April 30, 2018
What follows is a story of more or less, what not to do. If you are looking to take a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, our advice is to take a through (direct) bus from Bangkok Station for 750 THB. This, however, is not what we actually did…
At the end of our stay in Bangkok we headed off to Cambodia, one day before our visa expired. Our first destination in Cambodia: Siem Reap.
There are a number of ways to get between the two cities, and based on these two articles it seemed like it would be an easy and straightforward process with lots of options. Nope! Those articles are way too cheery. But we didn’t know that going in, and under their influence we decided that the most flexible and economical method was to take a bus from Bangkok to the border, and from there figure out a ride to Siem Reap instead of doing the through bus (long story short: take the through bus!).
The bus from Bangkok to the border was fairly simple. We left from the Bangkok bus terminal near Mo Chit. But when we arrived at the bus station day of to buy our ticket, the departure we wanted was sold out so we had to take a later bus. The direct bus was also sold out when we arrived. Okay, 1 hour delay wasn’t a big deal. We made sure to get a bus that went to Rong Khlua market.
Our bus was about an hour late departing, but it was an uneventful ride to the market, and from there it was was a 1 km walk to the border. A shared songthaew was only 10 baht, but we were really on our last bits of currency and needed to make sure we could get from the border to Siem Reap, so we weren’t spending any extra money. It was easy and fast checking out of Thailand and checking into Cambodia.
We came prepared with a Cambodian e-visa after our scammy experience with the Laos border. The e-visa is more expensive that the on-arrival visa, but we didn’t have to put up with any border scams and it was stress free. There was a lot of poverty on display at this border and much more begging and conmen trying to “help” you out with your visa. Much more so than any other border crossing so far. But we got into Cambodia without any issue.
Then all we had to do was find a bus to Siem Reap. Cue the dark cello music…
Back to those articles I was using. They said that you can take a free shuttle to the government bus terminal. As far as I can tell, that is a scam and those authors don’t realize they got scammed. There is a free shuttle, but it will take you out into the middle of nowhere bus terminal where the supposed government buses charge $10. We had a tout following us through the entire immigration process, and he gladly helped us onto that shuttle.
But then he started saying something about the last government bus departure being at 3 pm and it was about 5 pm by that point. I’m not sure if he was lying about that, but I found some information that corroborated it online. The fact is that the buses leaving from the tour agencies are the same price or cheaper, and the supposed government buses will evidently let you off well outside of Siem Reap, forcing you to buy an expensive tuk tuk ride. The tout got the driver to stop at one of the tour agencies, but we wanted to have a look around unaccompanied, so we shook the tout.
We ended up wandering back and forth up the main drag and asking about buses at a variety of places. No one knew about any government buses or said that they had stopped running for the day. Taxis offered to take us to Siem Reap for prices around $40 USD. We tried to get a shared taxi for $10 per person, but it never showed up.
So eventually we went to a tour agency (Rith Mony and based on this experience and reviews that I read, avoid this company) with the first available bus out of town. We ended up paying $9, neatly using up our last remaining Thai Baht.
Note: the exchange rate is not favorable for using baht and we actually ended up spending the equivalent of $10 on this bus ride. Cambodia operates on a dual currency system. I’ve read about being able to use USD in other countries, but it seemed sketchy. It’s expected in Cambodia and often the exchange rate is in your favor. Knowing this, we would have hit the border with much more useful and sufficient currency in USD.
Anyway, we wait around for this bus, the departure time comes and goes. We’re used to this. In not too long a bus shoes up… but it’s not our bus. We wait some more, then a motorcycle with a side car shows up and loads us up with another Cambodian passenger to take us to our bus. If it wasn’t for this other passenger we would have been seriously fretting at this point.
We are taken to the KSO Bus station, which we almost checked out on our own, but it looked totally deserted. We get onto a bus that was half full of enormous bags of who knows what. We were the only passengers on there. Eventually the bus fills up, with more goods and people filling the aisle. We start several hours after the stated departure time which should have put us into Siem Reap at about 11 pm.
But eventually the bus gets moving. At the tour agency I was trying to be proactive and asked where the bus let off. I pointed to a major intersection in Siem Reap. Well turns out this was taken to mean that’s were I wanted to be let off and surprisingly this information was conveyed to the driver. Which is commendable, but that’s not actually where we wanted let off. It was 2.5 km from the hotel and we had no money at this point to get a tuk tuk and then as the bus drove away, we watched it turn down the street where we wanted to go. Turns out the actual bus stop was less than 1 km from our hotel.
So after a full day of travel that started 6 am and this rather frustrating experience, we walked 2.5 km in the heat (past midnight it was amazingly hot still) to our hotel Panda Angkor Inn. The manager stayed up for us (Han is wonderful) and upgraded us to an A/C room which was everything we needed at that time, that really made our day. We were in bed before 2 am.
Overall it really wasn’t a terrible experience and we are used to these sorts of delays, over-stuffing, and confusion, but it was annoyance after annoyance. And based on multiple accounts that I read, it seemed like it should have been a much smoother process. Taking the direct bus from BKK to SR would have absolutely been worth the small additional cost (if we had booked it in advance, of course, remember it filled up). The price for the through bus is 750 baht per person. I think we paid just over 500 baht for our journey, but it was a huge hassle, and I think things could have easily gone awry and cost us more at the border.
The other unexplored bus alternative was a direct bus service from our hostel for 400 baht. It seemed too good to be true so we didn’t trust it. But all the hotels in Siem Reap listed direct bus services to Bangkok for the equivalent of 470 baht… So it makes me think that you can find direct buses for less than what we paid mucking about at the border (probably with their own set of problems of course).
We spent our first few days in Siem Reap doing just about exactly nothing except for consuming noodles and papaya salad. We were a bit burnt out, so we rested up in preparation for a special visitor aaaaand the epic ruins of Angkor! Coming Next!