I experienced my first Southeast Asian border crossing in 2009. I started in Bangkok, Thailand and ended in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Along the way, I visited the cities of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. This border-crossing experience was unfortunately marred with scams and an ugly argument with a tout that derailed the entire journey.
Eight years later, I revisited the said cities but took a different route this time to avoid useless confrontations. I started in Ho Chi Minh, headed west to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and ended the journey in Bangkok. This particular route, which is part of the Banana Pancake trail, is very popular among backpackers as it is, I believe, the easier one compared with the trail that starts at the Thai border.
I’m sharing a few pointers based on my recent experience for those who have yet to try this route.
Crossing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia:
1. It normally takes 6 hours to reach Phnom Penh, Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam by bus. But duration might change depending on the number of passengers crossing the border and going through immigration.
2. For the bus tickets, you can either pre-order or you can simply ask your guesthouse / hostel in Ho Chi Minh to reserve you a ticket. Morning buses to Phnom Penh usually leave at 630am, 7am and 830am. The regular AC bus costs $12 or $13 per person. VIP buses are available but they cost a little more. There are schedules in the afternoon also (1pm and 3pm departure time), but I recommend morning trips in case of unexpected breakdowns and delays. Reliable bus companies include Mekong Express and Giant Ibis. You’ll be picked up from your guesthouse so make sure to be ready an hour ahead.
3. Before the bus crosses the Moc Bai border in Vietnam and the Bavet border in Cambodia, the porter will get all individual passports and they will be given back to the owner before crossing the immigration line – so don’t be surprised when the porter asks for your passport while you’re still inside the bus.
4. Bags will go through a security / customs check at the Cambodian border.
5. Cambodian Immigration counter: If you’re Asean, you don’t need a visa and you don’t have to pay anything. Just have your passport stamped by the immigration officer and you’re good to go. Non-Asean individuals may go through a visa check so make sure to secure the necessary requirements beforehand.
Crossing the Border from Cambodia to Thailand:
1. To buy a bus ticket, simply ask assistance from your guesthouse / hostel. Cost is usually $28 per person. Bus drop-off in Bangkok will either be at the Mo Chit bus station or Khao San Road. Before buying your ticket, it is best to confirm the drop-off point with your guesthouse so you’d know which bus to ride.
2. From Siem Reap, it takes about 3 hours to arrive at Poipet, the Cambodian border. This border is about 500 meters from the Thai border in Aranyaprathet, which means you have to walk from your drop off point because you have to go through the Cambodian immigration area. The problem is, there are no signs on where to go and what to do.
3. The bus will stop a few meters away from the Cambodian immigration area, so before you line up at the immigration counter, make sure to fill out the Cambodian Immigration card that’s supposed to be stamped on your passport the moment you arrive in Cambodia from Vietnam. If you don’t have this, there’s a desk outside the immigration center giving this paper away but make sure that you don’t pay anything to get one.
4. Once you have your passport stamped by the Cambodian immigration officer, you should be ready to go to the Thai border. However, there are instances that you will be charged $3. For what? I do not know. All I know is this, whether you are Asean or not, you are not supposed to give your money to the Cambodian immigration officer. If this happens, you have three choices:
a. Argue and face the consequences.
b. Ask for a receipt and face the consequences.
c. Let it pass by paying and just walk out of there peacefully (with karma at the back of your mind).
I’d choose C, but it’s still up to you.
5. Once done at the Cambodian immigration area, I suggest that you wait for the other tourists before heading to the Thai border – you just have to go north (probably a 10 minute walk) until you reach the end of the road with an intersection. Then on your left, you will see a walkway to the Thai border. DO NOT ask assistance from any Cambodian tout if you don’t want to shell out money. Better go with other tourists as you head to the Thai border.
6. Depending on the number of tourists, the immigration process at the Thai border may take 2-3 hours. Then heading to Bangkok will take another 6 hours. So if you leave Siem Reap at 8am, expect to arrive in Bangkok at 8pm.
Hope you find these few tips useful. If you have more questions, feel free to post in the comments section below.
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