The closest international border to Siem Reap is located on the Thai/Cambodia border at the Cambodian city of Poipet with Aranyaprathet on the Thailand side.
If you are going Siem Reap<>Bangkok overland then you will be going through this border checkpoint. Reading previous reports on the internet, noting that some are quite dated, this was a horrendous place, and full of touts and scams. Perhaps it was or perhaps it’s just an exaggeration by one writer that became an urban myth, I not sure, but I went out of my way looking for a good scammer, touter or otherwise and left somewhat cheerily disappointed.
I first arrived into Cambodia via the Siem Reaps airport, filled out the form, paid the 35 dollars for an ordinary visa, and later when trying to get the 6-month visa extension found out it was a tourist visa. Actually, It seems got scammed at the airport, or the victim of a bureaucratic blunder. Bugger. At the end of the 30-day tourist visa, I had to cross the border and get a new visa and make sure it was an ordinary visa this time.
So, off to Poipet. I read all the horror stories on the net about this place and thought, sounds just like everywhere else in Asia, when money moves through an area, everyone tries to get a little bit. Which in many ways is fair enough, none of these people will be getting rich, just surviving.
To get from Siem Reap to Poipet I chose Mekong Express so I could go and return in one day as I had no urge to spend time in Thailand at this moment. The ticket cost was $7 each way.
Update 2018: Mekong Express no longer run SR<>Poipet service. I have used Capitol Tours bus from SR to Poipet and found it quite OK and super cheap when you buy the ticket from the old market office ($3.75). More about buses at the end of the post.
The vans from Mekong Express are new and super comfortable. The standard seats have been replaced with larger comfy leather seats that have individual armrests and also recline. On both trips, the bus departs right on time and the journey takes around 2HRS and 30 Min.
At no point did I feel unsafe, yes the driving style is a bit different but that’s Cambodia. I think if you tried to drive according to western customs you’d be more likely to be in a crash as no other driver would understand what you’re doing. It’s harmonious chaos, everyone understands each other through set ‘norms’ and there’s no ‘rage’ like you see in western countries, people just yield and move on. Anyway, both drivers were quite good.
The van, which seats 11 but was far from full, stops at the depot which is on the main road and a short walk from the border checkpoint.
Poipet is a ramshackle kind of place but characterful nonetheless. The border itself is somewhat unusual, you could walk across the border if you wanted too without getting stamped in or out! I don’t recommend doing it all the same.
What also makes it unusual is the casinos lodged in between the Cambodian border checkpoint and the Thai entry point. There are about 5 casinos in this Cambodian owned no-mans land offering traditional casino games and slots/poker machines. There are not new and are definitely showing their age but as far as Poipet goes, it’s about the comfortable place to hang out. More about those later, first let’s get across the border.
Crossing the border checkpoints – Poipet (Cambodia) to Aranyprathet (Thailand)
As you head towards the Cambodian border you will come to a roundabout, go to the right and you will see the departure hall. It looks a bit confusing and chaotic, partly due to the various paperwork and things that locals need to get stamped and so on which adds to the chaos. Ignore all that, grab your departure card from the officer sitting at the table, get in line and start filling it in. You’ll get to the window and simply show your passport and form, get your fingerprints scanned on the little machine and you’ll get stamped out. Walk out the ‘out’ door and head right towards Thailand.
Now, you are in the casino no-mans-land. If that’s not interesting, keep heading straight ahead towards the Angkor arch and once your through that look left as at the arch is the Cambodian visa office where you get your visa on the way back. But first, you need to cross the Thailand border, keep to the left and follow the signs.
As you enter the building, grab an entry/exit form and head to the end of the building keeping to the left. An officer there will check your form and passport and direct you upstairs. Upstairs is air conditioned and at the time I crossed there was only a five-minute line.
UPDATE 2018: This border is getting busier and busier on both sides, The line for Thai entry sometimes lasts over an hour. Early in the morning when they open at 7 am is a breeze, during the day is choked and I’m not sure about late afternoon/night.
As simple as that. No touts or scams at this point so far. And perhaps due to the time of day and time of year, no huge line-ups on either side.
On the Thai side of the border, you’ll immediately notice a new Star Plaza which features KFC, Watsons personal care store, Dunkin Donuts and some other shops. Across the road is a reasonably new budget hotel, the rest looks fairly ramshackle, and of course, there is the big Rong Kluea Market. This market is mainly for Thai shoppers but you may find it interesting as there shops selling cheap copy goods if that interests you. Be warned, the market is huge.
Note that everything here is in Baht. There are ATM’s at the Star Plaza, note the fees for foreign withdrawals which differ slightly from bank to bank but around 200 baht.
Border Checkpoint map and passenger flow
Image: Green line for leaving Cambodia with 1 marking the Cambodia Departure office to stamp out and 2 marking the Thai Checkpoint for visa and entry. The red line for leaving Thai with google marker showing Thailand Immigration point for stamping out, 3 marking the Cambodia Visa office and 4 marking the Cambodia Entry point to stamp in.
Crossing the border checkpoints – Aranyprathet (Thailand) to Poipet (Cambodia)
Going from the Thai side to the Cambodia side is just as simple. Stick to the left and follow the signs, note it’s easy to miss the sign the marks the entry to the walkway that leads you through to the departure building. But stick to the left and you should be OK.
After a minute walk, you’ll head upstairs again, get stamped out and walk back down and out into that Casino no-mans-land.
Head straight ahead towards the Angkor archway that marks the Cambodian border and on the right-hand side you’ll see the visa office right beside the archway. Go in, you’ll be handed a form and grab one from the table, fill that in and walk to the window. The officer will have a quick look, if all is OK he’ll ask for the money (30 for tourist and 35 for ordinary) and hand it to the officer inside for processing.
You will need a passport photo and if you don’t have one they will take a snap for you and charge you $3.
Now, apparently, this is where they ask for extra yum-yum money, but no one did. I even tempted fate by handing over 40 dollars and was handed back five dollars change! I sat down expecting this long wait, but no, in less than five minutes the passport was returned with the correct visa and I was on my way.
Update 2018: note the traditional Cambodia archway has now gone as has the old Cambodian visa office. Once you cross out of Thailand you will see a new white temporary building on the right-hand side where you can get your visa. On my last run, they were adamant that I pay $40 for an Ordinary Visa so rates have gone up a little or commision is non-negotiable now.
Poipet Casinos and the in-between border no-mans land
So with that job done, I looked left and saw one of the many songthaews (small truck with bench seating in the back) offering free rides to the casinos so I jumped on for a look. The ride only takes a few minutes to the furthest away which is Star Vegas. Crown Casino is nearby and Diamond, Grand Diamond, Dreamworld Casino are almost right at the border, Holiday Palace is a short walk but I did not venture to that one.
Again like I say, the casinos are not exactly new but as far as Poipet goes they are the best place to hang out away from the heat and dust. All of them have restaurants, some even have spas.
Everything is in Thai Baht, and the cashier can change currencies for you. Games on offer include roulette, card games, Paiboon and some may have poker and craps. I didn’t do any gambling so I can’t give you any comprehensive insight barring that these places must see a tonne of cash go through as apparently no ID is required to gamble. A money launders heaven? Maybe.
My first stop was Star Vegas, which seemed to be the most popular gauging from a number of people taking the songthaews in that direction. When it was new I am sure it would have been something special, but the shines definitely worn off. The food looked a bit sad so I went back out and got on the next songthaew heading back. Next stop was Crown Casino, I don’t know if it’s related to the Australian Crown Casino but I hope not, as the walls had mold in places, the food also looked fairly ordinary. Moving on from there to Dreamworld and it is huge but just as old, couldn’t see any good food so kept moving. I did see the internet gaming girls, stunning beauties dealing cards in front of a camera for live online gaming.
Onto the next and wandered into Grand Diamond City Resort, same condition, and everything looked much the same, the only stand-out was the Chillax Cafe, so I stopped here for a reasonable club sandwich. This is super easy to get to as it’s right beside the road you walk on going to between the borders and would be a great place to escape the heat between the border points. It’s just after the Angkor arch and before roundabout on the right-hand side heading towards Cambodia.
Moving on again, it’s time to go out through the Cambodian arrival hall which is on the right-hand side heading toward Cambodia, fill in your arrival and departure card which will get stapled into your passport, I don’t know why you have to fill in the departure card on arrival, but anyway. And it’s out the door into Poipet.
I did some wandering around Poipet and there’s not much to see but I did spot a temple.
With some time to fill in before the 7.30PM bus I headed back towards the border and on the right-hand side heading towards Thailand and just before Dreamworld casino found the Relax Corner Cafe, nothing amazing, but English speakers comfortable chairs and tasty yet spicy food, they also have a western menu ie. pizza and hamburgers. Note that prices are in Baht.
I hadn’t been scammed, approached for a scam, or even a tuk-tuk tout. Disappointed, I walked around the alleged roundabout of corruption and didn’t get approached, by ANYONE. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t walk anywhere in Siem Reap without constant hollas of ‘tuk tuk sir’, ‘where you go sir’…
Bugger, I left without any stories to tell about being ‘scammed’ and boarded the van at the depot and after a comfy ride was back to the apartment in Siem Reap.
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More info on buses which run between Siem Reap and Poipet
Capital Tours (Coach) – capitoltourscambodia.com
Siem Reap to Poipet Daily at 8 AM – Poipet to Siem Reap daily at 8 AM
Virak Buntham VET – virakbuntham.com
Siem Reap to Poipet daily at 12.30AM and 8.00AM with more services during the high season
Several buses from Poipet to Siem Reap at night that are coming through from Bangkok.
Both of the above are clean buses with air conditioning. They are not brand new but quite OK.
I have also used random buses from Poipet to SR, which are often parked at the front of the Grand Diamond City Casino that is between the two border checkpoints. They are waiting for passengers to do their border formalities, just ask if they have spare seats going your way. You may pay $10 for a ticket which is pricey, but, it is very convenient.
There is also a Virak Buntham bus office on the righthand side of the roundabout after you clear Cambodian immigration and they have several buses at night heading to Siem Reap.
2018 Update: These services have stopped operating Siem Reap <> Poipet bus service
Cambodia Post VIP Van (Van) bookmebus.com
Siem Reap to Poipet daily at 1.30PM – Poipet to Siem Reap daily at 8AM Mekong Express (Van) catmekongexpress.com
Siem Reap to Poipet daily at 7.30AM – Poipet to Siem Reap daily at 7.30PM