The West of Cambodia


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Description :
A busy dusty town with lots of officials, paperwork, trucks & scams !

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What to do ? Fill up forms : Customs & Health declarations plus the arrival & departure cards / Get three different chops on your visa / Give your passport & form to the Custom officer / Visit the Quarantine Officer / Get our passports back / During all the above, keep your belongings thights : there are thieves around ! / If on tour from Khao San Rd, walk toward a new van for a 3mn ride or, if by yourself, walk 10mn toward the truck station / Have your passports checked one last time / Loose your smile while discovering the pick-up truck / Test the solidity of your backpack / Become very close friend with your fellow travelers / Or just change your mind about traveling and go loose your money at any of the three casinos ! / Complain about any long wait at any table or of any company offering substandard services. / If on your own, ask to go first to Sisophon (B50) and then change truck to Siem Reap (B100). Remember that some trucks are heading to Battambang and that scams are not unheard of. 

What you may not like ? The long wait at a table so that the tour company can get some commission over your order of food & drinks (the same thing is likely to happen at Sisophon) / Having to do all the above games under an heavy sun / Alternatively, falling for the scam of all those guys who wish to help you with the formalities (you do not need them !) / All the other "touts" for casinos, guesthouses or whatever ! / Having to pay a B50 "fine" if you forgot to bring your International Vaccination Certificate (or photocopies of it) : yes, another scam ! / Possibly some other forms of extortions for a few dollars, like asking you to buy some medication... Walk away !  / The usual overloading if traveling with local passengers / Showing at Siem Reap at night because of all those restauration breaks (easier this way for the tour company to recommend its guesthouse !) / If on your own, giving the money to the truck driver before reaching destination : always a bad idea !

How long ? As short as possible

Where to stay ? As far away as possible. 

Where to eat ? Whatever the place you eat, eat light ! 

Cambodian Visa ? Yes, it is possible to get one at the border and, contrary to what some travel agency in Bangkok will tell you, you will be delivered a standard 1 month visa. One traveler however reported a two hours queue. It cost B1000 (in theory, you should be able to pay $20 as well but, in practice, only Bahts are accepted by those corrupt officials who keep the $2 difference) plus one photo. If paying in Bahts or in a hurry, it is therefore more advantageous to have your visa arranged by an agency in Bangkok (B900, 1 working day) but remember that this visa will start from the date of issue. Not so good if you plan to visit N-E Thailand first... The border is open daily from 7:30am to 5pm. 

How to arrive from Bangkok & continue to Siem Reap ?  Of course, you could take one of the two daily train (B40, 6 hours, 3rd class) or, faster (4 hours) and more comfortable, one of the hourly bus from the Northern Bus Terminal (Morchit Bus Terminal) for around B150. You will arrive at Aranyaprathet's bus station, 6km from the border. The motorbike ride will cost you another B50. Since you did not come all the way for loosing money at the casino, you will then have to arrange for an onward transport to Siem Reap. The first offers will be at around US$10... Of course, you should pay less (around B150 for the front seat) !  The cheap trucks are a bit away from the border. But then, once in Sisophon, you may have to pay more if you wish to continue or wait a long time ! A lot of scams running... In total, it is likely to take you the whole day and require a lot of bargaining energy to reach Siem Reap. As for the total cost... The other option ? Simply to go with a tour from Khoa San Road : it should cost you no more than B300 and, although some companies have long waiting times at partners' restaurants, it is relatively stress free. Just make sure you go with a reliable company !  (updated Oct 01)

Leaving Poipet ? This is indeed why you came here !

To Thailand : the border is open from 7:30 to 17 daily. From Aranyaprathet to Bangkok, two trains daily at 13:35 arr. 19:15 and at 06:30 arr. 11:50. Also buses to other localities. 

To Siem Reap (Angkor) : A few local pick-up are supposed to leave in the early morning but you may wish (or have) to wait for the westerners' tours coming from Khao San Rd at around 1pm : the road is the same but it is usually less crowded, you can discuss philosophy and even find yourself in the front seat. Cost for local or western options should be similar at around B300. This is what other travelers will have paid for their Khao San Rd to Siem Reap experience so you could maybe negotiate to travel in more comfort. Our company Sara did not make distinctions but other may charge more for the front-seat privilege. Note : At least one rip off was reported with a Company (which one ?) operating between Khao San Rd & Siem Reap. In the middle of nowhere, the pick-up "broke down". By "chance", another empty pick-up showed up. Problem is : each traveler was charged $15 for the remaining journey...

To Battambang : Going there first, visit, then catch a boat to Siem Reap ($15, 3.5 hours) is an interesting options which should be considered if traveling on your own. Indeed, pick-up trucks are much more frequent than to Siem Reap as the road is much better and it is only 3 hours away. It should cost around $4 inside or $3 outside.

Save the road ! Having heard that the Cambodian Minister Hun Sen had decided (May 99) to upgrade the road between Sisophon and Siem Reap, I decided to act and created the DOTWONRAA : Defense Of The Worst Official National Road of Asia Association ! Backpackers of all countries, join me to preserve our patrimony ! Indeed, what will happen if all the roads become flat & lean ? If traveling by road to Siem Reap becomes as boring as by plane ? Where will we have to go for a taste of real adventure ? There is however one good news about it : if not closed, the road during repair is likely to become even worse !  Note (Oct 01) : OK, so I have lost that fight. The road has been repaired and my above association dissoluted !

Backpacker's Tips :  Mark, USA (Dec 05)
 I don't know where to put this Warning to fellow travlers about the scam at the border when the bus stops. The travel agent will tell you they no longer take dollars in Siem Reap and youm must change money at the border. WELL it turns out they are LYING ANd give you a horrible exchange rate I met many fellow travlers in Siem Reap that this happened to. Dollars and Baht are the preffered currency here! 

Backpacker's Tips :  Didier Ketelbuters, Belgium (Nov 05)
 ATM : Haleluya, the first ATM's have been installed in Cambodia. We saw one today (08/12/2005) in Sorya Shopping center and one one the street next to the river. The second one aparantly also gives dollars and there is no commission. So anyone only armed with a banccard can get around as from now.

Backpacker's Tips :  Jia, Malaysia (Feb 04)
 DO NOT exchange money when you reach Poipet (your guide would probably tell you to), there are plenty of places in Siem Reap where you can get your money exchanged and the exchange rate is so much better.

Backpacker's Tips :  Anonymous (Sept 01)
 The road from Poipet to Siem Reap has been upgraded. The new road opened in May 2001. It now takes about 4 hours to cover the 160km.

Backpacker's Tips : Tam Chiwai, Hong Kong (Sept 00)
 Aranya Prathet is the border town to Cambodia in Thailand. Stay at Aran Garden 2, B180, clean and with bath. The Border Bar is the place to hang out in the evening : the owner, Miles, is American, a musician who play real good music, a friendly guy who can get you any information you need. The border is only a few km away, B5 with a songthaew will get you there. There is a huge market right at the border, where you probably can find everything.

The trip to Siem Reap : SSS or dust / Left, right, up or down, depending of your spatial position / B300 (from Bangkok)  / 6 hrs / Pick-up truck
How to make a (un)digestible trip to Siem Reap ? 1/ Take a small pick-up truck with four AC seats in the front and a medium sized open area in the back for usually up to 11 peoples. 2/ Dispose all the backpacks on the floor of the pick-up bed 3/ Add a layer of backpackers on top of it 4/ Shake well while heating in the sun & the dust for 6 to 9 hours. After that, passengers are ready to be served anything !
Our Camel Trophy trip actually went pretty well : we crushed each other, shared the heat & dust of the road, crossed dilapidated bridges, bumped on lunar soil, enjoyed a pick-up mug bath & a flat tire, took a rain shower and discovered Cambodia's night. Friendships are created that way !
The four people (sometimes up to 6) in the front obviously did not have as much fun nor photos opportunities as in the back but certainly more comfort in the AC cabin, as well as a better perspective of the road's problems ahead. We were supposed to make turn but, believe it or not, not too many wanted to quit the hard-fun area ! I was sent to the front after 1.5 hours of relatively good road (up to Sisophon) and I finished the trip there. My back certainly appreciated...
So, as a whole, the road was up to its reputation : TERRIBLE ! It can easily compete in the worst road of Asia's competition and, in case of rain, may actually win and get closed. But, be warned, it is not challenging for the driver (the hero of the day !) nor the passengers (the victims) all the way : one third is actually OK (in other countries, those sections would qualify as bad but Cambodia obviously need its own scale of measurement). 
We arrived in Siem Reap at 19:30, that is nearly on time ! The driver took us to Green Park GH and it was good that the rooms were clean & acceptably priced because not too may people were feeling strong enough to walk the town for another option... 

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