Cambodia: From Bangkok to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat Travel Guide
The ancient temple city of Angkor Wat and how to get there from Bangkok by train.
From Bangkok to Siem Reap by train
In the fall of 2010 we did our first trip around Southeast Asia. After spending couple of weeks in Thailand our next stop was Cambodia. As probably everyone else our main reason to visit was the world famous temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.
Quick tip: If Angkor Wat is on your bucket list, make it a priority and go as soon as you can. Every year the million numbers of visitors increase drastically and soon will be impossible to even take a photo without anyone in it. We were lucky to have been there over six years ago and there were hardly any tourists around. Looking at some recent photos now there’s people everywhere.
There are 3 ways to get to Siem Reap from Bangkok. The first is the easiest and fastest way of all but the most expensive way – flying. If you are on a budget though like we were you should choose between taking a bus or a train. Since we all have heard plenty of horror stories with scam busses, visa-rip-offs etc, we recommend going by train, which takes about 6 hours to the border town Aranyaprathet. As long as you do your research in advance and know what are you doing, the trip is very easy. We both love adventures and we used to would choose the cheapest way of travel, so we took the train.
Train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet
There are two trains departing daily from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, close to the Thai/Cambodia border. The first is at 5:55am, arrives at 11:35am, the second at 1:05pm, arrives at 5:35pm. We recommend taking the earlier one to avoid getting at the border by dark and getting stuck there. The train ride itself is nice and scenic and nothing to worry about.
Once you get off at Aranyaprathet you will see many tuk-tuks that you can get for a short 10 min ride to the border. Do not trust the driver if he promises you to take care of your visa or don’t let any tout coming with you to assist you. Be prepared there will be plenty of them trying to scam you, just ignore them.
Don’t buy your visa anywhere but once you get to the Cambodian visa office ( located after the Thai border exit ) and make sure your tuk-tuk driver drops you off at the actual border by the Rongklua market. There an official will stamp your passport upon exiting the country where you will be “in between zone”. Walk across the border under the ‘Welcome to Cambodia’ sign and the immigration office will be on your right after a short walk.
The standard 30-day tourist visa used to cost US $20 at the border ( it might be $30 now ), and you’ll need one passport photo. So make sure you prepare that in advance. At the visa office they will try to scam you again and ask for extra money, know that all you have to pay is your visa fee. That’s it, you are in Poipet, Cambodia now but not so quite to Siem Reap.
Since you are officially in Cambodia you can take the free government shuttle bus from the border to the transport depot. From there you can either hop on the bus or find some fellow traveler and share a taxi. Make sure you pay your driver once you get dropped off in Siem Reap. We met another couple that we shared a taxi together and the drive took around an hour and a half.
It actually took longer for the driver figuring out how to fit our bags than getting there. Once on the road though you can enjoy the views of the rice paddy countryside.
Small villages flooded along the road.
Welcome to Siem Reap
Once your taxi arrives in town here’s another scam to be mindful of. It doesn’t matter that you have negotiated your drop off at your accommodations as soon as you get close to Siem Reap the driver will tell you that taxis are not allowed into the city. Very convenient a tuk-tuk pulls over for your service to take you farther down the road.
Quick tip: US $ dollar is vastly used in Cambodia, the Cambodian Riel will be used for change.
You finally made it. Now it’s time to check in, and relax for your stay in peaceful Siem Reap.
Welcome to Angkor Wat
The reason why everyone is coming to Siem Reap is with no doubt to see the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat. One of the UNESCO world heritage sites that has become the symbol of Cambodia.
The Mystical Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world built around the 12th century by the great Khmer Empire. Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu and then repurposed as a buddhist temple.
A lot of people now recommend visiting the temples early in the morning right before sunrise or late afternoon before sunset to enjoy the spectacular colors and avoid the heat. Keep in mind though, that’s the time when it will be the most crowded. When we were there back in 2010, we had no idea what’s best and plus there weren’t that many people.
There are a few ways to explore Angkor Wat and the temples around. Hire an air conditioned taxi, tour bus, a tuk-tuk or rent a bike. As you all may guess, since we are always up for a challenge we decided to do it on a bikes. No regrets at all. Yes it was hot, yes it was a good workout ( especially when Mikey realized that the whole time his brakes were on ), but after all it was more adventures and fun being on your own.
You can spend your whole day wandering around the fascinating temples hidden in the jungle and you will still be wowed by each one of them. Besides Angkor Wat temple make sure you don’t miss the Angkor Thom, Bayon Temples and especially the jungle temples of Ta Prohm.
Nowadays it would be most likely hard to take a photo like this without anyone one it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that vendors there are very relentless. You will see the cutest kids begging for you to buy something and trust me they won’t leave you alone until you do.
One of our favorite are the jungle temples of Ta Prohm.
After going back in time and exploring the ruins of temples, enjoy some time in town. Siem Reap is well developed for tourism and the nightlife is on. Have a good time and dinner or a cocktail at the famous Pub Street. Satisfy your shopping needs at the local markets and boutiques. Get high on life.