Or, how to enter Cambodia from Thailand via Ban Pakard, with most of your money
This would be an adventure.
Crossing the border from Thailand to the Kingdom of Cambodia is a dodgy proposition at the best of times. Or so we’ve been told. The crossing at Aranyaphathet to Poipet (gateway to Siem Reap, and the most common way to get across to see Angkor Wat) is known as one of the scammiest in the world. The wild wild west, only in the east.
I wanted very much to avoid it.
And so in search of an alternative (our ultimate destination was Angkor Wat, and it was time to renew our Thai passport stamp anyways), I searched for something a little more… civil. I (thought) I’d found that at a crossing near Ban Packard. (You should look it up; most locals had to; it was not well known.) From my research, it seemed pretty calm and organized, and relatively unscammy. I’d hoped it would serve as a gentle entry point into the Kingdom.
Did I mention that it is (lovingly referred to as Scambodia? Well, it is.)
I had done a lot of reading online about it; there was no way was I going to be scammed out of my hard earned sawbucks (one pays for everything big in US dollars, and gets change [for amounts under a dollar] in Cambodia Riel.)
So Ban Pakard – Prum it would be.
We were at six AM, at the crack of dawn, and out the door at 0700. We had a half hour motorcycle ride from our apartment in Tapong to Ban Phe, where we would catch our second leg of the trip, a minivan to Chanthaburi, beginning at 0800. Er… supposedly leaving at 0800.
The mini van left at 0830.
Minivans are a staple of transport life in SE Asia. They “leave” (as advertised) every hour to everywhere, but in reality, they leave when they are full. Literally (in a literal sense) full. There were 14 of us crammed into this one with us. In one case, I saw a wife sitting on the lap of a husband, and a child sitting on the both of them.
ProTip (see below): never “choose” the rear seat of a minivan.
An hour and twenty minutes later and we were in Chanthaburi, the gem capital of Southern Thailand, and a Crossroads of sorts to points east. The benefits of Ban Pakard are balanced by the relative difficulty of getting there, however. It’s not nearly as straight forward as getting to Poipet, but that was the point of it all (the journey being the worthier part, and all). We would have to find our own connections, something that is trivial for us when travelling alone, but made slightly more complicated when a seven year old is tagging along.
We didn’t want to traumatize La Petite Fille ™, after all.
Once dropped off at the mini bus station in Chantha, it wasn’t long until we were approached for offers to move along, so to speak. Our driver actually helped us out a bit, and found a songthaew. We snapped it up immediately, but unfortunately we (er… I) misheard the price. Doh!
We’re pretty sure this one was on me. I’d thought I’d heard 150 baht (I’d heard that the fare could be as low as 30-50 baht per person, which would fit), but at the gas station down the road, it turned out to be 800 total. We balked, and I left La Fille ™ to sort out the mess while I went to talk to a man about a horse.
La Fille took care of business. Like a boss.
Short story, we ended up on a not uncomfortable outdoor ride for 450 total (150 each), Chanthaburi to Ban Pakard. This trip took about two hours, with 30 minutes of sitting around, gassing up, waiting to offload passengers to other modes.
In total it took us 3 hours 20 minutes to get from Ban Phe to Ban Pakard. Of that, about an hour was just waiting around for… things to happen. We arrived to the border at around noon.
Almost immediately upon arriving, we were invited to consider options to push on through to Batambang (bat-am-bong). And here I made my second flub of the day. After our own version of planes and trains, we were ready for a bit of the automobile. So we (er.., I) bit down hard and hired a taxi. An extravagance, I admit, at 1000 baht, but a mistake in hindsight, as I seemed afterwards to recall seeing rates of 10 USD being the norm.
To my credit, I did bargain down to 1000 from 1200. But whenever they agree too quickly, you know you’ve made a mistake. Strike two (one more to come).
Stamping out of Thailand. When changing countries, you stamp out of your current country, and then stamp into the new one, always a two step process. In this case, because we have to buy an entry visa, a three-step process.
I had done a lot of reading to make sure the crossing at Prum (the Cambodian town opposite Ban Pakard) would be smooth, and for the most part it was. We stamped out of Thailand (with two days, out of our 30 day allotment, to spare), avoided any street-side scamsters (our taxi driver helped out with that, steering us in the correct direction), and found the arrivals desk of the Kingdom of Cambodia very easily.
We bought our entry visas at the border, since they do not accept e-visa yet, but had come prepared with photos for all of us. I’m pretty we got overcharged by Police Captain Srey Sokha, the Deputy Chief of Visa Services, by five USD, however. I had thought, and been expecting to pay 30 USD La Fille et moi, but he asked for 35 each. I paid that.
[UPDATE: yeah, I got taken. I was definitely confused by the e-Visa increase to $37 USD, and sort of got lost in the moment on this one.]
I was taken for a bit of a loop, since the e-Visa cost had recently gone up to 35 USD [plus a 2 USD service charge]. I think I too quickly accepted the extra five bucks because of that. I’m still not entirely sure that it isn’t $35 [I’m sure now that it is not, of course].
At any rate, I was perfectly sure that Elliotte wouldn’t have to pay anything, since children under 12 years old are visa exempt, and so I was better prepared when the good Captain asked for $20, “for baby”. I simply said “baby free”, shrugged my shoulders, received a shrug in return, and that was that.
All told, the experience was fairly low key and easy to handle. I kick myself for falling for “I’m Police Captain Srey Sokha, the Deputy Chief of Visa Services and a person in authority” schtick, but in the end, we lost just ten bucks USD. Dunno, that might be a brazillian bucks Canadian right now, we’re so far out of the loop.
The cab ride into Batambang was fine, on probably the most newly paved road in Kampuchea, and we were in our guesthouse by around 1330. About an hour and twenty minutes in a fairly good Toyota Camry. The cabby had a touch of trouble finding it (about two kilometers out of town on a dirt road), but I had the location dialed in on a saved on Google maps, so I could direct him in.
Easy peasy, and not entirely unenjoyable. Definitely a story to tell around the water cooler.
- Tapong to Ban Phe, 30 mins by moto (our own), 30 minutes waiting
- Ban Phe to Chanthaburi, 1h20 hours by mini van – 160 THB (480 total)
- Chanthaburi to Ban Pakard, 2 hours, 30 minutes waiting – 150 THB (450 total)
- Thai and Cambodian customs, 30 minutes to stamp out and sign in
- Prum to Batambang, private taxi, 1h30 – 1000 THB total
Total cost: 1930 THB, 71 CAD (for three people), six hours (we ate lunch in Batambang at 1400h).
Solo Cost (if you’re a solo traveller, not a family like us): 1410 THB (if you cannot find someone to share a taxi, plus considerable waiting for people to go with you to the border).
- Do your research. Know what you have to pay for, how much you need to pay, and where you need to go (and for what). Write it down.
- Try to get the front seats of the mini van. Back seats are bumpy and hot (Elliotte got sick there). Up your chances chances by catching mini vans at the bus station (they start there, but stop anywhere along the route), and consider being the first ones on the *next* van if the current one is full (they leave every hour, usually).
- Patience is king. It is going to take some time. If time is money, then pay for private taxis. We do quite often, and it is worthwhile, particularly when travavelling with children.
- Know what you’re getting into.Be prepared! Buses take their sweet bloody time, and stop often at their favorite places for food, refreshment. Cabs and mini vans will stop for gas on your dime, after picking you up. Mini vans will be packed (we had 14 in ours, designed, I am quite sure, for less than that.
- Google Maps is your BFF. You can save and download maps for offline use. Pin and sae all the places you want to go to, and show them to your taxi/tuk-tuk driver to get you there quickly. Also, avoid being driven around the block by following your progress live.
- Have fun with it. Our motto?
The journey (even with a seven year old) is the worthier part.
I research so you don’t have to. Here’s some of the reading I did for this trip.
Border jumping Thailand to Cambodia : Ban Packard to Psar Phrum / Chanthaburi to Battambang on the Hungry Backpackers
- Pailin on Wikitravel
Ban Pakard / Phsa Prum Border Crossing on Travelfish
- Inspection Ban Pakard Border Crossing on VisitThailand.travel
- Koh Chang to Battambang on Lonely Planet
- Cambodian International Border Crossing on Angkor Taxi Driver
- Back to Thailand again… on Refractory Road