I went overland from Thailand to Cambodia a few days ago. I’d heard about all the scams on the Aranyaprathet to Poipet border crossing, so I went in fully prepared to be scammed. I think they’ve managed to get rid of the scammers, because this was one smooth border crossing. I hear the border is easier now than it used to be, yet people still talk about it being dodgy and full of all sorts of hazards. It’s not. It’s super easy, if you have even a little bit of common sense, and if you can be bothered to spend ten minutes online to read about the border so that you come prepared.
Here’s What I Did:
I took a bus in the morning from Ekkamai (Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Station) to the border. It is a few minutes’ walk from the Ekkamai BTS (Skytrain) station (handy if you’re in that part of town). More buses leave from Mo Chit bus station. My only mistake was to take the 8.30 am bus and not the 6.15 am bus – but more about that later. The bus cost 220 baht and was air-conditioned and comfy. It stopped once on the way for a toilet & snack break. It takes four hours from Ekkamai to the border. Unfortunately the bus left Ekkamai a bit late, and was an hour late of schedule when we arrived to the border, and that is why taking the later bus was a mistake.
Anyway. After a comfortable bus journey watching some videos and eating lots of snacks, the bus stopped about 100 metres walking distance from the Thailand immigration building. I took my bags and walked to the immigration. I don’t understand how anyone could fail to go to the actual Thai immigration – it is a huge building, there are lots of official signs that point to departure and passport control, and that is also where all the Thai people in the bus headed. I can see how you can end up somewhere else if you take a tuk-tuk from the train station, or if your bus leaves you miles away and you have to use another form of transport and that transport takes you to some scam office – but really, it’s a massive building and really hard to NOT notice. In any case, being still a little wary because of all the scam warnings I heard, I checked with the bus driver that I was heading to the right immigration building and I went in together with a Thai lady from the bus.
There are all sorts of travel agents and “Cambodian visa offices” before the border, and around the Rongklua border market where many buses from Bangkok stop. Now, you don’t need to even look at these places, because you can get a Cambodian e-visa online in advance (they say it takes 3 business days but I got mine in 24 hours), or you can also get your visa on arrival, after you’ve passed the Thai immigration and are on your way to Cambodian immigration.
At no point was I ever approached by one single tout.
Now, it soon became clear why the later bus had been a mistake. Just before I arrived, it seems that several buses from Khao San Road, filled with backpackers, had arrived and dumped their passengers on the border. The queue to Thai immigration was long. And it was full of people who didn’t know that they needed their Thailand departure card, and had not even thought about it until the moment they stood in front of the immigration official. What followed was just lots of unnecessary hassle and people emptying the contents of their handbags looking for the departure card they had probably lost ages ago. People: remember those slips of paper you fill in when you arrive in Thailand? One is an arrival card, and the immigration will keep this one. The other one is a departure card, and the immigration gives this back to you, often stapled on to your passport. YOU NEED TO KEEP IT, AND HAND IT OVER (DETAILS FILLED IN) TO THE IMMIGRATION WHEN YOU LEAVE THAILAND. If you’ve lost it, get a new one and fill it in BEFORE you stand in front of the immigration official.
It is a couple of hundred metres’ walk in the no man’s land from the Thai immigration to the Cambodian immigration. (Those who do not have a Cambodian visa can get a “visa on arrival” in an office between the Thai immigration and the Cambodian immigration.) I was not sure where to go since I had my visa already, and I asked some people who pointed me to the passport control. Nobody tried to point out anything that was not right. And I still had not been approached by one single tout.
So the same Khao San Road backpackers were queuing up to the Cambodian immigration. And many of them had no idea they had to fill in a Cambodian arrival card. This meant that the guys behind the counter had to give them a card to fill in, and they had to fill it in inside the already crowded immigration office, and it was just a waste of everyone’s time. The backpackers were complaining: “They should have given us the card in advance! They’re so stupid!” No, you dumbass: YOU are stupid. Because there was a guy at the end of the queue handing out arrival forms all the time, and everyone was taking them, so how did you fail to take one? And when did you EVER enter or leave a country in Asia without having to fill in an arrival card or a departure card?
YOU NEED TO FILL IN A DEPARTURE CARD TO LEAVE THAILAND, AND AN ARRIVAL CARD TO ENTER CAMBODIA.
The process of entering Cambodia is very smooth provided you have your passport, your visa and the arrival card.
I then walked out of the immigration into Cambodia, and down the road was my pre-booked taxi driver waiting. I used Angkor Cars, who are based in Siem Reap, to book a taxi to pick me up from the border, mainly because I didn’t want to end up sharing transport with people who do not know how to fill in an arrival card. As I said, it took time to cross the border, so I was running late from my pick-up time. I called Angkor Cars and told them I’d be late, and they told me not to worry and that they’d let the driver now. So the driver was there waiting (it took a few minutes to find him, with me being late and all the other taxi drivers wanting to take me to Siem Reap, but my driver had my full name and my destination address in his mobile phone, so it was easy to confirm he really was my driver). I splashed out on the taxi because I wanted to treat myself – but if there are three of you (the maximum people they take in one car is three) it makes a lot of sense financially. You need to book it 72 hours in advance for a Poipet pick-up.
The drive to Siem Reap and to my guesthouse took less than two hours. The road is smooth and the traffic is not bad, and the scenery was interesting. It really was a breeze. And I still had not been approached by one single tout.
Aranyaprathet to Poipet in a Nutshell:
- Don’t take an organized package tour from Khao San Road or anywhere else. Organize your own transport. Buses to the border leave from Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus station and from Ekkamai bus station. Or take the morning train from Hualampong. AVOID PACKAGE TOURS FROM BANGKOK TO SIEM REAP.
- You need to EXIT THAILAND before you can ENTER CAMBODIA. You will not need a Cambodian visa until you are ENTERING CAMBODIA. You can get the e-visa online at this official government site: http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/
- or you can queue up and get it in the actual visa office AFTER YOU HAVE LEFT THAILAND AND HAVE BEEN STAMPED OUT OF THAILAND.
- To leave Thailand, you need your DEPARTURE CARD. To enter Cambodia you need an ARRIVAL CARD. Get the arrival card before you enter the Cambodian immigration building. Someone will be hanging around with a bunch of them.
- Check that you have been stamped out of Thailand before you leave Thai immigration, and check that you have been stamped into Cambodia before you leave Cambodian immigration.
- Don’t take the free shuttle bus on the Cambodian side to the international passenger transport centre or whatever they call it. Organize your own transport from Poipet to Siem Reap. There are taxi drivers hanging out after the immigration – you can negotiate with them, if you are in a group, or you can apparently find bus companies’ own offices where you can buy bus tickets directly.
- You will probably pay inflated prices for your transport if you go to the government transport centre. Or, you’ll wait forever for a bus. An old scam that has apparently reappeared recently in the transport centre goes something like this: when you board your scam bus to Siem Reap, someone who looks official claims that you have been given a wrong stamp at the Cambodian immigration, and that you will have to go back to get a new stamp. I’m not sure how this scam works, but it seems to involve you parting with your passport AND some money. Hello, alarm bells ringing inside your head? I don’t know how this works because I have not been a victim of this scam and even if they tried, pure common sense dictates that you DO NOT HAND OVER YOUR PASSPORT TO RANDOM PEOPLE EVEN IF THEY LOOK “OFFICIAL”. The only people who need to see your passport are the Thai immigration officials when you exit Thailand, and the Cambodian immigration officials when you enter Cambodia. Not some random guys who turn up at the bus station much later to demand your passport and your money! So always remember to check your stamp and check that it has that day’s date before you leave the Cambodian immigration building (or any immigration).
- Oh, and don’t wear beach clothes to immigration.
Really. A little common sense, and it is a breeze.
Photo: Darcy M (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)