I admit, I’d been stressing about this journey for about a week before we even left Sri Lanka for Bangkok. It was going to be my first border crossing overland in Asia and every blog or article I read said that it could be tricky if you didn’t have your wits about you. In my mind we were going to be walking through a dusty Wild West, with heavy packs on our backs, searching for the official immigration point whilst fending off hundreds of scammers, pickpockets and general criminals.
It really wasn’t that bad.
We bought our bus tickets from Mo Chit the day before, but I still insisted that we arrive at the bus station at 4.30am, half an hour early. With nothing to do but sit and wait for the bus to arrive, I employed my mind by worrying that we were carrying too much luggage. That worry, however, was quickly erased when I observed six Taiwanese ladies struggling under the weight of twenty instant noodle boxes.
The bus pulled into the station on time-ish. There was lots of shouting from the Thai bus driver: it was directed mainly at the six Taiwanese ladies and their luggage, although it felt as though we were all in his bad books merely for wanting to travel that morning. Once he’d had his rant we set off, and I tried to sleep to pass some time. The scenery I saw wasn’t spectacular but it wasn’t long before we arrived in Aranyaprathet. We stopped twice briefly before the actual border: once for the staff to hand out tags to wear around our necks (to identify us as being with the bus company) and microwaved shrimp fried rice from the 7/11 which I devoured; the second time for one of the bus drivers to do some personal shopping, purchasing some discounted shoes and a broom.
Once at the border, we bypassed the queue of people waiting downstairs and headed upstairs to the border control for foreign travellers. A stern lady checked our passports and stamped us out of Thailand into no-man’s land, then it was downstairs and out into a parallel reality where normal rules appeared to not apply. It was my first experience of this kind of no-man’s land and I was slightly overwhelmed. Grubby, barefoot children tugged at us asking for money and sweets, whilst doormen in suits stood guard outside shiny casinos.
Trying to take it all in whilst simultaneously focus on my quest not to be scammed, I looked at the instructions I’d written down on my phone (garnered from other blogs and articles) and guided us towards the Cambodian immigration building. Next to the casino it didn’t look particularly imposing and I wasn’t entirely sure that it was the official building. We couldn’t see anywhere else though so we filled in our arrival card and begrudgingly handed our passports and e-visa confirmations over to the officials behind the desk. A few minutes and one stamp later and we were in Cambodia!
Although the pass that we were made to wear around our necks made me feel a little like an evacuee leaving London, it did seem to ward off any potential scammers and saved us from politely refusing multiple offers of tuktuks or minivan rides.
To celebrate not being scammed (and because the Taiwanese ladies were way behind in the immigration process) I treated myself to a coffee from a shiny, air-conditioned cafe back in no-man’s land, feeling guilty as I looked out from behind a glass window at weathered old men pulling carts back and forth across the border.
Eventually we all made it back on the bus, and set off through Cambodian countryside towards Phnom Penh.
The bus drivers had wisely stocked up on food before the border and so, as we bumped along country roads, one driver demonstrated great skill, eating ribs and sticky rice whilst chatting on his phone and steering.
Despite this dubious approach to driving we made it to Phnom Penh in one piece at around 6pm, arriving at Bayon Supermarket.
I found the websites below useful in preparing for the trip but it really wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought. I know there are plenty of people who do it more cheaply, getting a minivan to Aranyaprathet, then taking a tuktuk to the border, and finding another minivan in Poipet (Cambodia), but for me it was worth the extra few dollars to just sit back and enjoy the ride (not to mention the microwaved fried rice).