The city near Angkor Wat is Siem Reap. You can get a connecting flight there from Bangkok for as little as $50, I'm told, but I opted to take the land journey. This gave me two options - train or bus. In the end I took the bus after my friend had taken the train the day before. Here is what we learned and why I recommend the bus.
My friend's Thai visa ran out and so he needed to be out of the country or pay a fine for overstaying his visa. Therefore, he had to cross to Cambodia on the day that I was flying over from the U.S. and he could not wait for me. He opted to take the train and later discouraged me from taking it myself.
There are two daily trains that leave for the border with Cambodia - at 05:55 in the morning and the afternoon one at 1:05. They start at Hualamphong station in downtown Bangkok and make a few stops as it heads out of the city. In fact, when I was deciding, my hotel concierge was telling me not to go all the way downtown so early in the morning when the train was going to pass by a closer station to my airport hotel anyway. The issue, according to my friend Rod, is seats. He got on at the Hualamphong station and ended up with the last seat. He warned me if I got on at a later station, I risked having to stand for part of the journey, who knows how long.
While the train is super cheap, less than $2, you need to also keep in mind the following:
- the seats are hard,
- it only goes as far as the border,
- it takes six hours,
- you'll need to cart your own luggage,
- you have to still get from the border to Siem Reap.
Rod had quite a sore butt after the train trip and then had to deal with the rest of his journey. Once off the train you have to navigate your way through both Thai and Cambodian immigration. (More on that in the bus section.) Between the two points is a No Man's Land that is wide enough that there are several casinos and hotels within it. That means lugging you baggage quite a distance. After you cross into Cambodia, you need to figure out further transportation for the 2.5 hour trip to get to Siem Reap. This is where you need to be especially careful because there are scammers waiting for tourists to offer transportation at inflated prices or through trickery. In Rod's case, they told him there were no more buses and he would have to take a taxi. He and a Canadian who was on the same train shared a taxi. They were told $20 and that they would be taken to their hotels in Siem Reap. Instead, they were dropped off at some place on the edge of town and then the guy tried to raise the price to $40. They paid him his $20 and walked away.
In contrast, my bus trip was smooth, pleasant, and without any hitches.
The bus is government sponsored and goes all the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Tickets are sold online via Thai Ticket Major. You can also buy the tickets the day of as there is always seats available. My bus was only a quarter full, so I had my own row. You will want to get the morning bus that leaves from Morchit bus station at 8:00 am. Expect about an 8 hour journey. The cost is 750 Thai baht, which is about $21.
Here are the reasons why the bus is better and I'll go into more details as well.
- Reasonable price
- Single bus the whole trip, with your luggage never having to leave the bus
- Air conditioned
- Reclining seats
- A breakfast snack and water are provided when you board
- A simple lunch of fried rice is provided
- A yellow badge which means "hands off" to those scammers at the border
- Free tuk tuk from the end station to your hotel
When we boarded the bus we were each given a bottle of water and then a snack of a croissant and cookie. The trip to the border took 4.5 hours, of which I slept much of it because I was still dealing with jet lag.
At the border you disembark and they point you to the border. This part was a bit confusing because there isn't very good signage and they don't drop you right in front of the office. As soon as you get off you will be harassed by touts who will try to make a few bucks off you, oftentimes via scamming by telling you you need to go here or do this. If you wear the yellow badge the bus company gives you, you can just flash it at them and ignore them.
Once you pass through Thai immigration, there will be No Man's Land with the casinos. It's about a quarter of a mile wide. You will find that your bus is now in No Man's Land parked in front of one of the casinos. You must now continue through Cambodian immigration and then return to the bus.
You can go through Cambodian immigration and do the paperwork, fees, and processing on-site, but I had opted to pay a few dollars more and do it online before I even left the States. If you do in on-site, you will need to have extra passport photos on you. I recommend doing it online for convenience. The three of us who had online visas breezed through and were back on the bus in no time. We had to wait for everyone else to finish processing. All told, the stop for immigration took about an hour.
Somewhere along the way, I can't remember if it was in Thailand or Cambodia, we made a brief stop where the bus picked up our lunches. We were given more water and a light meal of fried rice, which I enjoyed.
The trip from the border to Siem Reap took another 2.5 hours. Upon arrival at the bus depot there, we were greeted by a swarm of tuk tuk drivers. They are paid by the bus company to take you to your hotel for free.
You'll soon learn that tuk tuk trivers will try to negotiate business from you for the rest of your stay in town. Basically the goal for any tuk tuk driver is to become your one and only personal driver. But like all things in Southeast Asia, prices are negotiable. So don't make any deals without getting several price quotes or unless you like a particular driver.
I figured I'd end with a few more words on the scamming touts at the border. Some of the tricks I've heard are:
- taking you to a currency exchange when you don't need to go
- taking you to a pre-processing place for your visa or misdirecting you along the process
- making you get a Cambodian visa at the Thailand side which is more expensive than just going to the Cambodian immigration a few yards away
- lying about transportation or processing
- charging inflated prices for transportation
- extra fees for the $20 visa which the agents just pocket