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Crossing borders

The border Cambodia-Thailand border crossing

I have never crossed borders overland before this trip and now I have done it twice! Into Cambodia from Vietnam a few weeks ago and yesterday into Thailand from Cambodia. The border between Vietnam and Cambodia was easy peasy. We were on a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh and got off for less than ten minutes to show are passports and our faces to the border control and back on the same bus on the other side.

Travelling into Thailand from Cambodia was another story! We went from Siem Reap to the border town of Poipet and walked for 150 meters into the border town of Arranyapathet in Thailand on the other side. This time we had chosen to take a taxi to the border from Siem Reap because there is no through transport anyway.

We arrived at the Cambodia exit and there was a large crowd of people waiting to get their exit stamp. I don’t prize stamps, though they are quite nice to have, but unfortunately I needed one to then enter Thailand. So we waited with scores of other people wanting to get the heck out of Cambodia. After a while three immigration windows opened and e managed to get into more orderly queues. Luckily we found ourselves in a fast-moving one and within half an hour we had cleared Cambodia Immigration.

Now we had the 150 meters or so of no-man’s land to walk through to get to the other border. Many countries in SE Asia have a ban on gambling and the no-man’s lands between countries provide the perfect place where a gambler can go to spend money in seedy casinos. What I don’t understand is why if both border countries have ban on gambling do they allow it in a thin strip of land between them?

Celebrating our crossing with street-food.

Walking past these joints, we reached an area where 50 – 70 people were queueing outside the border post. Part of the queue was under thin shade but as you moved along at snail pace you would sometimes find yourself standing in the bright mid-day sun. This was 34 degrees with the humidity feeling a lot hotter than that. The queue took more than an hour to reach the border post where we could get into the building and cool down. Now there was another queue but in the A/C this didn’t feel nearly as bad and when I reached the immigration official and took my hat off he nearly didn’t recognise me with my hair stuck to my scalp with the litres of sweat that had dripped off me earlier. But he smiled a broad smile and welcomed me into Thailand.

The entire process took a little over two hours but I expect we had picked a busy day without realising it because there were also lots of Cambodians and Thai crossing which took up some of the officials’ time also.

I was disappointed with the Vietnam – Cambodia crossing – it was too easy. I had always imagined it to be arduous enough to celebrate afterwards. This felt more like it. Reaching Bangkok a few hours later, we celebrated in the only style we know how – crab, shrimp, oysters and squid washed down with a bottle of Singha!

  1. Natalie
    May 31, 2011 at 17:31

    Hi Shelley,
    We also will be crossing the same borders and was hoping you wouldnt mind answering my questions.
    For Vietnam to Cambodia border, did you have an e-visa or did you just do V.O.A?
    And with Cambodia to Thailand was there a reason for taxi to the border? Was it quicker?
    Thanks in advance and thanks for such great blogs.

    • May 31, 2011 at 20:38

      Hi Natalie,
      For Vietnam into Cambodia we got a VOA – we got a month which was enough for us. If you need more, you might have to do a border run. The whole thing was really easy and fast. We got a through bus and our bus conductor helped us with everything including getting the VOA. You just get back on the same bus on the other side and you don’t need to take luggage off. I highly recommend using Mekong Express as they have an English speaking driver and will help you through immigration.

      Re Cambodia into Thailand – you have a few options which I’ll go through in a moment. But understand that whichever option you choose, you will still have to do the following on your own:
      At the Cambodian side in Poipet you need to carry your bags around 150 meters (within it three queues). I saw some people offering to take your bags on a makeshift trolley – we didn’t like the idea of leaving our bags whilst we queued, sometimes inside buildings. The first queue is for your exit stamp for Cambodia. The second queue is just a overspill queue outside Thai immigration office as the office has A/C and if people stood at the door it will keep the door open and the A/C out. But there is another reason for this overspill queue. Thai and Cambodians seem to breeze through the system whereas foreigners have to wait in their own queue. Once you get to the top of the overspill queue, you will be let in at which point you will see several more queues – go to the shortest one which says foreigner. Don’t go to the visa queue. Then you walk outside on to the Thai side of Aranyapathet.

      Re transport, because Cambodia-Thai border doesn’t allow a through bus, we heard some horror stories about the conditions of buses. Depending upon the season they may just put you all in a mini-bus with your luggage around you on the Thai side. Siem Reap to Poipet is about 4 hours on the bus. Aranyapathet to Bangkok can take up to 6 hours on the bus. We took a taxi each side If you book in advance with oneof the travel agents you can get a taxi for $25 on the Cambodian side and as they are not going around picking up people from different hotels etc, you will be at the border within 2 hours.

      On the Thai side we had to pay 1,900 Baht or around $68 as the journey is twice as long and the taxi service has a fixed price. We got a very large air-conditioned car which took us straight to our hotel. It took three hours.

      Depending upon your budget and desire for comfort, you can choose the bus at both ends, taxi at both ends or a mix. Don’t forget that you only get a 15 day visa when you cross into Thailand by a land border. We arranged a three month visa in Cambodia. Good luck with everything and let me know if you have any more questions!


  2. Natalie
    June 5, 2011 at 21:27

    Thanks so much Shelley!
    Definately answered all my questions as wasn’t so sure on the bus to Bangkok from Siem
    Reap also.
    Hope your having a fabulous time!!

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