The bus departed at 9am from one of the many bus terminals peppered throughout Bangkok. The standard coach bus was completely full. They served breakfast and lunch on the bus but the food looked questionable (even Chris took a pass) so we stuck with our water and mints. If you take the bus, bring your own snacks!
After driving for about three hours, we approached the Cambodian border. This was where the fun began. First, the bus stopped off at an official-looking place called the Border Visa Office. Fortunately, we had read about this bus trip in advance, and it turns out that this is simply a third-party visa agency that will do you the service of securing your Cambodian visa for about double the official price. Despite being told that this would be our only opportunity to get visas, most of the people on the bus were wise to the scam. Only three or four of our fellow passengers gave them any business, to the dismay of the bus driver who must get some sort of kickback.
Crossing the Border
Next, the bus drove about 100 feet up the road and let the passengers off at the border. You have to walk across the border and meet up with the bus on the other side. First we had to go through a building where our passports were stamped and we officially left Thailand. Next, we had to walk about 1,000 feet along the road through a sort of no man’s land before reaching Cambodia. This road is dotted with run-down casinos, dusty food stands and the ‘official’ Cambodian visa center.
This is where you should purchase your Cambodian visa. The official sign says a visa costs 20 USD (Cambodia generally uses USD for currency). However, there is another sign on the counter made from notebook paper and crayons that says it costs $20 + 100 Thai Baht (about $3 USD). Even the official border agents are on the take! Still, this was our only option at this point, so we paid up and went on our way.
Next we had to wait in line to cross into Cambodia. This took quite a while, as there were only a few immigration agents and lots of travelers. The immigration office consisted of a plywood shack with no A/C, no fans and lots of bugs. I was bitten by ants. Luckily, spirits among the tourists in line were high as everyone was excited to see the famous temples in Siem Reap. Interestingly, once we reached the immigration counter at the back end of the shack, the process was fairly high tech, with fancy fingerprint reading machinery and computers.
Finally in Cambodia!
About two hours after arriving at the border, we were all back on the bus and on our way to Siem Reap. This segment of the voyage took another two hours or so, but it was a really pretty ride through bright green rice fields, muddy rivers where the locals swam waist-deep to fish, and cute kids riding bikes and waving at the bus. We pulled into town around 5pm.
All in all, it was a successful journey and only cost us about $25 plus our visa fees, which we’d have had to pay anyway. Still, next time I think we’ll fly!
Great Hotel: Diamond D'Angkor
Lately we've been having a lot of success picking hotels that have received very few reviews on Tripadvisor, all of which were 'excellents'. Even though all of their reviews are 'excellent', they are typically buried far down in the rankings due to the small number of reviews. Usually it's because these hotels have only recently opened. These places often offer some really great deals as they're trying to build word of mouth and generate more positive reviews in order to move up in the rankings. We found this to be true at Diamond D'Angkor hotel in Siem Real. For just $55USD/ night we got a wonderful corner room on the top level, free breakfast every day, one free dinner, our own tuk-tuk driver for our entire stay, a free cell phone to use during our stay and free mini bar & daily fruit in the room. The hotel was about a 5 minute walk from the center of Siem Reap nightlife - Pub Street. The staff was incredibly friendly and service oriented. We strongly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Siem Reap!
Upon arriving at the bus station, we hired a tuk-tuk to take us to our hotel. (A tuk-tuk is basically a motorcycle towing a cart that can carry up to four people.) There were tons of tuk-tuks waiting for our bus and most of them offered us a free ride to the hotel if we'd hire them as our daily driver during our stay. Since our hotel provided a complimentary tuk-tuk we just paid our driver $3 to take us to our hotel (by the way, we knew we overpaid as this ride should have cost no more than $1, but at the end of the day $2 extra means a lot to the driver, so we did not mind).
If you ever travel to Siem Reap, a daily tuk-tuk driver should cost you about $6 for an entire day. Tipping is optional and not expected, and we learned that people from other countries have varying opinions about it. We ended up leaving our driver a tip at the end of the our three days there.