The highlight of arriving in Poipet is leaving. This can be done essentially in three ways – via package trip (known universally as the ‘bus scam’), private taxi or public transport. No matter what option there are literally thousands of horror stories from those who have not taken the time to prepare themselves adequately for the assault by transport touts, so below is information essential for you to be aware of to make sure your time on the border is as painless and swift as possible.
The border is open daily from 07:00-20:00, with Cambodia immigration notorious for applying ‘discretionary’ charges for everything from arriving too early, too late, paying in baht, not having some made-up medical insurance certificate and various other imaginative schemes designed to extract and extra dollar or two.
Arriving from Thailand by bus or train in Aranyaprathet is easy, as is getting to the border crossing itself by Songthaew or tuk-tuk, around five kilometres from the Thai town. Most public buses now drop off at the market area just west of immigration, so follow the crowds or ask a street vendor if you are unsure of the direction.
Avoid anybody masquerading as an ‘official’, no matter how authentic and well-informed they might appear, these are just part of the local travel mafia. Steer well clear also of the Cambodian Consulate or any building/ office that has signs advertising Cambodian visas and ignore all advice about having to get your visa in advance. This is completely untrue and just designed to dupe more tourists out of their hard-earned cash.
Cambodian visas are available on arrival at a cost of US$20. A fee of US$1 or US$2 may apply if you arrive after 17:00 or on weekends or public holidays. If you only have Thai currency you will be charged at least 1,000 baht (US$30) so save yourself the headache and make sure you have a US$20 note plus a couple of US$1 bills. There is no departure fee from Thailand and there is one bank/ ATM/ exchange booth after Thai immigration that offers surprisingly good rates.
After leaving Thailand, walk across the border zone to the small Cambodian immigration office, which becomes very crowded at lunchtimes when tour buses arrive. Grab an entry card (from the table on the left-hand side as you enter) and complete before you get to the window or queue again, you do not need any help to fill in your details despite the offers. Make sure you have one passport photo.
Then it’s a case of handing your arrival card to the one of two windows that may or may not be open and are usually staffed by half a dozen uniformed officers sharing the workload. This can take two or 15 minutes, depending on whether there is food in the office or if a tout has just arrived with a stack of passports and tips. If you are asked to pay any more than what we’ve said then point to the sign above the window which clearly states that visas are US$20. As in all border situations, staying peacefully calm will make thing easier.
The easiest way to navigate these hurdles is to obtain the remarkably efficient e-Visa online before you arrive for US$25.
Leaving by taxi
Once through immigration then you face the next hurdle, the Poipet travel mafia. Free shuttle buses wait to carry you to the transport depot which is around one kilometre away. A sophisticated operation, this will present you to the taxi depot where you can wait for a car, but the wait is not normally long, as you will be paying over the top rates for a seat. Do not listen to touts telling you to change money, just go to the counter window and buy a ticket in riel, baht or dollars.
A seat in a private taxi is currently US$12 to Siem Reap, US$12 to Battambang or US$5 to Sisophon. If you want to wing it on your own and find your own to your destination, tell the scrum on the border you are staying the night in Poipet, then wander five minutes down the main road where private taxi operators can be found, where seats can be considerably cheaper. However, local police take a kickback from the travel mafia so these can be hard to find. A private car costs from US$25-$50.
Leaving by bus
The Poipet bus station is 1.5kms from the border. There is technically a public bus service to Siem Reap, with tickets officially costing US$9. When they leave is anyone’s guess, you may have to wait for hours, and will be taken for a mandatory rest-stop at a commission paying restaurant and dropped off who knows where at your eventual destination. Buses have been forced out of business by the taxi mafia, and the roads, which are now blessedly sealed, are clogged by the ever present Toyota Camry – the official taxi of Cambodia (minus the sign).
Arriving in Siem Reap
Tour buses and most ‘official taxis’ will drop you off at a faux transport depot around two kilometres from the city centre, where a horde of tuk-tuk drivers await. You really don’t have a lot of option or bargaining power here, especially if arriving after dark. Make sure you do tell them you have a booking at a guesthouse (if you don’t, then find a hotel in the city centre and claim to be staying there), or you will be taken to a commission paying establishment. Independent taxi drivers will usually take you to your desired location
Arriving in Battambang
Much simpler than in Siem Reap thanks to the smallness of the town and lack of tourists, similar shenanigans to the above may occur but only half-heartedly and are easily worked around.
Getting around in Poipet
Short trips by moto to a nearby restaurant, pharmacy, hotel, post office or bank will cost 1,000 riel. There is nothing much else worth ‘getting around’ to. You can walk from the border to noodle stalls and the odd shop but forget the camera, this is not an attractive stroll, and you will probably be hassled every step of the way.