In every tourist destination around the world you will invariably…
If you’ve ever travelled South East Asia you’ve probably heard a lot of stories about the Poi Pet border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia. It’s notorious for scams. I’ve also heard a few scarier tales as well. So I count myself lucky that my trip over the border was relatively uneventful. I had booked my ticket through my hostel a couple of days before for the Government Bus that takes you all the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I had been expecting the usual mini bus that picks you up from the hostel but the lady at the tour desk explained that they don’t use any of those services anymore because they are the most problematic. Instead she would book me onto the Government Bus that leaves from Mo Chit Bus Terminal. It was an interesting process. Once it was booked for me I had to take the reservation to the nearest 7eleven to pay for my ticket. But other than that it was a relatively pain free process. The ticket costs about 790 baht plus a small commission fee if you have someone book it for you like I did. Or if you have printer access you can book it yourself here.
I made my way to Mo Chit by taxi. I could have taken the sky train and a taxi from there but it seemed like less hassle to just take a taxi the whole way. Once I arrived I had to find the Thai Ticket Major counter to exchange my reservation receipt for the real ticket. After that it was just a matter of waiting around for the bus. There were quite a few other backpackers waiting for the bus as well so it’s easy to find people to chat to while you wait and on the bus itself. I was lucky enough to be sitting next to a fellow travel blogger, Bridget from Bridgeting the Gap. We spent the ride to the border comparing notes and chatting about travel and life in general. When we arrived at the border, by unspoken agreement, we stuck together to navigate the process.
When you get off the bus you are directed to a table where some Thai “officials” will organise your visa for you. You don’t need to stop here. I repeat. You do not need to stop here. You get your visa from the Visa On Arrival desk after you go through Thai Immigration and the Cambodian Quarantine Desk. Just follow the signs. Once I arrived at the VOA desk I was unpleasantly surprised to spot a sign saying that the visa cost USD30 plus a 100baht processing fee. That being said I had checked the price of getting the e-visa and it was the same (except for the ridiculous online processing fee). So I think the cost has legitimately been increased from the USD20 I was expecting to pay. The “100baht processing fee” has always been a scam but now they’ve put it in writing so it’s pretty much impossible to avoid paying it. It’s still cheaper than the fee on the e-visa anyway.
The visa on arrival process is pretty simple. When you walk in the door you’re handed an application to fill out (Bring a pen with you). To this you attach a passport photo (don’t worry too much if you forgot to bring one you can pay an additional USD5 and still get the visa) and then take it to the desk with your passport and hang around for five minutes. Hey, presto! You now have your visa. However, a word to the wise. I keep my passport in a cover and I tend to keep some emergency cash inside it. The officials emptied out my passport of the paper and cash inside only leaving my stash of passport photos. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not since they gave the money back to me quite readily after making a show of looking for it. But I will be taking my passport out of its cover from now on.
Once you have your visa you then head to immigration and wait in yet another line. This is where you are given your arrival and departure cards to fill out. The immigration process is pretty standard. Hand over your passport, have your finger prints scanned, get your stamp and go. It is a long wait inside a hot shed though. I’d advise having a bottle of water with you and try and get into the line closest to the windows. After Bridget and I had our stamps we headed back to the bus to wait for everyone else. In total it took about two hours for everyone to make it through the border crossing which is about the only downside I found from taking a large bus with something like 40 people on it. I would still rather do that wait and avoid the mini bus though. I have heard so many scams associated with the mini bus. For an example check out BackpackerBanter‘s experience from the latter half of 2013. It’s still pretty relevant today and I’ve had this article bookmarked for a long time in preparation for when I made this border crossing myself. Still not as bad as the experience one of my room mates in Siem Reap had on his border crossing though. Not only was he scammed at the border but his minibus driver attempted to kick him off the bus in the middle of nowhere claiming that he didn’t know where to go. My roommate had to threaten the driver and then use google maps to direct the him. I’m not sure which side of the border this happened on. Either way it’s still pretty bad. I happen to agree with the tour lady at the hostel in Bangkok now. Minibuses are just not worth it. Spend the extra money and take the government bus. The only thing I would say is make sure that you don’t put any valuables inside your luggage and padlock it anyway. Take your valuables into the bus with you. I have heard a few stories of things going missing from bags under buses. Don’t take the risk.
We arrived in Siem Reap shortly before dusk at the bus office. As soon as you get off the bus you are swarmed by tuk-tuk drivers and they will latch themselves onto you. Following you until they convince you to climb into their tuk-tuk. I already had a reservation and I met two girls that planned to go to the same hostel and see if there was any beds available. The tuk-tuk driver attempted to convince them that it was full and that he knew a hotel that they could stay in. I left them to argue with him and went to change the last of my baht. While the lady was sorting out the exchange I asked her how much I should pay for a tuk-tuk to get to Pub Street which is really close to my hostel. She told me I didn’t need a tuk-tuk, it was only 5 minutes walk down the street. The tuk-tuk driver had tried to tell me that my hostel was really far away. Later while I was waiting to check in the two girls from earlier walked into the hostel and found out that there were in fact beds available. My first impression of Cambodia wasn’t a very good one. But I learned over the next few days to keep an open mind. First impressions aren’t always right.
Procedure for Crossing the Border
1. Thai Immigration
On the left hand side of the road. Follow the signs. Line up, hand over your departure card with your passport and get your exit stamp.
2. Cambodia Quarantine Check
First thing you’ll see after you come out of the Thai Immigration. Fill out a form to declare that you don’t have any serious tropical diseases.
3. Visa On Arrival
Across the road to the right after quarantine. Line up, fill out your application and attach your passport photo, hand over your passport and pay the fee.
4. Cambodian Immigration
Walk past the the casino on the right-hand side of the road. Line up, fill out your arrival card, have your finger prints scanned and get your entry stamp in your passport