Getting ready to leave
1. I’m assuming you’re staying on Khao San Road. Try not to party the night before you leave. Make sure you have at least two passport photos. Go to 7-11 and buy food for tomorrow. Charge your iPod at an Internet cafe. Buy an orange juice from one of the street vendors. Go to your guesthouse, take off your clothes, and set your alarm for 09:45. Fall asleep.
2. Wake up when your alarm goes off. You have to catch a train at 13:05 at the main train station (Hualamphong). Get dressed and pack your bags. Take them to the reception. Check out. Tell the reception that you’re going to Siem Reap and ask if it would be okay to store your bags behind the desk for an hour. They will oblige you. Give them your bags.
3. Get breakfast at one of the bars on Khao San. Save money by ordering a Thai breakfast, rather than a European one. As an even cheaper alternative, find a street vendor that serves noodle soup for about 30 Baht ($1).
4. Go to your guesthouse. It should be 11:00. Take your bags from the reception and say goodbye. Make sure you have your passport, your extra passport photos, and your money. Go to the end of Khao San that has the police station. A lot of tuk-tuks will be there. Approach a tuk-tuk driver and tell him that you want a motorbike taxi.
Motorbike taxis are preferable. They’re cheaper and much faster than both tuk-tuks and cars, as they can pass up traffic. The driver will go to his friends and organize a motorbike taxi for you. The motorbike driver will come to you. Ask the driver to take you to the train station, then negotiate a price. Do not agree to pay more than 80 Baht (~$2.70). A good price is 60 Baht ($2).
5. Before getting on the back of the bike, make sure your backpack is secure. If you have another bag, ask the driver to put it at his feet. Hold on to the passenger bar on the back of the moto as he drives you to the station.
6. You should arrive at the station no later than 11:30. It’s important to get to the station this early because tickets to your train could be sold out if purchased later. Pay the driver the fare you negotiated. Go to the ticket counter inside the station. Ask for a ticket to Aranyaprathet on the train that leaves at 13:05. You should be charged around 50 Baht ($1.70). Ask which platform your train will be on.
7. Board your train at 12:40. Arrive at the train station in Aranyaprathet at around 17:30-18:30.
8. Outside the station you will see taxi drivers asking foreigners if they want a ride to the border. Get a motorbike taxi. Tell the driver that you want to go to the border crossing. Negotiate a fee of no more than 80 Baht.
9. If your driver takes you to a travel agency, or any place that is not the border crossing and stops, then looks at you like he’s expecting you to get off his bike, don’t get off his bike. He’s taken you to a place that will set your visa up for you, but at around double the cost. He will receive commission if you get your visa here.
Tell him that you want to go to the border crossing. If he does not understand “border crossing,” say “immigration” “customs” and “border crossing” repeatedly until he does. If he refuses to take you, get off the bike and flag down another motorbike taxi.
Crossing the border
10. Get to the border crossing no later than 19:00. The crossing closes at 20:00. Wait in line until you get to the border official at his little immigration podium. Remember that a tourist visa costs $20. You may be charged a $1 to $5 “processing fee.” The official will pocket this money. You can argue this fee and eventually win. You can also save time and pay the fee he asks.
11. When you step outside immigration you’re in Poipet, Cambodia. Watch for the little kids, they’ll try to get your wallet. You and all the other foreigners will be hoarded into a little structure where you fill out a form verifying that you do not have H1N1. If you are asked for money during any part of this process, do not pay. There is no money due at this step in your itinerary.
Getting to Siem Reap
12. Outside of the H1N1 structure, find out where the bus depot is by asking someone. Band with fellow foreigners. Go to the bus depot.
13. At the bus depot there will be a currency exchange place. Men will come to you and tell you that there are no ATMs in Siem Reap, or that they’re all broken, and that you need to go to the ATM at the bank across the street and get out a lot of money and exchange it at the bus depot.
These men are trying to scam you. The exchange rate at the bus depot is very bad. The ATMs work in Siem Reap. Moreover, almost everywhere in Siem Reap accepts USD as well as the Riel.
14. Taxis will be waiting at the bus depot. Organize one with a group of travelers — this will lower the amount you pay. There will be many milling about. Don’t pay more than $40 for a taxi into Siem Reap. For more information about this step in your itinerary use Wikitravel’s Poipet page.
15. Once you’re in Siem Reap, ask the taxi driver to take you to the guesthouse you’ve already decided on. If you haven’t figured that out, I recommend Happy Guest House. If your driver won’t take you, someone else will. It shouldn’t be far, so don’t pay too much.
[Editor’s note: Additional info and on-the-ground resources are at Tales of Asia‘s classic Cambodia Overland page.]
Brandon has been lending his voice to the Traveler’s Notebook over the past month. Check out his contributions here.