(As you can see, Thai immigration excels in its knowledge of the English language)
Scouring the Internet for Thailand related websites, one of the most talked about issues you’ll come across is none other than the legendary or perhaps infamous, (whichever way you wanna look at it) ‘Thai Visa Border Run’.
For these couple of blogs, I’ll stick to the issue of running to the border for a re-entry stamp, whether it be for a multiple-tourist, multiple non-immigrant or that more than dreaded 30 day Visa on Arrival one. Oops forgot…. since the authorities-in-charge have recently deemed such a length of stay rather too long for ‘bedraggled pot smoking’ farang backpackers or ‘more than dodgy’ Pattaya expats, your only gonna get a 15 day Visa on Arrival (overland) these days. So, where to go for that re-entry Visa Run? Let’s have a look at the most popular place of all to start off with, and that is:
Aranya Prathet / Poipet (Cambodia)
There is the Ban Laem border point, but by far the most popular one is at Aranya Prathet in Sra Kaew province. To get there takes about 4 and a half hours by air-conditioned bus from the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok and costs about 200 Baht one-way. Better to go in the morning as that’s when the buses leave frequently. Once you get to Aranya Prathet Bus Terminal, jump on a motorbike taxi or tuk-tuk to the border point for about 60-80Baht.
Next, get stamped outta Thailand and apply for a Tourist Visa on the Cambodian side (office on right-hand side just after bridge).
The real cost of a visa is $20US, but since the hard-working Khmer immigration officials are fond of a few Scotch on the Rocks after work, you’ll be left sat for hours unless you donate something to their over-flowing Whiskey Fund Account. A nice 1,000 Baht banknote instead of a 20 dollar note does the tricky very quickly indeed. It’s not unheard of, of foreigners giving a 20 dollar note and a 100 Baht ‘tip’ for their visa on the spot service. Up to you if you wanna try it.
Warning! There is now a expansive Cambodian Visa Scam syndicate operating in Aranya Prathet. It goes like this – you take a tuk-tuk or moto-taxi from the bus terminal to the border or a bus from Khao Sarn and you get dropped off at a travel agency specializing in Cambodian visas. An ‘assistant’, probably some dodgy Khmer geezer with a fake Tourism Authority of Thailand licensed badge hanging from his neck (The TAT does not give such a license to foreigners) explains that Cambodian visas can now only be issued from travel agents like his. If you aren’t so dumb and explain that you know that the border issues them, he’ll next tell you it’s an excruciatingly long hot wait on the Cambodian side. The price for his service is 1,200 – 1,300.
Forget it! The time you wait in his so-called ‘travel agency’ for your passport back with the Cambodian visa inside, you would have been on the Poipet side by then. Ignore what any of these touts tell you – go alone, do it yourself. The queue up for the entry stamp on the Cambodian side can be a bit of a wait, but still better than paying someone off (yes, dodgy geezers on the Khmer side too offering you a ‘speedy under the table stamp service’ into the country too for the likes of 200 Baht).
(Slots, blackjack, roulette? Come join dozens of Thai politicians and even a bunch of Thai fugitives at one of Poipet’s groovy casinos)
Hate to say it, but Poipet simply has to go down as one of the seediest border towns on the planet. Having visited (and once lived) in Cambodia a few times, I’ve had the not so exciting opportunity to enjoy this not so captivating place quite a few times. I’ve read others’ reports on the Net that the place does have a bitta heart but I’ve yet to experience it. Personally, I would not recommend staying over night there, and folk I’ve known who have done it suggest the same thing.
What is worth experiencing in Poipet (actually between the two countries in supposed no-mans land) is one of the casinos. These flashy well-to-do Macau-type gamblers’ havens are in sheer contrast to the 3rd world surroundings one witnesses after coming through Thai immigration. Yours in name here admits to having placed a few bets on the roulette table himself and proudly rejoices at the little winnings that have come his way. With minimum bets at just 5 Baht, 500 baht can go a long way!
In fact, there are casino buses which leave daily in the morning from Lumphini Park in Bangkok and the return trip costs only 200 Baht. Arriving at say 11 o’clock the return bus leaves at 3 or 4 o’clock. So, if you take this cheap visa run transportation, be prepared to hang around a bit. If you ask on the bus in the morning, you should also get a free lunch voucher for the casino. Ask a Thai friend to Google Search “Casino Bus Poipet” for you in Thai language for all the relevant info.
On the Thai side of the border is the one and only Rong Kleau Market which is beyond a doubt the most famous market outside of the capital and very very arguably the cheapest in the land. Yes, this area is a massive source for much of the inexpensive (often low quality though) products sold all over Thailand. Sunglasses, wallets, t-shirts you name it…. Cost-effective, prices can be less than half of what you pay at tourist orientated stalls in Bangkok and Pattaya etc… Definitely worth a good look around and if you take yer Thai wife/girlfriend, you can be rest-assured she’ll love it.
The last bus back from Aranya Prathet to Bangkok is at 7pm but if you wanna stay overnight then there is some real value for money accommodation available in town (lots of Thai-style resorts near the border). Personally, i recommend the Aran Garden 2 Hotel, a bargain at just over 200 a night with fan and TV. Even though the town isn’t exactly the most exhilarating place in Thailand, it’s worth a stay over night – there are a few decent enough places to eat, and of course, to sing…..karaoke.