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Bypassing Bangkok

An expanding network of bus and minivan services now connects the eastern seaboard with Suvarnabhumi International Airport, meaning that you don’t have to transit through Bangkok for a flight arrival or departure. This is especially alluring to winter-weary visitors eager to reach a beach fast. The bus ticket desks are downstairs from the main arrivals area. There are services to Pattaya, Si Racha and Ko Chang among other destinations.

Getting to Cambodia: Aranya Prathet to Poipet

The town of Aranya Prathet (aka Aran), 6km short of the principal Thailand–Cambodia border crossing, is known to Thais mostly for smuggling and gambling. (The casinos are over the border in Poipet.) For travellers, it's the busiest border crossing for trips to Angkor Wat and few actually stop here longer than needed to get their passport stamped. Though really, as border towns go, it's not that bad. If you do spend a little time, Talat Rong Kluea, near the frontier itself, is worth exploring. It's mainly thrift-store tat and cheap Chinese-made junk but the Rong Kluea experience isn't about what's being sold, it's about seeing the caravans of Cambodian traders pushing huge handcarts through a market so vast that many of the Thais coming here rent bikes (20B per day) and motorcycles (100B per three hours) to go shopping.

Getting to the Border There are expensive but convenient direct bus services from Bangkok to Siem Reap (eight to 10 hours). Nattakan (www.bookmebus.com; US$28) and Giant Ibis (www.giantibis.com; US$32) are relatively reliable operators.

Buses from Bangkok's Mo Chit (245B, 4½ hours, hourly), Ekamai (236B, four hours, five daily) and Suvarnabhumi Airport (205B, 3½ hours, two daily) bus stations head to Aran’s bus station, 6km short of the frontier itself. Some go to the border itself: these have ‘Rong Klua market’ as a destination.

Minivans from Victory Monument (230B, four hours, every half-hour) go to a point just short of the border itself.

Other bus and minibus services sold on Khao San Rd and elsewhere in Thailand seem cheap and convenient, but they haven't been nicknamed 'scam buses' for nothing. By using them you're agreeing to let people hassle you and rip you off.

All bus services may offer you ‘VIP processing’ of Cambodian visas before you reach the border: don’t do it.

Two daily trains also make the run from (5.55am and 1.05pm) and to (6.40am and 1.55pm) Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Station (3rd class 48B, six hours) to the city.

From Aran bus terminal or train station, you'll need to take either a sŏrng·tăa·ou (15B), a motorcycle taxi (60B) or a túk-túk (80B) the final 6km to the border.

Aran also has buses from the bus terminal to Chanthaburi (160B, four hours, hourly), Khorat (200B, four hours, six daily) from the bus terminal and Surin (150B to 200B, six hours, three daily).

At the border The border is open 7am to 8pm daily. There are many persistent scammers on the Thai side trying to get you to buy your Cambodia visa through them, but no matter what they might tell you, there’s absolutely no good reason to get visas anywhere except the border. Buying them elsewhere costs more and takes longer. Don’t even show your passport to anyone before you reach Thai immigration and don’t change money.

After getting stamped out of Thailand – a straightforward process – follow the throng to Cambodian immigration and find the ‘Visa on Arrival’ sign if you don’t already have a visa. You'll need US$30 and a passport photo. Weekday mornings you might finish everything in 10 to 20 minutes, but if you arrive after noon it could take an hour or more. Weekends and holidays, when many Thais arrive to gamble and foreign workers do visa runs, are also busy. You will probably be offered the opportunity to pay a ‘special VIP fee’ of 200B to jump to the front of the queue. You will almost certainly be asked to pay another small ‘fee’, which will be called a ‘stamping’ or ‘overtime’ fee. You should refuse, though doing so might mean you have to wait a few extra minutes.

Moving on There are frequent buses and share taxis from Poipet to Siem Reap along a good sealed road from the main bus station, which is about 1km away (2000r by motorcycle taxi) around the main market, one block north of Canadia Bank on NH5. Poipet also has a second ‘international’ bus station 9km east of town: prices are double here, and the station is only used by uninformed or gullible foreigners who get swept into the free shuttle that takes travellers out to it.