The Poipet-Aranyaprathet border crossing is rightfully among the most notorious in South East Asia, with guidebooks galore warning you to be on your guard. If truth be told, it’s nowhere near as bad as the books make out, yet novice travellers will still need to keep their wits about them: after all, this is Thailand (and Cambodia), and YOU have money!
I think more people travel over this border starting from the Thai side and then into Cambodia (maybe on the infamous bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap). Yet I was doing the reverse journey; starting out in Cambodia and then heading on to central Thailand. The trip to Poipet was uneventful through rural Cambodia, and if doing the trip independently (not always advisable for solo females) then there’s no need for a minibus – just hop on a tuktuk!
As with all of the border “gates” from Cambodia, they have the Khmer Angkorian-style architecture, which probably most tourists just saw – or are going to see – at Angkor Wat. Khmer people are very proud of Angkor Wat and, of course, it even features on their national flag! On my border crossing at Poipet, I was dropped off near the border control buildings and walked up on my own. I was surprised that it seemed so orderly, and I didn’t queue on foot for any longer than 20 minutes. I have heard horror stories about waiting for hours here, as these Cambodian immigration officials make those at London Heathrow Airport look swift!
Solo travellers beware: you probably WILL be subjected to certain cons at Poipet (and Aranyaprathet). However, a few simple rules should enable you to make the most of your border crossing:
First off, even if you are arriving here on a minibus or in a taxi, you MUST WALK THROUGH THE BORDER ON FOOT(see photo above). When you are asked to get out the bus and walk, don’t worry, this is not malpractice, just common regulation.
Secondly, DO NOT CHANGE MONEY at the border (either side)! If you need Thai Baht then get it in Siem Reap or wherever you came from before you head to Poipet. If you’re doing the border crossing the other way into Cambodia (Aranyaprathet-Poipet), then you will need some Cambodian Riel (and US Dollars). These currencies are easy to obtain pretty much anywhere in Thailand – so no excuses! There is a 7-11 supermarket just outside the border on the Thai side, which has an ATM (as of January, 2016), so that may be a better bet than getting scammed at the actual border itself!
Thirdly, if you’re crossing on foot like I did, DON’T HOP ON ANY BUSES that promise to take you to a “Bus Terminal”. These buses are scams, and just take you to markets where you are coerced into buying food and souvenirs. When through the Thai side, make a turn to the right to Rong Kleu Market, where you will find genuine and better-value buses (many of which are owned and operated by the border casinos, but they are still genuine). If you want a taxi or tuktuk, you will see them in clear daylight ahead of you when through the Thai side (no right turn necessary).
Just bear in mind that when you cross a border between countries, you need to get stamped out of one, and stamped in to the other! Count slowly…that’s TWO stops/TWO stamps! Here between Poipet and Aranyaprathet, the Thai immigration desks are upstairs, but it’s a fairly easy process for MOST nationalities obtaining a Thai Visa on Arrival (unlike, say, border crossing at Moc Bai to enter Vietnam…).
Welcome to Thailand. Now the real adventure starts…