Several people have asked me how to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia from Bangkok and back again. While it’s not actually that difficult, there are a few things to be aware of when making the trip to Siem Reap so you avoid some pitfalls that other travelers have encountered.
The first thing I suggest is give yourself plenty of time. Everything takes longer than you are told. Buses will leave late, there will be several stops and lots of waiting. There is nothing you can do about this, it’s just par for the course in SE Asia.
Bangkok to Siem Reap
Whatever you do, don’t take the minibuses from Khao San Road in Bangkok to Siem Reap. You will just get screwed and it will take 20 hours or more to get to Siem Reap, assuming you actually make it.
Just go the central bus terminal, Mochit Station. You can take the BTS to the station and then pay 20 baht for a motorcycle to the bus station itself. If you are not comfortable with this, take a taxi. Remember, traffic can increase the cost, but if you use the meter you will probably end up paying around 150-200 baht, depending on where you are coming from.
There is no need to reserve bus tickets in advance. Buses leave often, about every half hour or hour starting around 7 or 7:30 in the morning. The schedule changes often, though it always remains roughly the same. You will ask for a ticket to Aranyaprathet. Expect to pay about 230 baht or so and for the ride to take about 4 hours. The bus will stop several times, but it’s not for you to rest. You will see officials get on the bus and look at IDs. Typically they are not interested in foreigners, but have your passport ready just in case they want to look. They are looking for non-Thai (and non-white) people to harass or extort money from.
You will arrive at Aranyaprathet and there will be a lot of tuks tuks that want to take you to the border. Expect to pay about 80-100 baht to the border. If you can get it for less, great, but 80 baht is a fair price.
The tuk tuk drivers will take you to a nice white building that has a big sign out front that says “Visa Border.” That you should tip you off that something is not right. I mean, what is a visa border? This is a scam. You ask the driver to take you to the real border, and some will, but most will still run through this little operation because they get a kick back. When the tuk tuk arrives, don’t get out. Just say “No!” firmly. They will let you go on your way and the tuk tuk will take you very short distance to the border.
There will be lots of people who want to help you. Most of them just want you to use their minivan service to Siem Reap, so they are actually somewhat helpful even though you don’t need their help. You will go to your left and enter Thai immigration to get stamped out of Thailand (don’t forget this or you will find coming back nearly impossible).
Once you are out of Thai immigration you head across the bridge. You will be asked to complete a quarantine form in Cambodia once you reach the other side of the bridge. This is normal and there are no fees involved. From there turn right to get your visa. The cost is $20 plus 100 baht if you don’t have a photo. Complete a form and give them the money. They might ask for more money, but politely decline. You can point to the signs that indicate the prices. Just remain firm and they will relent quickly.
When you have your visa in hand, walk up the road to the Cambodian immigration office (also on the right side—you’re now in Cambodia where they drive like most of the world, on the right side). You will complete an entry form and get stamped into the country.
Now you need to get from Poipet to Siem Reap. There is a government bus that is free that will take you to the bus station. There are a few options. You can hire a taxi/private car to Siem Reap for around $50-70. A minibus is about $65, so if there are several of you to split the cost that is a good and comfortable option. The prices are negotiable but in all the times I’ve gone, I’ve never been able to negotiate any prices once they tell you what it is. I’m good at negotiating, but maybe you are better. Finally, there are actual minibuses that leave when they are full and cost about $10-12. The price is posted inside where you buy the ticket and the price is not negotiable.
Typically I try to find a minibus before I reach the bus terminal so that way I can leave sooner instead of waiting. I am willing to pay around $10-15 in order to go a bit more quickly. I’ve waited at the terminal for hours before and it’s not fun. Your own minibus or car is also faster. There are fewer stops (though you will hear about how the tires need a rest or the driver needs a rest—just give him 5 minutes and then ask to be on your way). You will end up in Siem Reap in about 2-2½ hours. They will probably switch you over to a tuk tuk to take you to your hotel. This is not included if you buy the regular minibus ticket at the terminal; you’ll need to find you own way to your hotel. No worries, Siem Reap is small and a tuk tuk should not cost more than $2 for anywhere in the main area.
Siem Reap to Bangkok
Getting back to Bangkok is significantly easier. There are fewer scams and you can book all the way through without the worry of getting screwed like in Thailand. All of the travel agencies and hotels can book you a ticket to Bangkok. My hotel booked mine for $12, though you can get them for as low as $8 at travel agencies (I was being lazy and my hotel staff is super awesome, so I just ate the extra $4).
You will be picked up at your hotel and taken to the bus station, which is really just a stop in the city where most backpackers hang out. Getting on the bus is a bit of a cluster since they just pour people in until its full, so try to keep an eye on your bags so you know they are on the same bus as you.
You’ll be bused to the boarder. They will ask for your ticket when you get on the bus and when you get off (they need it so they get paid). There will be a stop along the way to the border. When you reach the border they will give you a sticker. Ostensibly someone will go along with you, but it becomes a bit of a cluster. So just head for the border to get stamped out of Cambodia, then walk across the bridge (remember to switch sides since your going into Thailand). Find the line that indicates “Foreigners.” There you will get your entrance form, or if the line is short they are inside.
For most nationalities, Thailand will give you 14 days at the land border. So if you need more, get a visa in advance. Once you are through Thai immigration, wait outside. Your driver is looking for you! Believe it or not, they are keeping track and will find you if you wait and you haven’t lost your sticker. If you have, find another person and ask where you color of sticker is and they will help you.
From here you get on a song thaw and are taken to a restaurant when they make you wait for about 30-45 minutes. They want you buy something. I usually bitch and moan a bit and can get on a minibus sooner. They will pack it full, usually making another stop to pick up more people.
Thais are rather odd and think that filling their tank will cause them to get bad gas mileage, so you will make 2 or 3 stops at least to gas up before reaching Bangkok. It will take about 4 hours and the drivers are crazy, so be prepared. They will not be dropping you off at a regular bus station either. Most of them take you to Khao San Road.