fake visa offices where people will try to scam you. So we still decided to do it all ourselves.
2) Arrive at Aranyaprathet. Or more accurately Rongkleu Market.
The first time I did this trip, I got off at Aranyaprathet, and then needed to pay extra to take a Tuk-Tuk to the border, which also tried to stop at fake immigration offices. The border is next to Rongkleu market and stops there, behind a bank (at least when we did it) Technically you should buy tickets directly to here (the option is available at Mo Chit), however I only bought ours to Aranyaprathet, and then we stayed on the bus for the extra few kilometres.
We may just have been lucky as very few tourists were making the trip, so no-one tried to come on the bus and make us get off. We just sat tight and got off as late as possible.
3) Walk into the Thai immigration building.
This is the one you actually need to go in, to get out of Thailand. There is no confusion, the road goes into the immigration building, and signs are abundant. Don’t let anyone try to take you anywhere else. There will be people offering to ‘help’ you – we had one that followed us through to Cambodia, despite showing no sign of needing ‘help’. If anyone says you need to get your Cambodian visa before leaving Thailand, they are lying. You don’t, and you should ignore them.
You will need to walk upstairs to the immigration desks, queue up, and get stamped out of Thailand. Walk through and downstairs again and you will be outside, past the building.
4) Get your Cambodian Visa
This is where it gets slightly confusing. There are various buildings, and casinos, and no obvious way to know where the official visa office is. It almost looks like you can waltz straight down the road into Cambodia, though you will be stopped, and you DO need to get a Visa!
Sadly I didn’t take any photos of the actual visa office, but it is the one just to the side of the traditional ornate archway. It is yellow in colour. Go in and there will be a few windows, stating the price of the Visa. It is $20 US, plus 100 baht ‘processing fee’ (read: bribe). If you were really determined you could probably fight your ground and avoid paying the 100 baht fee, but the officials are likely to drag their feet if you do and you could be waiting ages. It’s a shame that this charge has become standard but are you going to delay your journey over $3/£2? (Edit – It actually appears to be easy enough to avoid this if the office is quiet, as mentioned by Tyler in the comment below)
Fill in the form provided, give them a cut out photo (if you don’t have a photo I’m almost certain someone will be around to perform the service for a small fee, but I doubt it will be cheap, so get one before!)
Once we had paid the fees, our visas were ready in about 5 minutes. However there were only 2 other people in the office. If you are unlucky and arrive at the same time as a bus from Khao San Road, it could take ages. Both times crossing this border, I have taken a 10am bus from Bangkok, and both times it has been quiet, so this seems to be a good time.
Once you have your visa, walk out of the office and through the archway.
5) Get stamped into Cambodia
Even though you have your Visa, this isn’t the end of it. You need to get stamped into Cambodia as well. After the arch, walk past several casinos and you will come to a small hut/building on the right hand side which is the immigration office. It is smaller then the Visa office and doesn’t look the most official, but it is. You’ll need to stand still while they take a photo of you, then your passport will be stamped and you can officially enter Cambodia!
6) Wait for a minibus to the bus station
The bus station is a few km out of town, so you’ll need to wait near the roundabout at the waiting area for a free shuttle to it. There are snacks and drinks available, and also a toilet. More ‘helpers’ will probably try to talk to you, in fairness the one that latched onto us was a nice guy to chat to, so we didn’t mind too much.
7) Take a bus or minibus to Siem Reap
Once at the bus station, you need to buy a ticket to Siem Reap. The big buses are $9 per person and a minivan is $10 – for whatever reason when we were there, no big buses were running so the minivan was our only option. We waited for 10 minutes or so for it to fill up, and we were on our way to Siem Reap.
There is also the option of a taxi but they are not cheap, as a monopoly exists on transport from the border, so no negotiation is possible (even the buses are a bit expensive by Cambodian standards) but if you are in a group of 4, or can find other travellers to share with, it would be a quicker and not very much more expensive option.
The journey to Siem Reap takes around 3 hours. It used to take a lot longer many years ago but the road has long been paved. However don’t expect to be dropped in the centre of Siem Reap…
8) Get a Tuk-Tuk from the inconvenient ‘bus station’
In typical Southeast Asian fashion, the bus arrives at an out of town bus station, located too far away to walk, purely to give fares to the Tuk Tuk drivers. Now I realise these guys need to make a living, but it is always frustrating to have to go through this when arriving in a new town. Get used to this in Cambodia (and Laos) – it happens almost everywhere.
If you have an offline mapping app, or have pre loaded maps for Siem Reap, this will help you, as the drivers will try to claim the hotel you want to go to is a long way away and crank up the fare accordingly. But the bus station is only around 2km or less from town, and we knew this, so we negotiated hard. Even so it cost $2 for a short fare.
Drivers may try to offer you free or cheap rides if you use their services for Angkor Wat. There is no harm in doing this, personally we didn’t but it isn’t a scam, it’s just that temple tours are their main earners.
9) Sleep. You’ll be tired.
In total I think the trip took us 9-10 hours. This is actually longer than I expected but this was about as straight through as you can get. Unfortunately the whole border process does add up, along with waiting around for various buses.
Without a doubt though, it is quicker to do it this way than to go with a package from Khao San Road. Almost certainly you will be delayed for hours and hours for no reason whatsoever – stopping at commission paying restaurants, taken to fake visa offices, you name it. It’s not worth saving a few baht over!
Taxi from Khao San Road to Mo Chit – 120 baht ($3.70)
Bus Tickets to Aranyaprathet – 223 baht per person ($7)
Cambodian Visa – $20 per person
Visa ‘service charge’ – 100 baht per person ($3.10)
Tip to our friend who followed us (like I said, he was a nice guy!) – 100 baht ($3.10)
Minivan to Siem Reap – $10 per person
Tuk-Tuk to our hotel – $2
Total – $89 (£52) or $44.50 (£26) per person