Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia:
We were able to visit Cambodia twice while I was studying in Southeast Asia. Traveling from Thailand to Cambodia via train can make for quite the experience. While the best available option is obviously a flight from Bangkok to Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh, we decided against this and took the cheaper and more environmentally friendly option. This led to a 5:55 AM departure from the Hua Lamphong (สถานีรถไฟหัวลำโพง) station in Bangkok. The Cambodian civil war that began in the 1970’s led to the destruction of the railway within the majority of the country. Therefore, traveling by available ground transportation between the countries can take a significant amount of time.
The train operates third class and services many people. Vendors will breeze through the isles with carts selling beverages and food, and there are toilets at each end of the passenger cars. It’s not a bad deal for only having to pay 48 baht (Approx. $1.50 USD) for the ticket itself. Minus the cost of Cambodian visas, this is more than an affordable option for transportation! Take the opportunity to enjoy the Thai countryside while riding as it holds quite the view. As the train made several stops at what seemed like mostly deserted train platforms, people would exit and others would then board different carts through our journey. Various food and drink items are sold by hawkers through the windows of the train carts at some of the stops. Pictured below, a monk who had just exited his train car walks between the tracks near the outskirts of Bangkok.
The railway only extends to Aranyaprathet, Thailand, so one must then travel onward to Poipet, Cambodia. A tuk-tuk is the best option available here. This is only a 4 mile distance and takes around fifteen minutes or so. Generally, outside of the capital of Phnom Penh, the police force rarely enforce any traffic laws. If renting a vehicle of any sort in Cambodia, know that it is pivotal for one to stay well aware of their surroundings while driving. Cambodia is ranked as one of the top ten countries in the world with the most traffic-related deaths. It’s not rare that you will see people driving in all possible directions on the road.
Outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia is very rural and mostly agriculturally based. Subsistence farming of rice employs the majority of the Cambodian workforce. Some sources have even cited that one third of the population lives on less than one dollar (4,000 reil / រៀល in Khmer) a day. Being in Cambodia for the time that was available to us, it was not hard to see the amount of poverty visible to the average eye. This can be completely disheartening at times, as some areas of the country still look as if the Khmer Rouge regime had passed through the day before.
Upon reaching the border between the two countries, we proceeded through Thailand’s exit area to get our departure stamps. Cambodian immigrations are located after walking on foot under the ‘Angkor Wat‘ welcome archway. E-visas are available for purchase online beforehand, or else you can just complete the process here. I would recommend the online method as it takes relatively little time, and provides a much quicker immigration process. After getting our fingerprints captured and the arrival stamp placed in our passports, the immigration official nodded at us and we were on our way. Welcome to Cambodia! (សូមស្វាគមន៍មកកាន់ប្រទេសកម្ពុជា!)
From Poipet, it is around 95 miles to Siem Reap and the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat (អង្គរវត្ត in Khmer). Sharing a taxi or minivan is the ideal option here. We were finally able to reach our hostel in the late afternoon after our long and exhausting day of travel. Our upcoming itinerary for Cambodia would consist of Angkor Wat, the Killing Fields (វាលពិឃាត) of the Khmer Rouge genocide, and the much awaited exploration of the capital, Phnom Penh.