We traveled to Southeast Asia in the winter of 2016 (after being in Egypt for two months) to see Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. There’s so much to see in Southeast Asia, it was hard to decide what to focus on, but Bangkok was the most obvious hub as far as flying into the region and Angkor Wat was the most obvious tourist destination that we had to see. After Angkor Wat, we flew from Siem Reap to Vietnam to see places like My Son and Hanoi.
We really wanted to travel by land from Bangkok. Siem Reap was accessible via a number of different transportation options, but we really wanted to try the Southeast Asian train system since we’d heard that it was a super-accessible and extremely affordable way to travel all over Southeast Asia.
We got train tickets on the day of our journey at Hualamphong Train Station in Bangkok, departing at 5:55 in the morning. The train station in Thailand is easy to navigate, but make sure the buy who sells you the tickets quotes you the right price and count your change too. Our ticket salesman tried to scam us. The train in Thailand doesn’t extend into Cambodia, so at Aranyaprathet, a border town in Eastern Thailand, we had to go by foot across the border. This wasn’t a big deal. There were signs directing us through the Thailand side of the border crossing. On the Cambodia side, however, things got a little more confusing.
It’s hot, dusty, and extremely humid at the Aranyaprathet-Poi Pet border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia. And on the Cambodia side of the crossing, the border guards get decidedly less helpful and the whole system seems jacked up. Don’t let this discourage you though. It’s all part of the experience.
Everyone disembarks from the train at the same time and races toward the visa booths, which aren’t that easy to find unless you happen to be lucky and stumble into the right place on your first try. There are several buildings that look like they could be visa-granting locations, but, in fact, visas are handed out in a small and stuffy little building that looks more like a smoothie stand than a government building. Be sure to have a PHOTOCOPY OF YOUR PASSPORT(S) on hand. We screwed this up on our first attempt to get a Cambodian visa and John had to go out into the Cambodian borderlands alone to find a photocopying machine while Lydian and I waited with our bags.
John eventually found an Internet café and luckily, he had some digital copies of our passports that he was ableto attach to an email and then send to himself. The Internet café then (also luckily) had a printer that he used to print out the copies. When he returned to the visa office, we got back in line. This time we were successful.
Once we got through the Cambodia visa process, we had to find the shuttle bus that would take us to the taxi stand. The shuttle bus was actually just a bus and it wasn’t well-marked. After enduring all the red tape and small-mindedness (many of the intellectuals in Cambodia were executed during the 1970’s genocide) we weren’t in good humor about these things anymore. And the shuttle bus was stifling, if not claustrophobic with all the other passengers inside and no air conditioning. But we survived to the taxi stand where we disembarked, used the restrooms (the building was surprisingly modern), and then found a taxi to take us the rest of the way to Siem Reap. It took about 2 ½ hours in total to get from the Cambodian border at Poipet to Siem Reap.
The taxi was comfortable, but the driver turned on a memorable and loud selection of 1980’s techno music. This is what happens when the government in a country exterminates all the musical talent.