Cambodia overland from Thailand

Cambodia Travel Blog

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Whilst one could conceivably pay in Riels in Cambodia and save a bit, USD are accepted everywhere. There are pickup trucks which are used by the locals, and there are taxis for hire. Buses are also available if you book the tickets from Bangkok to Siem Reap from the various travel agencies on Khao San road. But its quiet easy to do this trip overland on your own. I found this site as an excellent guide for all the information you will need to do this trip overland on your own. http://www.
talesofasia.com/cambodia-overland.htm


Food and Drink:
Cambodia food is not very famous but can be pretty good at some places and all kinds of drinks and ice are available. You can find European, Thai and other cuisines places. Also most of the stuff is bought in from Thailand as there are not many industries in Cambodia. You can find trucks loaded with stuffs coming in from Thailand carrying food, medicines, clothing and stuff.


Dangers and annoyances:
The obvious danger are landmines, we saw many warning signs on the way. Also there were posters warnings tourists, not to wander around other than normal tourists routes and places, particularly after dark.

Itinerary
After crossing the immigration on the Thailand side, we need a walk to the reach the immigration office in Poipet city on the Cambodia side.
It is a filthy town full of cheap hotels, casinos and food stalls where I dare not to eat even if dying of hunger. You will find loads of people from both sides, Thais coming in for gambling and Cambodians going to the market.


Inside the immigration building things are much simpler, need to fill the immigration form, if already have a visa then can get out in 5 min. Else if applying for visa at the border then might take anywhere between 15 to 45 min depending on the number of people in the queue. Once outside the building I was immediately surrounded by moto drivers everyone shouting at the top of their voices which i could not understand a word of. From the border there are various options to go to Siem Reap like the tourists buses, KSR buses, pickup truck, Toyota Camry shared car taxi which was recommended. I looked around for the taxi and found one guy, negotiated the price of 20USD. I kept my luggage in the car and took my seat next to the driver and soon as we drove like 100 mts away from the chaos, he started asking the money in advance, saying he needed to fill petrol.
I had heard about this scam earlier that the drivers will take the money and drop you to a village called Sisophon which is on the way to Siem Riep. From there they will dump you into another shared taxi and worse into a pickup truck and you can’t do anything about it as they will fiend ignorance of English language and mention that we misunderstood.


So i declined to pay the money upfront for which he asked me to get out of the car and pay him 50 baht  for the 100 mts drive. A pickup truck stopped close by and agreed to take me. There were 4 tourists and 6 locals in the truck so I felt this might be a good choice. Unfortunately I only had 100baht which the car driver happily pocketed and drove off without giving back the change. The pickup truck asked me 150baht for a drop till Siem Reap. I specifically asked for Siem Reap and even checked the 4 tourists. They too mentioned it was going straight to Siem Reap, which was not the case as I found out later.


The pickup truck kept on stopping along to way to pick up more passengers and finally we were a total of 16 persons cramped in the back of the truck. I would never forget this ride in my life. The road was full of potholes and still the driver refused to reduce the speed. We had to grab on to something and pray, all through the way. There were a few supply trucks plying too and forth on this same road and they refused to give way to other vehicles. So rest of the people had to go around the truck off the road. And finally it happened, there was a truck coming straight towards us, neither our driver nor the truck was willing to budge. Sitting at the back i could see the truck coming at full speed towards us and became really uneasy and shouted loudly as the truck came really close. Finally the big sized truck won and our driver took a sharp turn off the road, lost his balance. We had no choice and all the passengers jumped off from the truck screaming, the truck hit a tree and tilted sideways, luggage was lying scattered on the ground, all passengers sitting wide eyed.
Myself and the 4 other tourists were scared to the hilt, but the locals coolly got up, picked their luggage and helped the driver to get the pickup truck straight. The driver checked his vehicle, started the engine, satisfied that the vehicle can continue, asked us to get back in and continue the journey. The experience I had cannot be described in words here.

We continued our journey and reached Sisophone where suddenly over 15-20 people started running towards our truck, everyone shouting, screaming and making all sorts of noises. The local people from our truck coolly got down and walked away, but we 5 tourists grabbed our bags and were sitting tight in the truck, wondering what's going to happen next. The truck driver came and announced that this is where he is stopping and we need to board another truck to reach Siem Reap.
At first we were shocked, but later realized this was a part of a scam. The truck drivers will initially agree to go to Siem Reap, but actually drop at Sisophone where they will "sell" you to other trucks. We checked our next truck and were shocked to see its state. The tyres were all worn out, there were wires hanging out of those tyres, the tuck was loaded with ripe jackfruit with strong smell, and we were asked to sit beside those fruits. The moment we refused, a huge commotion started and again the shouting and screaming resumed. We stuck to our decision of not boarding the truck and then the threatening started with all people not concerned also joining in. This was a time when we 5 of us really panicked and were looking around for help, may be a "police station". Nothing was working and finally we had to pay for the trip from Sisophone to Siem Reap even if we do not want to go in the truck. Later we found a few taxi guys watching the fun from a distance. We talked to them, but even those guys were unwilling to take us, the reason being that the truck drivers were kind of mafia group and would beat up anyone taking their passengers.
We had to explain patiently that we paid the truck drivers in full after which they had left us alone. Finally one taxi guy agreed and asked 20USD for dropping us to Siem Reap. Phew. We didn't had a choice to negotiate, just ran for our luggage, dumped into the dicky of the car and asked the driver to take us away from that place as fast as he could.


Rest of the road journey went without any incidents, with the taxi driver telling us how lucky we were to get out of there without anything happening to us. He went on to explain that tourists sometimes are intimidated; luggage's stolen, asked to pay extra, pinched at etc. We thanked our driver again and he took us to Siem Reap, the 4 other tourists checked into one hotel and i asked him to take me to another one. All in all this was the most exciting trip of all my travels. I even agreed to let the driver take me around Siem Reap the next day.

The driver came in sharp at 8 o'clock, and we proceeded towards the Angkor Wat temples.
Entrance fees is a steep 20USD for 1 day and 40USD for 3 days. You need a photo for the 3 day pass, even if not carrying one, there are photo machines. It was a hot day and i continued from one temple structure to another, taking pics and admiring the constructions. As temperatures went from hot to hell, I continued moving across the temples. Things were really heating up now, and it was only 3 o' clock! I was sweating a lot and was completely drenched in my sweat. I started pouring water over myself to cool down and get rid of the smell of the sweat. But it would dry up within 10 min.
Evening went to the sunset point where people were already present ready with their tripods and cameras. From this place i had the best view of the sun set over the horizon. After watching the sunset, on the way back to the car, there appeared to be a trail of tourists buses carrying Japanese, Korean and all other Asian tourists.
It turned out to be very crowded place suddenly with everyone rushing to the buses to go back, i guess, to the hotel rooms, all looking forward to a shower, food, and bed. I too got into my car and went back to my hotel for a nice cool shower. Evening went out without much to talk about and a quiet dinner at one of the local food stalls.


Next day another early start, and off to Angkor Wat to take a look at the rest of the temples. This time i took a moto driver who asked for 2USD to drop me at the temples site, there I hired a bicycle and went around the temples on my own in the hot sun. Evening went to the main temple called Bayon to watch the sunset and again the site was marvelous.


Back at the hotel i checked my boat ticket for the next day to Phnom Penh.
I set off at 06:00 towards the dock and boarded the fast boat. The ride was for around 5 hrs, and like all other foreign tourists I climbed on top of the boat with my book. The boat takes the Tonle Sap river which joins the Mekong Delta to reach the capital. And as the sun started going up, it grew hotter and hotter with everyone getting a nice tan.


We reached Phnom Pehn in 5 hrs and the moment we got down from the boat, we were surrounded by the moto drivers and hotel touts, everyone screaming on top of their voice. I caught hold of one moto driver and asked him to take me near the central market. After a quick shower in the hotel, i took the same moto driver to take me around the town.
First went to the killer mine fields. Looking at the piles of human bones made me sad for a moment and i walked around the place reading the posters. As i went around gathering more info on the history of this gruesome killing and burying of women and children around, i kept of getting more and more depressed. Quickly took some photos and out i went, and asked the moto driver to take me back to the town and other places.
In the afternoon, it was very hot and not very active while going around the town. I went to a park, paid the moto driver and took my book and rested in the cool shade of the trees. Last day in the capital, i went around the city on moto's spending some 1-2 hours in the tourists places, visited the palace. In the evening went for a local dinner at a place near the river.


Yet another early start, for my return trip back, to the central market to get a taxi to the Cambodia border town of Koh kong and then towards the border town of HadLek and then cross the border and take a van to Thai town  named Trat. From Trat need to take a bus to Bangkok.

Before taking off, i exchanged some currency at the local stall in the market and went about looking for the shared taxi.
The deal is if you want a place at the back need to pay 10USD and there will be total of 4 people squeezed in the back seat. If want a bit comfortable ride then take the front seat and pay 20USD  because the front seat is actually for 2 people so you pay double. OK.


Well got hold of one taxi at around 8am, put my luggage in and off we went, total of 7 people (4 passengers at the back, myself and the driver sharing his seat with another boy in the front). My other passengers were one monk, 2 ladies and a gentleman and a boy who was sharing the drivers seat. The distance from Phonm Phen to border town Koh kong is around 300Kms and takes around 6-8 hours by taxi. The border crossing is open only untill 5pm, so i had plenty of time, that's what i thought. This was another memorable trip i would never forget. The taxi was running smoothly and covering good ground fast for some time as the road was pretty good. Only when we moved on rough mud road we were slowed down and when there was a river crossing we need to wait for our turn.
Yes, had to wait for our turn. Reason, there are no bridges over the rivers but a big raft powered by strong motors used to ferry the vehicles from one side to the other and there was a queue of all the cars, mini buses waiting for their turn. It gets pretty scary when you reach around the middle and the water current increases. I stood on the edge of the raft along with the locals enjoying the scene. We had crossed some 3-4 rivers like this and i did not find a single bridge all along the way. The monk was able to speak some English and helped me while buying some eating stuff (boiled duck eggs, puffs etc) and water. People in Cambodia do respect the Buddhist monks a lot.


We might have traveled for some 4 hours when the sky started becoming real dark with clouds gathering around.
And within minutes it started to rain heavily. We had started going thru the mountains on muddy road and the rains made the matters worse. Our car started skidding and i was holding on to my life, whereas all the locals in the car were amused and laughing at me. Finally bad luck struck and our car hit a stone while going through a ditch. It started smelling of petrol and found that the stone had damaged the fuel line, started leaking petrol. It was raining heavily, we were in the middle of the mountains, no other vehicles around to ask for help and no villages till we cross the mountains. I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach that might not be able to make it to the border in time, and i had to fly out of Bangkok the next day.


But to my utter surprise, the driver got out, asked the gentleman in our car to hold an umbrella, took out some tools and went below the car.
I heard some banging noise below, then the driver shouting and just the sound of the rain drops on the car. I started thinking of my options and found there were none when i heard engine noise coming from behind. There was mini truck passing by which was overloaded with people, luggage, bicycles etc etc etc.  There was no way i could have tried taking that truck, so sat their waiting, and after some 15-20 min the driver announced that we were ready to go. I have no damn  idea what the driver/mechanic did, but was glad that we could move and was thinking that at least if we can reach the next village i might look for another vehicle. But another 10 min of drive and again the car stopped, seemed the fuel line was still leaking and we stopped for another 15 min in the pouring rain. This time the driver was fully wet, covered with mud but he again announced we were ready to go. He drove at crawling speed all the way out of the mountains and then the rain stopped and we got some decent road and again we started covering ground. The time was 4pm when we reached Koh kong the border town from where we needed to take a moto (some 20-30 baht) to the Cambodia border town of Had lek.
The monk requested the driver to drop at the border as it was still drizzling out and i agreed to pay another 5USD which the driver readily agreed to. Finally we reached the border at 4:30pm and i could not thank the driver enough.

I ran to the Cambodia border immigration, filled up the departure form and waited for the guy to come and process it. Had to wait for around 5 min as he had gone to the loo. He came back, gave me a nice look from head till toe, saw my passport and exclaimed as "Aha an Indian" and start chit chatting, asking questions which part of India i was from, which city, who is the current prime minister, then mentioned that an Indian prime minister had visited Angkor Wat some years back etc etc.
I looked at my watch and it was 4:45pm and he understood, stamped my passport and off i went to the Thai immigration office, filled up the form fast and submitted to the immigration office. Time was 4:50pm. Now it was the turn of the Thai officer to make comments that he had seen an single Indian traveler cross this border after a very very very long time, how Thais and Indian cultures are similar blah blah. I looked at my watch and time was 4:57pm, but the Thai immigration guy in his broken English said "NO Problem" and stamped my passport. That was a time a gave a big sigh of relief and started looking for the van to the town named Trat some 85-90 kms away and takes around 1 to 1 1/2 hrs to reach for some 100 baht.  Found a van which was about to leave, boarded it and felt my pulse returning back to normal.


From Trat i had to catch an overnight bus to Bangkok.
There are buses till 11pm for the 450 kms some 6hrs journey to Bangkok over good road and cost some 200-300 baht. And maan was i glad to return to the Thai side. Booked the bus which was leaving at 7:00pm and managed to get my dinner at a road side local stall. Slept all the way to Bangkok and the bus dropped me at Khao san road.

It was around 2am in the morning and i walked around looking for a cheap hotel to crash. I had around 500baht on me, hotel cost 200 bath, road side noodles 200 baht and rest 100 bath kept for the ride to airport the next day. Found one hotel just off KSR road, away from the loud music, had some noodles and dozed off after a very exciting Cambodia trip.
Next day early morning took the van to the airport to catch the flight to Singapore.

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