Around the World in 50 Days: Part 1
July 26, 2012 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Around the World! Need help with some logistics. Part 1: Bangkok, Thailand, then overland to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Best travel method: rail or bus or rented car? Stops along the way? Via the interior (Aranyaprathet) or along the beach (via Koh Kong)? Other things we're not thinking of?

To celebrate my girlfriend's close of Peace Corps service here in Burkina Faso, we're flying around the world. Our first stop is Sri Lanka in mid-October, then after a few days bouncing around there, we're flying to Bangkok. We have about 9 days between our arrival there and our departing flight from Siem Reap (to Manila, which will likely end up the basis of a later Ask).

What do we do in between? We are thinking a couple days in Bangkok to enjoy a hoppin' city, then maybe a train to the border and a bus to Siem Reap, and from there making trips to Battambang and Angkor Wat. Is that a reasonable plan? Should we give Siem Reap a pass (at least up until we have to get to the airport)? Maybe go directly to Battambang, then save Angkor Wat for the last day or two? Should we go along the coast to Koh Kong then Battambang (the way Google Maps seems to think we should) instead of the road through Aranyaprathet? Should we reconsider Phnom Penh (which is not in our current itinerary)? SO MANY QUESTIONS. Help!
posted by solotoro to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Angkor Wat and the surrounding structures are totally worth it in my opinion. Completely mind blowing. Especially some of the other temples that nature is reclaiming. I didnt find the town of Siem Reap to be bad at all a couple of years ago. Some really good food for very low prices, and decent accommodations.

The trip there was definitely shady from Bangkok. A buddy and I took a train to the border, then got on a bus that took us only a few miles out of town where you are basically forced to split a camry taxi that drives you the 3-4 hrs to Siem Reap. I recommend searching some travel forums for current suggestions on that.
posted by meta87 at 6:27 AM on July 26, 2012

I really, really recommend taking a flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I've done the crossing by bus and it was a nightmare: shady border guards, an extremely long travel time (it took about 3 hours to actually cross the border itself), horrible weather even in December... Flying is the easiest and fastest way to travel across the border, and IIRC it's not very expensive. I'm a fairly adventurous traveller and I would never do this by bus again. It was definitely the worst travel experience I've had in my life. Memail me if you want more details.

I spent two full days in Angkor Wat and felt I saw everything, but I was alone and moved very fast. It's definitely worth a nice, long stop. Siem Reap itself is small, boring, and dirty, though I hear Phnom Penh is nice.
posted by toerinishuman at 7:37 AM on July 26, 2012

In 2000 I travelled from Bangkok to Ko Pha Ngan to Phnom Penh, and then up to Siem Riep by river boat. Ko Pha Ngan to Phnom Penh was great, but the river boat leg was pretty gruelling -- we sat exposed in glaring sun on the top of the boat for hours, and arrived sick, hungry and burnt. It was beautiful though, and if we'd been better prepared we might've really loved it.

Went back to Thailand via Battambang by some kind of private truck service: it was pretty awful. We'd paid extra to sit (tightly-packed with strangers) in the air-conditioned cab, but most people were jumbled up together in the open truck bed, where they got tossed around a lot due to the potholes. Some people got motion sickness. We drove about five miles an hour most of the way, because there were enormous potholes (the size of the truck itself), plus a couple of times the driver needed to drive across two long parallel planks of wood that were functioning as "bridges."

(For calibration: at the time I was 30 and pretty comfortable with cheap backpacking type travel.)

This was 12 years ago so maybe things have changed but based on that trip, I'd say this:

* Phnom Penh was amazing. I found everything fascinating: the people, the temples, the killing fields just outside town, S21 (the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum), the central market, the French influence everywhere, the bars full of prostitutes and drugs. Maybe take a look at Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja -- it's a very narrow view of life in Phnom Penh from the perspective of a particular kind of Western expat and probably much has changed since it was written, but it'll give you some flavour for the city. There are also tons of great books, obviously, on the Khmer Rouge. I liked this one, this one, this one and this one, but there are lots. When I was at the killing fields, there were still teeth and bones and bits of cloth being pushed up out of the ground. I still think about it all the time.

* Siem Reap's okay. You wouldn't want to spend a lot of time there -- I remember it as sleepy and dusty, but it's a perfectly good jumping-off point for Angkor Wat. It's what Aguas Calientes is to Macchu Pichu.

* I personally am not hugely enamoured of ancient ruined architecture (although I have seen a lot of it), but I spent about three days at Angkor Wat and found it interesting and enjoyable.

* Bangkok is of course fascinating. If you're at all interested in the culture of sex tourism, it's worth reading Patpong Sisters: An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World, by Cleo Odzer, who sadly died a few years ago in Goa.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by Susan PG at 9:49 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is the best guide for overland travel between Bangkok and Siem Reap: However, I'd also recommend flying, because the bus/taxi/tuk tuk journey was definitely something of an ordeal, both because it was long and not particularly comfortable, and also because it involves a lot of haggling that can get rather tedious. Having said that, a visit to Angkor is totally worth it, and you should definitely visit if you can.
posted by ohkay at 10:05 AM on July 26, 2012

I did this trip about nine months ago. If you aren't on a budget, I agree with the above that flying is the fastest and most comfortable way to get from bangkok to siem reap. If you want to do it more cheaply and don't mind cramped minibuses, all of the travel agencies in the koh san road area will sell you a combined bus ticket, which will take you from koh san to the border, then pick you up on the other side and take you to siem reap. I think it's more convenient than the train-tuk tuk-border-tuk tuk-bus combination. They will take you to their preferred travel agency which will "expedite" your visas for $20 or so, but I balked at this and went through the crossing without their help, and it only took 20 minutes or so. The total journey takes most of the day.

I would spend a minimum of 2 days in siem reap, and if you like ruins you could easily spend more time there without being bored - angor wat is massive. I didn't think siem reap was much worse than other touristy towns in se asia. Hak's house in siam reap was one of the nicest budget accommodations I stayed at in se asia, with an honest and helpful owner.
posted by btkuhn at 3:53 PM on July 26, 2012

My trip was back in 2004 and I spent 3 weeks in Cambodia. I will say that Angkor Wat is really amazing. Back then they had a longer pass to visit the temples (maybe 5 days?) which I bought. I spent 3 days touring the temples and had one day off in-between to rest.

I enjoyed renting a bike and riding around the ruins, but they're really spaced out and it's hot so a bike ride is not an easy day out. If you wan tot bio, choose your route based on the closest temples. One day I also rented a motorbike and driver to take me around to the further out temples and to one where I climbed in the dark and watched the sun rise. I've seen a lot of sun rises and sun sets and am convinced that sun rises are not worth it.

Speaking of sun rises, the ones I saw over the lake in Phnom Penh were some of the best I've ever seen. I stayed in a few different guesthouses on stilts over the lake and am surprised I survived. Those things are scarily built. The ceiling on one fell in while I was sitting on the bed (luckily I had just sat down and noticed the weird sound and jumped into the doorway just before it fell).

If you can do it, fly. I went to Siam Reap from Phnom Penh and just took the bus the whole way. The boat seemed like a tourist scam (not sure if it is) and I went to Laos by crossing up the Mekong so I got enough river in Cambodia later on. You don't have a ton of time, so think about if two full, long, hard days of travel are worth the savings over the flight. Have fun!
posted by Bunglegirl at 6:50 PM on July 26, 2012

This just popped up on my recent activity because someone favorited it, so I thought I'd share my experience.

In the end, we did three days/two nights in Bangkok, staying at a little guest house just off the river. Fantastic place, and we definitely will go back and spend more time.

We'd been warned that the tour agencies were kind of scammy, so instead we ended up taking a public bus to the border. It was no hassle, and the ride was comfortable and super cheap (seriously, I think it was like $3 each). The biggest difficulty was figuring out which buses were actually the public buses and which ones were private tour services - they go out of their way to make that difficult to determine. But since we did navigate it successfully, that meant we never dealt with the scam of a fake border crossing or an offer to 'expedite' our visas. We walked through the border, where we were immediately met by a guy who led us to the free shuttle to the bus station on the Cambodian side, which is several kilometers away from the border. We were a little suspicious of this stranger accosting us, but he said the government has recently started hiring people to do this because of the bad name they're getting from all the scams. It was pretty much the experience meta87 described, which the travel guide ohkay linked to said is the norm. When we got to the bus station, the early one for Battambang had already left and the evening one was several hours away. Since we don't like traveling at night anyway with the hugely increased risk of road accidents (at least in West Africa, so we just assumed that was the case here as well), we found another couple of tourists going the same way and got a taxi for the exact same price ($10 per person).

Battambang was a great little town, and I definitely recommend it. (Anyone who wants to know more about the kinds of things you can do there or any of our other stops feel free to MeMail me). The boat from Battambang to Siem Reap , was indeed both grueling and beautiful. Happily, we had gallons of sunscreen and shady hats, so we escaped any serious burning, and about halfway through the 7-hour trip we stopped in a floating village for lunch.

And yeah, Siem Reap itself was pretty forgettable (with the possible exception of the rooftop beach bar), but the temples were worth all three days, and biking around the nearer ones, getting a moto for the farther ones was a great idea.

Thanks all!
posted by solotoro at 3:07 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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