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Cambodia Overland

Travelers' Reports:
Overland, Thailand/Cambodia - Koh Kong border crossing

Page 1 of 4 (2006 - 2010)

Updated June 11, 2010

These are reports detailing experiences traveling independently between Bangkok and Phnom Penh by way of Koh Kong. If you'd like to share your own experiences, please e-mail them to me.

Photocopier, anyone? (June 2010):

We travelled from Hat Lek to Koh Kong with e-visas at the end of May 2010 and were prepared for some scamming having read the reports. As soon as we got through to the Cambodian side we were crowded by guys trying to see our documents, help us fill out the entry forms and of course offer transport. Once they saw we had an e-visa they were less excited. The border guards made us get photocopies of our e-visas made, but claimed not to have a photocopier even though we could see one. We had to pay 150 baht for someone to take our visa away to a nearby shop and copy it. Our guesthouse owner said he was surprised we hadn't had to pay a 'swine flu' charge which apparently is also now common at this border!

In German (May 2010):

As this is an English-language site, German readers might be interested in the following:


Bangkok to Phnom Penh (November 2009):

This was my route: I was to lazy to take a public bus of the Eastern bus station (I had to travel through the whole city at 5 in the morning... no way!), so I get a ticket at Khao San Road for 350 Baht to Trat. I know, it is too much... Alright the guy picked me up at my guesthouse, and I gave him my ticket (which was a big mistake!!!) So after a while the bus was complete and we started our ride... The bus was nice, we stopped two times (the second stop was at a gas station directly in front of the "Welcome to Trat" sign, so I don't know why we stopped again...)...  But okay. Then we arrived the ferry port for the ship to Koh Chang. I was the only guy who didn't want to go to Koh Chang but to Trat.

So I was standing there... Alone... Till I asked someboy standing at a minivan. And he said yeah I go to Trat. And I thought oh perfect, he is waiting just for me... So we drove another 30 Minutes to Trat. But then he wanted 50 Baht of me. I told him a hundred times patiently, that I got a ticket to Trat and not to the ferryport, but it didn't help, he wanted to see the ticket (which had the guy in Khao San...) So I paid. Afterwards, I took the next minivan to the border crossing (120 Baht for foreigners) no complaints about that. At the crossing it is absolutely not neccessary to take a moto, or that somebody take your luggage, it is really not far! Maybe 50 or 100 meters... At the Cambodian Checkpoint you need this health certification (20 Baht), or at least they tell you its necessary. I ignored all the people and went directly to the visa office, without problems. Go Inside the office!!! Not outside from the window. I went inside, and had a seat at the desk of the two officers, sitting there in t-shirts and drinking nescafe. From time to time they got the passports of their "assistants" which want to help the tourist with the visa thing. And I saw it, really everybody paid 1400 Baht, ways to much! So I was sitting there and said to them, look, I have here 800 Baht for you, it is still too much but I don't care. Please give me the visa. But they didn't respond. With Khmer people you have to negotiate very friendly, laugh and smile a lot, and they will arrange with you. After 15 Minutes sitting there, watching them scamming the tourists, they grabbed my money and gave me the Visa for 800 Baht and said: But don't tell anybody!

So I went with my Visa happy to Koh Kong by Motobike (The fee for the bridge is just 1200 riel, around 10 Baht, not 50 like they say!) and slept at Neptun Guesthouse (3 US$, Absolutely great, good food, very nice owner!) I bought the ticket from Virak Buntham (they don't have fixed prices for the tickets, so always negotiate!!!) Last time I had one for 8 Dollars, now for 10... The trip was okay and we arrived after 5 1/2 hours in Phnom Penh.

The border crossing used to be much worse but it changed a bit, maybe thanks to Tales of Asia, always keep in mind, nobody at the border wants to help you just because he is a nice guy... And insist on a 20 Dollar or 800 Baht VISA, it is part of our responsibility, to fight against corruption in this beautiful country!!

Phnom Penh to Trat via Koh Kong by bus (July 2009):

I needed to travel from Phnom Penh to Trat again and after my satisfying experience with "Virak-Buntham Express Travel" back in January (see below) I decided to use their "Express Bus" once more.

Unfortunately, their service this time was disappointing to the point that I can't recommend this bus anymore - at least for people that just want to travel to the Thai border. But please read on.

The friendly man at the "Virak-Buntham" bus terminal offered me the ticket for 9 USD (discounted from 10 USD) which turned out to be overpriced as locals pay only 25,000 Riel (6 USD) for the same trip! The bus was comfortable and fast, though. We left Phnom Penh at 7:50 a.m. and ran nonstop(!) to Koh Kong. We arrived there at 12:45 hrs.

That's when the fun was over. The "Express Bus" didn't take us - as promised - straight to the border but we were forced to change buses at a guesthouse in Koh Kong. The last leg of our journey, 12 kilometers to the border, took a full hour to complete. We wasted some 45 minutes waiting for a crowd of backpackers arriving on another bus.

When we finally made it to the border, there was a lot of confusion. I couldn't find my luggage! "Where's my bag?," I wanted to know. "It go to Thailand already. You get back in Thailand," one of the staff answered. "I want my bag, now!," I shouted. But it was too late. Before I knew what was going on, I recognized some boys actually running away with my luggage (packed on a handcart) towards the Thai border!

Getting our exit stamps took ages (interestingly though, the "organized tour crowd" didn't have to queue, they got their stamped-out passports back in virtually no time!) and when I finally was standing on Thai soil, the real hunt for my luggage began. I eventually found it, resting on a lonely handcart and probably waiting to be snatched by any stranger.

I picked up my bag - with a big sigh of relief - and then tried to find a van to Trat. I wasn't really surprised to find the same mess again, like back in January! The people that run the van business were still not interested in taking anybody to Trat (the regular service they are supposed to provide) but they wanted to take everybody to Pattaya, Koh Samet or Bangkok.

I didn't waste my time and walked straight to the waiting songthaews. "I need to go to Klong Yai," I said. The driver asked me if I was prepared to pay 45 Baht for the trip (in a full songthaew it's 25 Baht/person) as he had only 2 passengers so far and if I agreed we could leave immediately. It seemed fair enough. I was hungry and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. And, oh well, just before we left there was a young man hunting for ME! He wanted me to pay for the "Luggage Service" he had provided...! I had a good laugh and made him packing, somehow...

Arriving in Klong Yai, another songthaew to Trat was just about to leave. It cost 60 Baht and brought me straight to my hotel. I arrived there at 4:15 p.m. Happy ending!

Lessons learned:

- Don't take those tour buses that promise to take you straight to the border (unless you are willing to continue your journey to Bangkok, Koh Samet or Pattaya with a joint ticket by the tour bus company).

- Take a regular bus to Koh Kong for 6 USD by any company (i.e. Sorya Transport from Central Market), hop on a motodup (for about 50 Baht) and continue to the border without delay. This way, you avoid the crowds at the Immigration checkpoints and (hopefully!) nobody will run away with your luggage and charge you later...

- Once in Thailand, immediately proceed to Khlong Yai (25 Baht), and take a songthaew (60 Baht) or van (80 Baht) into Trat.

Trat to Cambodia (July 2009):

The border crossing was relatively fast and easy, after coming on a minivan from Trat. The e-visa site, which rarely seemed to be working in June, eventually provided me with a visa which I printed out before I left Bangkok.  and it's nice to have it... but it took the officers about three times longer to process me than folks who were buying their visas on the spot.  I didn't ask how much they paid.

The main thing I would suggest is: unless a share-taxi is there (at the border) providing what you want for a reasonable price (whatever that means to you), immediately catch a moto to Koh Kong town and check out your options from there.  It's a nice place, the buses run from there, and it's hard to get a straight answer about the possibilities from anybody at the border.

Easy going (April 2009):

Good news is that prices seem to have dropped considerably due to new competition. The going rate for rides to the border were $7 for either Virak-Buntham Express Travel or it's competitor Bun Thou Express Travel. I bought my ticket at my guesthouse, and other agencies I checked wanted as much as $9 for the same ticket. They leave at the same time, 8:15 am. I took Bun Thou, but I suspect they are the same quality which is to say pretty darn good.

I met a guy who had booked a combined ticket for $20 all the way to bangkok. It didn't seem like too bad of a deal, but I never like doing it that way as you have little recourse if people screw with you on the other side of the border. I had also met a girl who had been ripped off on a combined ticket from Koh Samet to Sihanoukville- at least $40 plus various 'extras'.

Over the border in Thailand, the minibus company still had rides to Trat for 120 baht. This is the same company that does joint tickets, so I suppose it is possible that they could fill up in the busy season. It was low season, so I had no trouble getting on one. The guy is still a cranky prick and will not bargain. When my girlfriend offered 110 baht he abruptly told her she could walk. That said, they did take us where they said they would (the bus station in Trat) and didn't do anything sketchy.

One more thing I forgot to mention- even arranging the sectors as we went from Sihanoukville to Bangkok, we easilly managed to get the 4pm bus out of Trat and nearly managed to catch the 2:30. There are later buses as well if need be Our (4 pm) bus put us in Bangkok at 9:30pm at the Mo Chit terminal (with access to the BTS Skytrain). Note that buses also run to the north bus terminal, but it is a little out of the way. Readers should be assured that a 1 day journey is possible from S'ville to Bangkok, albeit a long one, though from Phnom Penh it may be two days.

Phnom Penh to Trat via Koh Kong by bus (January 2009):

"Virak-Buntham Express Travel (Tel. 089 998 761), Street 106, near Riverside, runs a comfortable bus direct to the Thai border at Cham Yeam (Koh Kong), leaving Phnom Penh at 7:45 a.m. The journey takes 5 to 6 hours and costs 12 USD."

My friend's recommendation seemed fair enough so I wanted to try this new choice by myself. I hopped on a motodup, rushed to the riverside and booked a seat on that bus for the next day.

We left Phnom Penh at 7:50 a.m. and reached the turn-off from highway RN 4 to Sre Ambel at 10:20 hrs.
Ten minutes later we stopped at a small restaurant near the bridge in Sre Ambel for lunch. We continued at 11 o'clock and crossed four newly finished bridges before we reached Koh Kong. The new road was in excellent condition and everything went smooth and hassle-free.

We arrived at 13:05 at the market in Koh Kong. Our comfortable bus then brought us - as promised(!)- direct to the Thai border.

It was 13:30 hrs when they dropped us off. It seemed that everybody had arrived at the same time. There were long lines of people waiting to be stamped out at the Cambodian side of the border.  A young Cambodian man approached me. He whispered in my ear, "You want fast service, only two minutes?" "How much?," I asked. "200 Baht!," he said. I laughed.

My photograph was taken again before I finally was granted my exit stamp and I could walk over to Thai Immigration. Proceedings at the Thai checkpoint were considerably faster and better organized. Shortly after 2 p.m. I was standing on Thai soil. That's when trouble started.

The first thing I saw was crowds of people hanging around, sitting on their huge backpacks or fake Samsonites. "Do you have ticket to Bangkok? Koh Chang? Pattaya?," a fat man asked me when I approached one of the waiting vans. "No, I just want to go to Trat," I replied. "Sorry, no more vans to Trat," he said, quickly walking away. I tried to figure out what this meant and it turned out that all vans were booked in advance by the big bus companies and that nobody was interested in providing that regular service to Trat anymore.

Trying to find an alternative, I walked down the road where I saw a couple of songthaews, obviously waiting for customers. One of the drivers greeted me with an ugly smile. "You go Koh Chang?," he asked.  "No, Trat!," I replied. "How much and when are you going to leave?," I wanted to know. "1200 Baht," he said, ignoring the second part of my question. "No charter, I want to share a regular songthaew," I said. "Ok," he replied, "200 Baht per person, but leave only when have eight people." "That's ridiculous!," I shouted, "110 Baht for an A/C minibus but 200 Baht for an open songthaew!" And, later (in Thai), "You know, I am sick and tired of being ripped-off!" "Ok, you wait...hahaha!...after 5 o'clock, maybe have minibus," he replied, now rather angry. I walked away, trying to calm down. All I knew was that I wasn't going to play that game...

When my brain started working again, I enquired a friendly lady at one of the food stalls about ongoing transport. "You could take a motorcycle taxi to the nearest village, Klong Yai, and take a regular songthaew to Trat from there!," she said.

That's what I did! Not exactly, because I was in fact lucky enough to find a songthaew from the border to Klong Yai for 25 Baht and another one from there to Trat for 60 Baht. The friendly (lady) driver brought me direct to my hotel. She really saved my day!

Lessons learned:

- Regular van service from Had Lek (border) to Trat seems not to work anymore.
- Don't waste your time arguing with greedy songthaew drivers trying to rip you off.
- Take a regular songthaew or a motorcycle-taxi from the border to Klong Yai for 25 Baht.
- Take a regular songthaew from Klong Yai to Trat for 60 Baht.

New bridges, big buses (May 2008):

I signed out of Thailand after a rather uneventful trip in from Chantaburi and Trat. The bus ride to the border is now 120B. First off, never ever aggravate a Cambodian border officer in Cham Yeah. It turned out that I didn't have any empty pages in passport plus I told them that "I only have dollars" (no baht) which meant that they couldn't work are scam on me like they did on some others (I saw a couple pay 1200B each for a $20 visa). My advice would be that IF you are going to use that entrance, get one of the electronic visas for $25 and save the hassle. At any rate - they told me to go back to Thailand, so I pulled my bag the 100m back to the Thai border and presented myself to the same person who had only 10 or 15 minutes before signed me out.  "Can not come back to Thailand without Cambodia STAMP!"...so turn around and walk back to Cambodia where I met with the same response as before - told to go back to Thailand.  Well... I got a bit JAI RON - that's Thai for "Upset" and exchanged a few choice words including a few quite explicit 4 letter variety about wanting to either go one place of the other but no-man's-land was not exactly what I had in mind. The visa chief didn't speak perfect English, but he made me understand that HE was upset that I was bad mouthing Cambodia when it was MY PROBLEM that I didn't have any open pages. He relented and made a copy of the passport and had me write a request to them to allow them to use any open page in the passport to place the visa (Takes a WHOLE PAGE, remember? - the electronic visa just gets stapled in) and that they would send me on my way (only an hour) but the amazing thing was that I even offered $30 just to get out of there and he refused the extra 10 and told me to never act that way again if I ever wanted to come back to Cambodia again. I can be quite apologetic if I need to be. Spent $5 to take a taxi into KK (didn't CARE ABOUT THE COST AT THAT POINT) and spent the night - fan room $6 (could have bargained to $5 probably but didn't care there either). In the morning, had to take a moto to the bus "terminal" for $1.

All the bridges are done and there was some ceremonial opening or so I have been told about 5/5 or so. What this did was to eliminate the ferry waits on the overland route. They are also using 49 passenger buses now on the route.  This seemingly silver lining has a cloud, though. The large buses can't climb as well as the smaller buses. The trip from KK to the second bridge was rather quick except for following some loaded trucks up the climb out of the first bridge valley. LONG slow climb at about 30km/hr or so. Between the first and second bridges the elevation climbs to some 450 meters or so (by my GPS anyway) and then the descent into the valley, cross the second bridge and start up again. The third bridge (which was barely under construction last May) was finished, but the bus stopped to allow other traffic to pass before crossing. I was told that the load capacity of the bridge might be a bit low - 2 buses might be a full capacity load - but without additional information I have no way of knowing if that report was correct. They might have stopped because of a ridge at the edge of the bridge roadway and needed to save the tires. We made a stop for 30 minutes at the far side of the fourth bridge, then on to Route 4. The entire route is fully paved - no more dirt whatever. A word of warning - the bus is advertised as fully equipped including on-board toilet.  The "toilet" is a small unlit room in the middle of the bus with no "throne" - just a drainage hole in the back corner of the stainless steel enclosure.  It is NOT recommended for FEMALES at all and MALES better have a good "aim". The AC worked well except for the long climbs where it lost cooling ability for a minute or two depending on how much power was required for climbing. The bus final stop was at the corner of Street 106 and Sisowath Quay - literally right at the river. They DO NOT PICK UP LOCALLY. Bus departure from KK was 830AM (more or less) and arrival in PP was about 230PM or so. Return departure to KK was at 730AM or so from the same location. Outbound to PP cost $15 from a hotel (don't ask me where it was - just somewhere close to the river). Return to KK cost $11 (the folks who went to Sihanoukville said they paid $19 to return by the way).

It took about a full hour to clear PP; about 45 minutes to get to the airport (with 3 pickup stops along the way). The return stopped again at the 4th bridge ("first" bridge going in this direction) where they filled up with a full load of passengers coming from Sihanoukville. They said they had been waiting for about 1 hour after leaving SV at about 8 or so. We arrived at about 11 and left again about 1/2 hour later. The half filled bus was then "full". Uneventful if somewhat slower trip back into KK with the fully loaded bus climbing and descending.

They made a 20 minute stop in KK before proceeding to the border to drop us all off. Exit Cambodia and back to Trat and farther north after waiting for 15 minutes and transferring at Klong Yai.

Bangkok to Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville thru Trat - the wrong way (April 2008):

This used to be my favorite route, but be careful! Times are changing and unscrupulous people are plentiful.

I live in Penang and am married to a Khmer lady so we go to Phnom Penh often, 24 return trips in the past 5 years. Most recent was 26 March 2008 and was by far the most frustrating. Koh Kong has always had Cambodia’s most corrupt and greedy immigration people but this time they outdid all past tactics. Visa on entry is officially US$20 and they have always bumped that up to at least $25. But this time they absolutely would not accept US dollars in any amount, insisted on 1300 baht, which is more than US$40! ­ double the official visa price! Also they have a friend who stands there and insists he has to fill out the arrival cards, which I have always done myself, and then he asks for a big tip.

There are 3 bus companies to Trat from Bangkok’s Ekamai Bus Station, which is conveniently next to the sky train at the Ekamai stop. I prefer Cherd Chai Tour, they run about every hour in each direction, 6AM until 11:30PM from Bangkok and 7AM until 11:30PM from Trat. Their counter is inside the building, the one out front has fewer buses and seems to stop more often so is slower. In Trat they all used to end and originate downtown near the market but now they all use a new bus station a long way out of town, 50 baht by tuk tuk to town and the guesthouses.

There are many guesthouses in Trat and all in the same neighborhood but the 2 most well known are Pop G.H. and Guy G.H. due to the fact they used to meet all incoming buses to drum up business. Pop G.H. has far nicer rooms at a slightly higher price, some on the river. Rooms at Guy G.H are hardly more than cubicles; not even a chair or stool, not even a nail on the wall to hang your clothes, and most rooms do not even have a window so can be very warm or hot. Their only redeeming factor is that if you buy ongoing tickets from them they will get up early to make your breakfast.

But the night market is a less than 5 minute walk from all the guest houses and there are lots of good food stalls. Plus there are bakery stalls and others that make it easy to stock up for next day’s breakfast and travel food.

From Trat it’s a 120 baht mini-bus (van) ride to the border, they claim one hour but it’s more like 1.5 hours due to stops and changing vans at a town a bit more than half way. You have to catch the first van from Trat at 6AM to make the 8AM ferry to Sihanoukville and on a previous trip Cambodia immigration took so long I didn’t get there until 8:20 but was lucky as they were running late that day due to lots of freight to load.

But this trip I had big trouble with the van. Bought tickets at Guy Guest House the night before for the
van to the border and also for a van from border to Phnom Penh. Arrived at van 5:40AM, the man said, “Full, wait until 7AM.” There was room in the van but he wanted me to pay an additional 240 baht or wait until 7AM. He knows that foreigners leaving Trat at 6AM need to connect with onward transport at the border so he figured he had me in a corner. I asked if I could use his desk phone to call Guy Guest house to see if there would be an onward van at the border if I arrived there an hour later. He was very angry, shouted “NO!” Threw the 120 baht at me to pick up off the floor, sent the van on its way, and walked away shouting, “Go at 7!” I found a public pay phone, called Guy G.H. and the girl who answered could not speak English. I pleaded with her to put her sister on but her answer to everything I said or asked was, “Hello.” A tuk tuk driver took the phone to talk to her, he couldn’t speak English either but said the other girl was sleeping. Trying to get any info was a complete dead end.

So, the tuk tuk driver said he would get me to the border in one hour for 600 baht. I felt there was no choice so took it and he got me there in less than an hour. I was there even before 7AM when immigration opens.

The next unpleasant surprise was the van from Koh Kong to Phnom Penh. At Guy G.H. I paid 650 baht (US$20) and was told it would be a 16 person van, which would be like most vans booked at other guesthouses, but normally at US$13. But this ‘Mr Sam’ who she arranges to take people from immigration to the ferry and the vans took me to a genuine Khmer van with 6 seats crowded in and packed with 24 adult Cambodians plus 6 young children plus 2 babies. It was so tight I was doubled up like a fetus with my knees squeezed between my chest and the seat in front of me and feet not even able to touch the floor, and no room to even hold a small bag. All bags and boxes of fish and other stuff were tied onto a large tailgate. Plus they stretched a rope over the roof from a window post to a window post on the other side so 2 more people could ride on the roof and hang onto that. At one point we were bouncing along at top speed and the 2 guys on the roof started frantically banging on the roof. The driver didn’t pay any attention and no one else seemed to give a shit either and we just kept on charging along.

I do know Guy Guesthouse ripped me off on the Koh Kong to Phnom Penh van at 650 baht but I don’t know if it is her or her ‘Mr Sam’ who additionally pulls the fast one of putting people into a cheaper Khmer van and pockets the extra money. Her “‘Mr Sam’ is also very aggressive about asking for a “big tip,” - closer to the category of a demand… I do know I paid Guy Guesthouse 650 baht (US$20) when normal guesthouse vans carrying only 16 people are only US$13.

After reaching Phnom Penh I phoned Guy Guesthouse again wanting to tell her what happened, hoping to learn why I was screwed over on both van tickets and also hoping maybe I could learn how much of this screwing around she was aware of. But again all I could get was the one word vocabulary: “Hello, hello, hello, hello,” and then the girl hung up the phone. Am wondering if possibly when she recognized my voice she just didn’t want to talk.

My advice would be to stay self-reliant, don’t book anything in advance from 3rd party touts. And, no matter when you buy your ticket it is first come first serve at the van or ferry and when they are full they go. There are dozens of cars, trucks, and motorbikes at the border that will take you to the ferry and vans to Phnom Penh. So wait until you are there and can see what you get before you pay. And from Trat to the border I would definitely try to find one or 2 other people to share it and get a nice fast tuk tuk.

Better yet, go to Phnom Penh thru Poipet. If you want to do the beach at Sihanoukville it’s only a 3.5 hour, US$4 bus ride from Phnom Penh while the ferry to Sihanoukville from Koh Kong is now US$22.

But in reference to the Koh Kong to Phnom Penh highway, it is completely paved and finished now except for 2 bridges. And those looked finished except for the side rails on one and even the side rails were almost finished on the other. So there should be big buses on that route really soon. And hopefully when that happens there will soon be big buses from the border to Trat.

Sihanoukville - Koh Kong (August 2007):

...The Sihanouksville - Koh Kong trip was a bit more problematic. We bought our minibus tickets from the Same Same guesthouse in Serendipity. Unfortunately I haven't kept the details of the minibus company. Of all the people that had tickets, only 4 of us were going just to the border, so the company put us in a Camry, instead of the minibus. The first bit of the trip was uneventful, although the driver was clearly in a great hurry. The road, for the biggest length, was in very good condition, despite the heavy morning rain. The problems started at the first toll stop, when the diver asked me to borrow 1$. I made the mistake to give him, but became suspicious, when he kept the change. Then at the first ferry, he asked to the french couple that was riding with us, for 100 baht for the ferry ticket. To make things worse, he picked up an extra passenger, so we had to ride the next 2.5 hours with 4 people in the back seat, although we had paid for a minibus seat. At the next ferry stop he asked me to pay for the ticket, but I told him I didn't have any baht, so he said he would take care of it and I would give him at the end. At the end of the trip, he asked me for 10$ for the ferry tickets, because he had to pay 200 baht. I protested that this is included in the ticket price and anyway 200 baht was 6$ not 10$, and he said "Ok give me 6$". We started to move and he started hassling us to give him a tip. I said that he had already taken 1$ and 100 baht so he left.

Progress Report (June 2007):

May 16 - Took a mini from Chantaburi to Trat (80B) and then the ride to the border from Trat (110B)

The border was empty at just before sundown when I got there from Trat at 18:30 or so. I gave them $20 plus 5 more (Just $5 "extra". Yeah, he knew I knew - the 5 visa stickers in the passport showed I knew. Yeah, it was more than the "official rate" but I didn't really care that much - about the only place they don't pressure "May I have some more, sir?" is at the airport) No scam about SARS, no "change money" scam. Lots "nicer" at dusk than during the day - less hassles.

Moto prices were "ridiculous" - they wanted $5 (told them in Thai I would "walk") - I walked to the casino and ducked inside to get rid of the followers. Got a moto into town for $2 - didn't have to actually give him that much but he was personable even if he dropped me somewhere I didn't know where I was - got taken to a hotel where the bus to PP starts out the next day (more precisely, it's the last stop before leaving on the road - the bus was there overnight) Still beats me where I was. Cheap beer in the shop across the street - 2/$1 - got enough (I thought 6 was enough) to last the trip the next day. Nope - could have used another 4.

Road conditions - to the first ferry - great road (the approach to the bridge is about done, the bridge itself was "done" except for the side rails and will probably be open in a month or less). Long wait for the ferry. The road to the second bridge is also great - they are "paving" the drainages beside the road to prevent wash-outs. (second bridge is "started" - the pilings in the river are done and they are erecting the piers - expect at least a year of further construction - probably longer) Another long wait for the ferry. The road to the third crossing is also "better" than last year - the blasting section from last trip is finished and the road grade is a lot better. Alas, the third bridge is in the "piling stage" - about 1 pier set of pilings was done - completion I would guess about 2 years out. The road to the last crossing was also "good" - this bridge is in the same state of readiness as the first bridge and will probably open in a couple of months or less. The road to the intersection with the main hi-way was pretty good. Word of caution (minor) - the minibus from KK actually goes to Sihanoukville so you WILL change busses at that intersection. The road is GOOD, the TRAFFIC is horrible the closer you get to PP. 7 hours total - left at 9am, got into central market at 4pm or so

The speedboat raised their rates to $20 so the busses did the same. Fuel IS expensive there ($1/litre) , so I didn't complain about the bus rate. The speedboat days are numbered going to Sihanoukville - once the bridges are done, the trip will shrink to about a 3 maybe 4 hour ride (safer, too - you can't "sink" a bus) - they will need to designate somewhere as a loo break, though - right now it's "where ever the ferry stops".

Not wishing to be a masochist - I FLEW BACK TO BKK about a week later. I might just FLY both directions unless I'm carrying heavy luggage. It ate a whole day getting there from Chant (24 hours real time). The return airfare was $52, departure was $25 (getting there would have been about the same, but in Baht) AirAsia office is next to Omni hotel on the deGaulle side (yes, it's not deGaulle at that spot, but it's how I remember the road name

Kampot -- Koh Kong by Minivan (December 2006)

After several easy journeys from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong by boat, I finally decided to try the infamous road through the cardamom mountains to get to the Thai border. I was eager to know what the journey would be like and expected an exciting ride over a rough mountain road through some impressive jungle.

The trip turned out to be quite a nightmare - not because of the partly bad road but because of a totally overcrowded vehicle, one of those notorious "Cambodian minivans".

Everybody in Kampot confirmed that the road through the cardamom mountains was now in good condition and that the minivan, leaving at 8:30 a.m., would take only about six hours for the trip and go straight to the border.

Easy enough, I thought, so the next morning at 8 a.m. I found myself waiting at the taxi stand in Kampot from where the minibus to Koh Kong was supposed to leave. I had no problem bargaining a price of nine dollars for the trip - only to find out later that the standard price was 8 USD (Guesthouses and agencies charge 10 USD for the trip but there's no need to buy a ticket from an agent or in advance!). The driver assured me that he would drop me at the border.

Well, that did sound like a real bargain compared with the alternative: a shared taxi to Sihanoukville (2.5 USD), a motodup to the ferry pier (1 USD), a ferry boat to Koh Kong (15 USD) and another motodup to the border (1.5 USD) - altogether 20 USD.

But for me, the real reason for choosing the van was saving time because I planned to travel on to Chanthaburi on the same day. I figured out that I could be in Koh Kong at about 3 p.m., beating the ferry boat by at least one hour. How wrong I was!

After changing vehicles, our van finally left Kampot at 9:30 - one hour late. It was already cramped with 12 people and a duck on board but nevertheless, the first part of our journey passed smoothly. At 11 o'clock we stopped at the turnoff from the Sihanoukville-Phnom Penh "highway" to Sre Ambel. That's when everything started to go wrong.

The driver somehow managed to load five more people into our van so we were 17 people in the car now! There were five people sharing three seats in the back row, eight people plus some bulky cargo in the middle of the van and four people (including the driver) sharing the two front seats!

Now how can I adequately describe this? It was simply the worst experience and torture I have ever endured on my seven journeys to Cambodia so far. Believe me, even a ride in a crowded share-taxi feels like heaven in comparison! After the third river crossing it became really unbearable. The road deteriorated steadily and the closer we came to Koh Kong, the slower we proceeded. It was almost 16:30 when we finally arrived at the market in Koh Kong. So our trip took a full seven hours and the ferry from Sihanoukville beat us by half an hour (it arrived at 4 p.m.). And of course, that van didn't take me to the border. But I didn't feel like arguing with the driver. All I wanted was to get the hell out of that torture cell!

A motodup took me to the border and shortly after 5 o'clock I was in Thailand. I can hardly describe how I enjoyed the ride in a comfortable (Thai) minivan on an excellent road from the border at Had Lek to Trat. Needless to say that I didn't make it to Chanthaburi that night but I enjoyed a good night's sleep at the Muang Trat Hotel.

But for heaven's sake, peace of mind and your physical health: Stay away from Cambodian minivans - at all costs!

P.S. I would like to point out that we did the trip in perfectly dry conditions; imagine the horror in the rain...

Sihanoukville to Koh Kong by minivan (November 2006):

Ah, yes, a nice day for a ride. The mini-bus left from the "bus gathering point" in Sihanoukville at roughly 7am. 10 people (soon to be 12 after the driver collected a couple a few km down the road) crowded into a Mercedes minivan - a nice vehicle as long as the A/C was working, otherwise, it was a bit "hot" - and it got hot every time the driver shut off the A/C to get more power to climb hills (and occasionally forgot to turn it back on). At 7am it was nice and cool about 24 or 25C and we ran with the windows open.

We got to the KK cutoff about 1 hour later and started up the paved road which soon enough became dirt/gravel/dust. A little farther down the road, the first of 4 ferry crossings. At the ferry crossings there were food and drinks available for typical prices (seems like barangs didn't pay more than locals, but I might be wrong about that) They were constructing a new bridge at this location and it should be done in another 1.5 years or so - they were installing the beams and were about 1/2 way across the river. The wait was 1 hour (mostly because of a taxi driver who crowded in ahead of the van and we had to wait for another ferry). Very high-tech ferry - 3 very large flat bottom boats lashed together with a deck on top and "long tail" drives out the sides - drive onto the deck (passengers walk), cross the river, get back in and go. Essentially uneventful ride to the second ferry crossing (bridge under construction here as well). This time, a large steel tank with a deck on top and 2 longtails (one out each side). It got "interesting" - the "new" road construction involved changing the summit approach out in the mountains - what they did was to blast the "new" roadway while simultaneously using the existing road. It was sort of scary to look out over the precipice of a rock cut and see what would have been a 20m cliff drop straight down. Oh well, the driver knew what he was doing and we weren't around for the fireworks - the blasting - (just as well, I suppose). Down to the third river crossing - this one they hadn't started bridge yet. Another tank with a deck. Up and down over various road surfaces ranging from paved to ruts. Now the FUN part - going down to the 4th river crossing, we tracked through some mud about 15cm deep. It didn't matter that much because because of the dump truck traffic, they had ballasted the road with large rocks and then evidently heaped dirt over the top. Mix dirt with rain and presto - gumbo MUD (red clay mud at that) the Mercedes just pulled right on through it. Onto the 3 boat ferry - but this one was different - it was a "back on - drive off" ferry. The freeboard was about 15 or 20cm (not providing me with a "warm fuzzy feeling") but no waves or water disturbances. The bridge here was also under construction - maybe 2 years to completion (western standards - not Cambodian, though - the time frame might be "longer" in Cambodia) - pulling thriugh the mud again climbing out of the river valley - this time up to the axle and again ballasted well so we didn't get stuck. A rather uneventful drive into Koh Kong and up to the border where the driver deposited us (right beside Cambodia immigration and all the little beggars) The mini-bus ride to Trat was 120B and aside from the change of busses at Khlang Yai, uneventful. Be advised, the NEW Trat bus station is nowhere NEAR downtown so if you are going to Trat itself (Koh Chang or whatever) be prepared to walk or take a taxi (and it's not exactly a short walk either) Total time 7.5 hours (of which 3.5 was "waiting for the ferry") Arrived at Trat bus station about 2:30PM and made connections north.

$25 visas, a bargain? (November 2006):

We (two Australians) caught the 12:30pm bus from the eastern bus station in Bangkok (188b) to Trat. Comfortable and got us there at 6pm. Hopped straight onto a minibus (110b) to Hat Lek and arrived at 7:30pm. Greeted by about 5 touts who followed us through the proceeding. Signing out of Thailand was no problem - official was friendly. We needed a visa on arrival so went straight the Cambodian office for this and filled out the forms in two minutes. We handed over the forms with $20US in cash each - they (three of them) said no, 1200b (excellent English). With smiles we said we would prefer to pay in US$ and would like to pay the correct fee of US$20. They said no 1200b. We returned our same answer and the charade went on for a few minutes. Eventually the man that appeared to be running the show stated US$25 each and that this is the price at the border, and it's only US$20 at the airports. We again said we just wanted to pay the correct fee and asked him his name. At the point of asking his name he standed up and started verbally abusing us. Something along the lines of how dare we ask him his name as he's been working since 7am that day and shouldn't have to put up with this crap from tourists. He's closing up now and we can just get out and he'll deal with us in the morning. We didn't have the guts to call his bluff on this one as it was near 8pm by now. We paid the US$25 and went through the rest of the process very quickly. One of the touts wanted 110b commission for "helping us" fill out the forms - we just ignored him and it wasn't pursued. We have talked to a few other travellers in the days since. They all paid 1200b or if they argued the point US$25. He didn't write the fee on the visa but for the record his name was Maj. Ngeth Channara (Deputy chief of visa service). Despite there being 5 touts there were only two offers to get into Koh Kong. One wanted to take the two of us and both our packs on one motorbike for 100b total plus bridge tolls. We said no for safety reasons. The other offer was 100b each plus 50b for the bridge toll in a car with three additional Khmers in it. We said no to this as well. His response was "fine, walk then". We started walking and to no surprise two motorbikes suddenly appeared - 50b each including road tolls and we have to buy the boat tickets to Sihanoukville from him at $14.50 each when we get into town. We agreed. The other tout drove up and offered 200b total as we're getting on the bikes. We asked to be taken to Otto's but got taken first to Koh Kong Riverside Guesthouse to buy the boat tickets. On the moto-drivers insistence we checked out a room here too and decided to take it - two beds, bathroom, fan, fly screens, hot water, 150b after bargaining. Not a bad place really despite the involuntary arrival. Day over! Caught the boat to Sihnoukville next morning no problems.

Koh Kong Info (August 2006):

You CAN cash travellers cheques at the Acleda bank which is located across from the market. They are also a Western Union agent and can do bank transfers as well. I have a bank account there in U.S. dollars because I can make withdrawls at any of their 22 branches which are located throughout Cambodia.

The best way to travel to Phnom Penh from Koh Kong is by taxi, which is always a Camry of one vintage or another. In June the price was 400 baht by taxi but these rate can go up around holidays. Bear in mind that 400 baht gets you one seat and they consider the Camry an 8 passenger vehicle, 4 in the back and even 4 in the front sometimes.You can always pay for 2 seats and ride in comfort.The taxis are no longer allowed to gather at the market but must now go to the taxi stand at the edge of town. It is possible to arrange a pickup up your hotel.

New info, Trat bus station and minivans to Hat Lek (August 2006):

There is a NEW and large bus station in Trat, which opened up April 4, 2006. The new station replaces the previous bus depots, which were located near the main market. It is located about 2-km from the main market where travelers use to catch the mini-van to Ban Hat Lek border. Travelers _NO LONGER_ go to the market catch the mini-van, as they are now located at the new bus station. As you enter the bus station, the mini-vans are located in the bus parking areas to the far right end of the station. The mini-van to the border now costs 110-Bt, having been raised from 100-Bt last December. Food stands are located adjacent to the bus station.

To Phnom Penh (April 2006):

Minibus is now 110B from Trat to the border, but we took songtaews, just to try them.  We paid 50B Trat to Klong Yai and 25B Klong Yai to the Hat Lek border crossing.  It took about one and a half hours of travel time plus about that much waiting time for the two songtaews.  Minibus is much quicker and more comfortable.

At the border, no hassles on the Thai side, but the "helpful" motodops are lurking at the gate, and start right in as you cross into Cambodia. They're not obnoxious, but they are tenacious. And the first thing they do to 'help' you is to herd you into the first room on the left of the immigration building, which is the Health Certificate currency extraction room! Thankfully, I'd already read this web site, and was ready for them.  After thanking them politely, I said I didn't need any, exited immediately, and no one ever asked for again.

I'd got my visa in BKK for 20 USD.  However, I must relate that they made me wait two days to pick it up, and kept my passport for that time.  When I did pick it up, I noticed that it had been issued on the day I'd applied, so I'm sure this is a way of introducing the Expedited Service Fee.  I didn't ask how much that might be.

Anyways, I already had my visa at the border and had no further problems entering, though it took about five minutes waiting at the window and having my pic taken with a webcam.  My travelling companions didn't yet have their visas, though, and they had to enter the Visa Room where 1100B was extracted from each of them.

Then came the motodop negotiations.  We took one moto per person and though we tried for 50B each, they were adamant that we had to pay the bridge toll, too.  So we paid 50B plus 11B each.  Some shady characters took 10B from each moto driver at the border crossing exit, so I suppose that might explain why WE pay the toll...  Keep your passport ready, since there is a police check a few minutes down the road.

We'd asked the motodops to take us to the market, but of course they took us to some overpriced over-facilitied AC hotel, where we paid them off and set off on foot to find more reasonable accomodation.  But, surprise, they were waiting for us at the market and tagged along as we looked at rooms... just out of comradeship, no doubt...

We got decent rooms for 150B, which seems to be what barangs like us pay for rooms with fan and toilet in Koh Kong.  Very nice rooms and dusty spiderholes all seem to be 150B (or more).  Some places we looked at were definitely not worth 100B, but they preferred to have them empty rather than lower the price.  Guess I just don't understand Cambodian capitalism.  The only exception we saw was Cheap Charlie's, still 80B,  which, though very friendly and equipped with mozzy nets, was too basic for us.  I wished I'd brought my mozzy net, by the way, as most places in Cambodia didn't have them and did not have screens.

Stayed several days.  Not a bad town really, and after a day or two, when your motodop pals have stopped hanging around, you can get 30 to 50B off on your room.  Thai baht and USD can be spent just like riels in Koh Kong.  One baht equals 100 riel, and yes, in Koh Kong they DO take baht coins, too.  1 USD equals 4000 riel.  Note also that they do NOT change travellers' checks in Koh Kong and they give an abysmal rate for Euro cash.  We met someone who had got 340,000 riel for 100 Euros --  The money changers in Phnom Penh were giving 407,800 for 100 USD!  Change to bahts in Trat if you must!

My friends were off to Sihanoukville, and got a dollar off the standard 15 USD boat price.  I'd been there already, so wanted to go right to the capital.

A "tourist mini bus" to Phnom Penh, arranged through your hotel, is 700B.  The road is now in very good condition all the way.  It's dirt until it joins Highway 4 near Sre Ambel, then you're on paved highway.  However, there are four river crossings that are made by ferry.  These can take some time, and I suppose are the only reason there are still no big buses making the trip.

I thought that 700B was a bit high, and I like to do things myself, so after talking to several locals and long termers, I went to the taxi terminal to see what I could find.  The new terminal, where minibuses, Camrys, and pickups start loading, is out north on the main drag, Ph 3.  Walk past the post office and the creek and look to the right and you'll see it, just before Ph 12.  Get there early to get a better seat and to have several drivers to bargain with.  Travellers new to Cambodia take note:  These are nothing like Thai minibuses!  When we finally hit the highway, the minibus I was in had 25 people on board (though four were children), and a huge pile of luggage on the roof, including two barber's chairs...

Anyways, the prices I got from conversations were: pickup 150/250, minibus 300, and Camry 400.  These are prices that Asian people told me they'd paid.  Keep these prices in mind when bargaining, not the overpriced Sihanoukville boats!  I'm an average sized European and was offered 400B in a minibus, which I accepted, since it included carrying my pack inside and a window seat.  If you're a jumbo sized Pattaya expat, or a compact Asian with good bargaining skills and a tiny pack, your mileage may vary... 

Each of the ferry crossings are also food and toilet stops.  If you need a real toilet, have 500r ready, if not, there are bushes provided, hopefully mine-free.  I was lucky, anyways.

The trip took around eight hours from the time the driver took his last swig of breakfast beer until we hit the outskirts of Phnom Penh. That's including about an hour driving around Koh Kong picking up the last half dozen pax and the barber chairs, but not including several stops we made to let people off in southwestern Phnom Penh.

You might consider getting a bag for your pack as it's a dusty trip.  My pack was covered in dust even though it'd been under the back seat inside!

Quick take (February 2006):

Took 12 noon boat from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong. Had intended to take bus but canclled that day due to Chinese New Year. Sea calm. Journey smooth.

Moto to border 80 baht. Moto driver had to pay the police officer money which he seemed to expect.

Took 30 mins to cross both Cambodian and Thai border posts. Cambodian side extremely slow.

Minibus to Trat 110 baht. Very new and comfortable. Leaves when full (9 people). Left Hat Lek 5pm, arrived Trat 6.20pm. Took 7pm bus to Bangkok 230 baht. Bus station on opposite side of the road 300 metres away in the opposite direction you came in.


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