Recently, a few members of the ATMA SEVA team took a 10 day trip to Cambodia to fix our Thai visas. When staying in Thailand it is very common to visit either Laos, Burma, Cambodia, or Malaysia in order to apply or fix a Thai visa.
The goal of this blog entry is to tell about our travels regarding how we got to Cambodia, traveling within country, what to watch out for, and also to share some photos from the trip.
To start, we left from Chiang Mai and took a train down to Bangkok. Unfortunately, because of the high tourist season we were not able to book sleeper cars (bed provided) so we settled for normal chairs. The price for one seat was around 400 Thai Baht. The ticket said the trip was fifteen hours but, as with everything in Thailand, there were unexpected delays and the trip ended up being just over twenty hours! I would highly recommend either getting a sleeper car on the train or just take the bus. A plane from Chiang Mai to Bangkok is the fastest (only about one hour) but can be expensive when traveling on a budget.
Once we arrived at the train station in Bangkok, we took a taxi to a van station and booked seats on the van to take us to the border of Thailand and Cambodia, to a town called Aranyprathet. The ticket for the air-conditioned van was around 200 Thai baht. This trip took around five hours and was not too bad at all. The vans move at a good speed and the seats are comfortable. The van dropped us 200 yards from the border.
Crossing the border from Thailand into Cambodia was extremely easy and fast. At the first check point you fill in a basic sheet with information for Thai immigration, and no charge at this point. Now you are officially in Cambodia, and people will be approaching you for taxis and trying to sell you various items. Next, you walk into a building to apply for your Cambodian visa, which is a simple sheet and the fee is around $20 USD. This only took about ten or fifteen minutes. Lastly, you go through an immigration check point where you have to fill in another sheet with basic information, no charge at this point. Once you are cleared, you are all set and ready to look for transportation.
Poipet to Siem Reap
The city of Poi Pet is about 2 hours away from Siem Reap so you need to find a taxi to take you to the city. This is where we encountered our first scam. We had all read different opinions on whether to take a taxi right from the border or to take the free shuttle first and then a taxi. Once you enter Cambodia people will be all over you asking where you are going and offering the cheapest price for a taxi. This can be confusing and overwhelming, especially coming off over 24 hours of travel. We choose the free shuttle bus and the plan was to get a taxi from the bus station to Siem Reap. The shuttle takes about fifteen minutes and when we saw the bus station we knew something was off. The bus station was in the middle of no where, with no lights, people, or buses around. There were around seven other tourists on the bus and we all knew we choose wrong. Once off the bus the local guys came out and began to call us a taxi. The swindle is that they require you to pay them half and the other half to the actual taxi. As opposed to getting a taxi right from the border to Siem Reap and there is no middle man. Things began to get heated as there were about fifteen agitated Cambodian men surrounding two taxis, our group demanding a cut, and we were trying to bargain for the lowest price and figure out what was happening. The total price was 1500 Thai Baht ($45 USD) but half went to the bus station guys and the taxi got the other half. What we should have done is just get a taxi right from Poi Pet to Siem Reap and that price should not be more than 2,000 Thai Baht and if you find an offer for 1,500 Thai baht, that is about as good as we heard you can get. The situation was funny in hind sight and we joked after the fact, but for a brief few minutes it looked like things were about to spill over.
Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville
We spent a total of 9 days in Cambodia, going from Poipet to Siem Reap to Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville back to Phnom Penh and from there flew back to Bangkok. Just a few brief reactions and recommendations.
-Siem Reap is extremely touristy and was basically built to house tourists visiting Ankor Wat
-Ankgor Wat is tremendous and absolutely worth the visit. We were only able to spend one day there but there are 1, 3 and 7 day passes available. One day pass is $20 USD.
-Phnom Penh is larger than we thought and a fun city to walk around with lots of cool markets and shops all over. Make sure to visit the killing fields at Choeung Ek (about 20 minutes outside of the city) and Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21, to understand more about the country and the history.
-Sihanoukville is one of the main beach towns in southern Cambodia, with lots of smaller towns on the outskirts. We took a bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville for about $10 USD and the ride is between five to seven hours. The beaches were nice, people were friendly and there were plenty of guest houses available. We stayed around Otress beach which is slightly off the beaten path and less crowded.
-We did not book any hotels or guest houses ahead of time and were able to find nice places in each city for about $15-$20/ night. There are cheaper options available if you look hard enough but most tuk-tuk drivers steer tourists to the more expensive areas or places where they get a commission.
– Most people speak some English, so booking tickets, guest houses, talking to Tuk-Tuk drivers and ordering food was very easy and most travelers can get away with just a phrase or two in Khmer (the language of Cambodia).
The Thai embassy is located in Phnom Penh, the capital city, and is an easy tuk tuk ride from anywhere in the city. The embassy was one of the most unfriendly I have ever been to, but you never know if it is a case of a bad or off day. Before you visit or apply for any visa you should definitely look at their website before hand and have all your documents ready. We were not as prepared as we should have been and had to take a tuk tuk ride to make photo copies and scramble for documents. We left our visa application Thursday morning and were told to pick it up the following Tuesday afternoon. Another good reason to check the website is to see the turn around time and to ensure you have enough time to obtain your visa and plan the rest of your trip.
Below are pictures from the entire trip! If anyone has any questions about making a trip to Cambodia, visa runs, or anything else just leave a comment below.