The most popular way to get to Siem Reap from Bangkok is through the Aranyaprathet / Poi Pet border with crazy cheap private bus packages purchased mainly in and around Khao San Road. The catch is although the price is vastly cheaper than any other destination on offer, drivers cram minibuses to the brim in Bangkok and aggressively push the Cambodian visa at inflated prices. Last year, like many do, we took this option. It was during the political protests which held our minibus up by over an hour, on top of this the constant stops, visa tout and restricted space led us to choosing the train this time round.
Bangkok to the border town of Aranyaprathet
Trains run from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok to the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet twice daily with third class tickets costing a mere 48thb. They depart at 5:55 and 11:35 in the morning and arrive in Aranyaprathet at 13:05 and 17:35 respectively though delays are likely. From here the border is a 10 minute tuk tuk ride for around 60thb – be aware Aranyaprathet city doesn’t have much to it and tuk tuks aren’t found commonly anywhere other than the train station.
At the border; immigration & visas
Once at the border we bought usd from Kasikorn Banks currency exchange next to the train tracks (usually we would have sorted it out the day before), we then cracked on to Thai immigration who process departure cards fairly quickly.
Then we needed our Cambodia visas, many people miss the building due to poor signage and being distracted by the welcome archway (the visa office is to the right of the archway). Visa costs increased to $30usd in 2014 yet the officials still try to con an extra 100thb from applicants. I pointed to the official sign above the window, smiled, showed them my previous visas and insisted at $30 exactly until they took our passports albeit with disapproved head shaking.
Once you have your Cambodian visa walk straight on until you reach the queue for Cambodian immigration. Keep an eye out for somebody handing out entry and departure forms as you will need to fill these out in the queue in order to get through immigration.
From Poipet to Siem Reap by taxi
As soon as you exit immigration turn right, and head straight on (you will see plenty of people waiting around for a bus and if you need water you can get it here). You will likely be stopped and asked ‘where are you going?’ And ‘how are you getting there?’ If you say by taxi someone will try and arrange it for you, often at a higher price with waiting times – instead just say you’re having a walk about before you decide what you’re doing.
Walk on for about another 20 metres and you will see quite a few beige Toyota Camry’s (the taxi of choice in Cambodia). A driver will usually approach you and likely offer a fare of $35-$40 but you can get to Siem Reap for $30 and most will agree on this price. It’s a lot for one person but when shared between two or three, is in my opinion, worth the extra money for the additional space, speed and direct route – yes no stopping! The journey takes around 2 and a half hours.
Going from Bangkok to Siem Reap by train and taxi was more expensive but it got us there faster, in more comfort and was definitely a more enjoyable journey than via minibus. If you don’t mind spending a bit more then it’s a good alternative option.
Third class on Thai trains
Third class is the cheapest available but is still an enjoyable way to travel. The seats are hard so if you have a pillow / jumper or blanket available keep it to hand for use as a cushion. There is no air con on third class but with the windows open and ceiling fans on the carriages stay pleasantly cool. Snacks and drinks are available to buy from individual vendors on the train.
One thing to bear in mind, if you are on the train to Aranyaprathet during the hot season, is the dust which flows through the train windows – it might be worth getting a face mask. At this time of year the farmers burn their rice paddies and when we reached Aranyaprathet we were covered in a fine soot!
Third class carriage
Thai pork scratchings from a train vendor