Last summer some friends and I took a trip around a few parts of South-East Asia. Of the entire trip we'd planned, getting out of Thailand was the part I was really the most nervous about. Pick up any guidebook to SE Asia and you're faced with page after page of warnings about the scams and the nightmarish coaches and tuk-tuk's between the Thai-Cambodian borders.
The reality of the situation really wasn't 'too' bad, and from what I've read about the area (which is quite a lot to try and prepare for it) it seems as though it's getting better. Perhaps the governments are clamping down on the whole operation or maybe tourists are simply getting wiser and better informed, either way we broke the trip down into five main steps...
1. Train from Hua Lamphong Station to Aranyaprathet
This part is really relatively easy, It involved a 100baht taxi to the train station from our hostel in Silom at 5am to catch the 5.55am train. We left at 5am to ensure that we'd be there on time and get a seat as it is a 3rd class only train (for 48Baht one way) and it fills up pretty quickly, The train took us about six hours, and was reasonably comfortable, with the usual hawkers trying to peddle their cans of Coke or shrink wrapped Thai food to the mix of tourists and locals on board.
2. Tuk-Tuk from the station to the border
The train to the border doesn't actually drop you off at the border. Instead the line ends at what is effectively a large frontier town in Aranyprathet 6km away from the actual border crossing point. To get from the station to the border required taking a trip in a tuk-tuk. We got a trip for 100Baht to the border (down from 200 with our haggling prowess...) and jumped in holding on tight to all of our bags. We had a bet on how many times we would be driven to a "visa office" or "money exchange" and my optimistic gamble of just once turned out to be correct. We pulled into a very obviously fake visa office (having read that you absolutely do not buy your visa until you are checked out of Thailand) and sat in the tuk-tuk demanding to be taken to the actual border. With a smile on his face that suggested he knew he was beaten he took us down the road to the border and we made our way out of Thailand.
3. Visa Office
Once through the actual official border crossing we followed the signs to the visa office for 'visa on arrival' where we filled in a form and I was asked for 800Baht to pay for my visa despite the sign above the office saying 'Tourist Visa - 20 USD.' I handed the man 20 USD and stared pointedly until he accepted and eventually we all had our passports back in our hands and stamped with a Cambodian Entrance Visa.
4. Poipet to Siem Reap
A guide book we picked up in Bangkok suggested that the best view of Poipet comes from the back window of the bus as you are leaving it. I'm inclined to agree. A scummy casino town filled with hawker stalls, it seems that the only thing it is good for is spending the rest of your Baht on snacks and then leaving as quickly as possible. We paid for an almost certainly overpriced minibus to Siem Reap which dropped us off at another Tuk-tuk stall (but at 10 dollars for 3 hours travel it's not too bad - and there seemed to be very few other options; it seems the monopoly is truly at work here)
5. To the Hostel in Siem Reap
A very helpful English guy who lived in Siem Reap helped broker a deal with a 'motodup' (basically a motorbike with a trailer attached that you sit in) who - surprisingly - took us all the way from the 'bus station' (think dirt track scrapyard) to the front door of our hostel - Hak's House. The hostel seems brilliant, we had a very nice meal there and organised a trip to Angkor the next morning - heading there for sunrise at half four in the morning.
All in all, the border crossing I've been semi-dreading wasn't that bad. It seems as though if you keep your wits about you - and refuse to get out of a tuk-tuk without being where you want to be - you'll generally be OK, so long as you take it steady and don't get too panicked along the way. It's worth the trip though, Cambodia was a beautiful, and very special place to visit.
If anyone reading this happens to be 'googling' information for how to get across the border unscathed and with the majority of the contents of your wallet still intact then hopefully this might help!