Poipet hosts Cambodia's main border crossing with Thailand, which links north-western Cambodia to Aranyaprathet, and hence Bangkok. Cross-border activity has made the town grow to be larger than its provincial capital, Sisophon.
It is located on the fully paved National Highway 5 which runs to Sisophon and then further on the south side of the Tonle Sap Lake to Battambang and Phnom Penh. At Sisophon, National Highway 6 branches off to provide a fully paved arterial route along the north of the Tonle Sap to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
If you read on the internet about Poipet, you will find many extremely negative opinions. What the people who write these are not telling you is that they are likely either inexperienced travelers who didn't even leave the main road, or came here specifically to find a terrible place and just reinforced their opinion. The English speaking world has seemingly written this city off, yet doesn't even know its name correctly. The city's name is Poi-pite (pite as in kite) not Poi-pet. Given the fact that the city has great potential to be a nice little border location in the future, it's an unfortunate state of affairs that its reputation is scaring people off from exploring it, and bringing in the tourism which the locals badly need.
Realistically, Poipet is 99% just a Cambodian city where ordinary people go about their daily lives and smiling children say hello truly excited to meet a foreigner. It is very undeveloped even compared to other Cambodian cities, so you basically experience the state Cambodia was in 20 years ago when foreigners visiting was still a big deal. 1% of it is the seedy grothole that people seem fixated on, and if you come here looking for that 1%, that is what you will see.
However, if you come here without preconceptions, you can experience how Cambodia was 20 years ago and consider it an adventure.
The city is actually quite large, with about 100,000 inhabitants, despite description on the Internet of it being a small town. Most visitors never get past the main road, so they form their impression without entering the city. The main road is busy, polluted and seedy, so a place to leave as fast as possible.
While most travellers only pass through, the city can provide the savvy and curious with some fascinating insights into normal Cambodian people's lives. Ever a transport hub, Poipet hosts the western railhead of Cambodia's defunct but regenerating network which once connected to the functioning Thai network.
The nearest Thai town is Aranyaprathet, about 6 km from the border. The border is in central Poipet. The border is open 07:00 - 22:00. There is no time difference between Cambodia and Thailand.
Immediately next to the Thai immigration facilities is Rongkleu Market, which host banks, cafes, a convenience store, money exchangers and buses.
From elsewhere in Cambodia
Poipet is a medium-sized city that is well connected with reasonably priced buses to various points in the country. The three major cities of Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap ($3.75 to Poipet/$5 from Poipet) are each directly connected to Poipet. The bus station is located in the city center near the southwest end of Pub Street. Note, if on a bus to Poipet with a view to leaving Cambodia, the bus will stop at its company's Poipet offices first. Do not get off unnecessarily as it will likely continue as far as immigration, which will save you a walk or motorbike taxi fare.
Taxis to Poipet should be cheaper than those from Poipet, if you can keep middle men out of it. Your guesthouse may help arrange one but will inflate the price for you. A taxi from Siem Reap should be about US$30 and take about 2.5 hrs.
Leaving Cambodia at this border is generally unproblematic. The porters that swarm over your luggage as soon as it's out off the bus are only trying to get a fare for carrying it to the Thai side. They will generally not steal from it (but it's best to have your cash and electricons on you). Their services (US$1) can be appreciated on a hot day if the queues are long.
From Aranyaprathet, songthaews (pickup trucks that act as buses) run between the 7-Eleven in Rongkleu Market and the out-of-town Tesco Lotus hypermarket, passing through central Aran on the main road. A ride costs 15 baht. A tuk-tuk should cost 60 Baht after haggling and a motorbike taxi should be 40 Baht after a haggle.
On the Thai side, entry to the Thai immigration facillities is to the left of the main road which approaches the border. Travellers therefore must head towards the busy Rongkleu Market for about 2 or 3 meters before seeing the lines for immigration.
When in line for Thai immigration, both arrivals and departures, there are vats of cool drinking water that travelers can avail of, if they have a bottle to fill.
Alternatively, you can obtain an e-Visa for US$30 plus $7 processing fee, which is the same visa as the one for $30 but obtained online in advance. Having an e-Visa saves time at the border but that's all the extra $ gets you.
$30 tourist visas (T class) are extendable for one month only ; anyone wanting longer stays and multiple entries in Cambodia will need a $35 business visa (E class, valid for 30 days and extendable once in Cambodia). Confusingly, E class visas are unrelated to the online visas. They costs $35 and require no extra documents or fees. Make sure the officials know that you know this.
Once you have your visa, brush off the touts and head down the street to get an entry stamp into Cambodia. The arrivals office is on the right (south) side of the street, after the last casino. Some lurkers may tell you otherwise. You will need to fill in an Arrival /Departure card which will be offered to you by touts for a fastback fee of 200Baht to avoid waiting in the stifling got
To elsewhere in Cambodia
The Official Transport Monopoly Scam
One's first steps after the arrivals office lead to the Transport Monopoly Tout Zone (see map). The scam here is the dressing of overpriced transport as official policy.
Free shuttle busses or so called government buses or minibuses await tourists emerging from immigration. They go to an inconviently out of town transportation depot: the Poipet Tourist Passenger International Terminal. They cease running at about 6pm. Overpriced food is available while one waits for an overpiced bus or shared taxi. Be sure to stock up in cash US$ before, as there is no ATM at the depot and paying in other currencies results in highly inflated rates.
Only the diligent will avoid this one (see below) because police are beastly to and extort drivers that pick up tourists near the border. The police and "helpful" others pester tourists emerging from arrivals and basically cajole them onto the buses. Most tourists succumb, either unaware of the scam or unwilling to go against a uniform. If such a set up irks you, remember that despite how it initially feels, you have every right to do as you please in Poipet and you can smilingly, tactfullly and respectfully tells the scumbags where to shove it.
Some tourists have reported being taken to a private travel agency instead of the proper depot, under the pretence that the station "is under construction". You can handle this as you like, you don't have to deal with them but the private company may be cheaper than the official scumbags.
An 'official' taxi to Siem Reap costs an offensive US$48 or US$12 (500 Baht) per passenger. While posted in written form, this may be subject to change. The police-enforced cartel takes its share per taxi and trip, probably about one third of the price. Negotiation is very difficult but should be possible given that a taxi outside the cartel should cost about US$30. Negotiate the price in dollars, baht prices tend to be inflated.
There's no rules against introducing yourself to fellow travelers and sharing the ride, touts may even take care of that.
Drivers that work for the cartel will generally deliver tourists to wherever they choose in Siem Reap without any problems. Though possible tricks include being dropped in a dusty parking lot out of town or at a commission paying guesthouse (which is most of them) or the driver pretending to not know the destination and needing to ask at his "office", where you’ll be dropped off to change into Tuk-tuks (see the bus section below). Simply do not pay until you are happy with the destination. Do not believe that taxis are prohibited from entering the center of Siem Reap.
Wherever you end up, tuk tuk drivers will be waiting. A fare within town should be $1; though Siem Reap is easily covered on foot.
From the Tourist Passenger International Terminal a bus to Siem Reap costs $9 per person and takes around three hours.
You may arrive a couple of kilometers outside central Siem Reap, where tuk-tuk drivers pay the cartel for access to arriving tourists. They recoup their money by taking tourists to commission paying accommodation, which they may offer to do very cheaply, perhaps for free. Their big money however comes from temple trips and they will emplore you to hire them on for this. This is not necessarily bad but make sure you know the correct rates. If you value your independence, pay the tuk-tuk driver a fair rate ($2 is acceptable, perhaps generous) for the trip into town, make sure you are dropped where you want to be dropped and then have nothing more to do with him.
Outside the Transport Monopoly
Avoid this scam by saying you want to have lunch/find a guesthouse/see Poipet/to the post office/casino/karaoke, basically anything that isn't finding a bus. Then walk down the street, the pressure eases off away from the roundabout and you should be able to pick up a ride without being bothered.
Just don't start negotiating with a driver if a policeman is standing right next to you. It's unfortunately their job (i.e. orders from bent bosses, rather than legal duty) to intervene if a tourist tries to deal with a driver outside the monopoly. Don't be worried, the intervention will be nothing more than creaming a cut from the fare (you're not actually doing anything wrong remember). There are many taxi drivers in town. A taxi to Siem Reap normaly costs up to $30 USD, but negotiate as prices may start at $50-60 USD. If you want to do it Khmer-style, a seat in a shared taxi will be about US$8.
Not-tourist buses depart from the bus companies' offices scattered along the main street a little way from immigration (see map). Their fares are outside the official monopoly so a bus to Siem Reap costs only $5. The only direct bus to Siem Reap was from the Capital office, which was about a fifteen minute walk from immigration (on the main street on the left). It left at eight in the morning and required a change in Sisophon. Departures are in the morning and can generally only be made after staying overnight in Poipet. However, the taste of victory over Cambodia's institutional corruption is sweet. As of Summer 2012 there is a bus leaving weekdays at 6:00 pm. Look for the Sign that says "Kampuchea Angkor Express Co. Ltd.". The ride costs $6 and is very comfortable. There are quite a few places selling tickets to Battambang and Phnom Pehn and they leave at night. You're only forced on the 8am. bus for Siem Reap. Update: There are now no evening departures to Battambang from the major companies. Only smaller ones and they will drop you outside of Battambang where, when I went, onward travel to Battambang centre wasn't available. I'd bought a Soriya ticket from the Soriya office, but it was a scam and I was sold onto another company. Only morning buses are possible now, and only pay for a printed ticket with the company name on. If you arrive after one pm then a better bet would be either skip Battambang or stay overnight.
Pickup trucks can be found near the border and in the town, they run to Siem Reap and Battambang, although changing in Sisophon is likely. Seats inside/outside the truck cost 10,000/5000 riel to Sisophon, plus approximately double that for an onward journey to either Siem Reap or Battambang.
The monopoly only affects transport from Poipet. Buses from Siem Reap to Poipet are about half the price of those from the Tourist Passenger International Terminal to Siem Reap.
There are also several bus companies which depart from Poipet going to Phnom Penh. Capitol Tours, Phnom Penh Sorya, Paramount, and Ponleu Angkor are some. The bus ride may take up to 9 hours with frequent stops along the way. A ticket with Capitol Tours costs 30,000 riel or $7.50 and prices will be similar for the other bus companies. If you have taken a motorcycle taxi (moto or motodop) from the border (price 5,000 riel - 50 cents or less) ensure that the driver is not present during the ticket purchase. He may try to get a bonus for delivering you, and this will only increase the price of the ticket. Alternatively, the bus stations, which are quite spread out, can be reached by walking from the border. They are all on the main road, but be aware that the walk may be up to a kilometer.
Poipet's airport has no scheduled flights. However if you're travelling between Bangkok and Siem Reap, flights will pass near enough over Poipet and cost about $150.
Alternatively, have the monopoly work for you. Take the free shuttle out of town and then hitchhike. Anyone who picks you up will expect something for their effort, nothing compared with a taxi or even bus fare though.
The town is relatively easily covered on foot, for those who wish to explore it. Hotels are within walking distance of customs; though on a hot day, you and your luggage may appreciate a motodop (motorbike taxi), which for 500-1000 riel will take you to any part of Poipet. One could also be useful for escaping the transport monopoly hot zone of immediately outside immigration and finding a non scam taxi. There is also the free bus to the transportation depot, which is perhaps a false friend.
Spending time in Poipet involves being hassled, scammed and frustrated. Though these problems mainly fall on the post-border, bag-carrying weary. Check in, dump the bags, and shower - the town then looses many of its teeth.
SeeTijuana or Ciudad del Este or less famously, impoverished Sungai Kolok in southern Thailand, which borders more prosperous Malaysia. The town offer the usual Khmer mix of markets, stalls, coffee shops and beer gardens.
Poipet's growing gambling industry has spawned several large, opulent casinos, in rather sharp contrast to general squalor of the town. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and in Cambodia, though this has not prevented some well connected somebodies from putting up casinos before Cambodian immigration. Thais use the casinos to circumvent their own country's interdictions, though Khmer are not allowed at the tables.
The amateur anthropologist can watch Asian businessmen entertain themselves at the casinos or at the karaoke joints throughout town that double as brothels. Watching the coachloads of package tourists being shepherded through customs may also count as a valid pastime.
The area around the old railway station is particularly interesting. This slum backs onto the filthy trickle of a river that demarks the Thailand-Cambodia border. There formerly was a rickety, bamboo bridgere there, and at around dusk tuk-tuks brimming with people could be seen making their way to the unofficial border crossing The path ends at a small Cambodian Border Patrol station. The bridge is no longer there, but given one could cross this creek and not even get your knees wet, it may still be the site of some of the undocumented immigration from Cambodia to Thailand. The Thai side is a minefield, but the well trodden path can be followed. It leads to a road. '
People with a desire to help others can find opportunities in Poipet. Any assistance or conscious effort to speak Khmer or interact with local people on their own level will be highly appreciated. A man called Trip (+855 77945100) is a friendly English speaker. He will act as a guide to Poipet and tell you some interesting stories about the area. Cost: buying him lunch and a beer.
In Poipet, just about anyone will exchange USD and THB to Riel. Look for the traders with glass cabinets full of money, it's their way of advertizing. There's banks and ATMs close to the border but Canadia Bank, a little further away, is worth the journey as its ATM doesn't add a surcharge to foreign cards, while ANZ charges US$5. A warning: Canadia bank ATMs display a "Time per limit exceeded!" error if you try to withdraw more than 150 USD and don't pay out. The 150 dollar limit is for any cards with the Maestro and Mastercard logo's, VISA cards have a limit of 1000 USD.
On the main road near the Poi Pet Main Market, on the southern side of the ride there's a good convenient store named Star Supermarket which sells products that are usually found in Thai stores, except at far lower prices. Especially great if you're looking for the cheapest booze in the world. All of the items list the Thai Baht price, but you can pay in USD after they've scanned the products' bar codes.
Eat & Drink
If you're a sucker for the minibus to the Poipet Tourist International Terminal, you'll probably also be a sucker for the expensive snacks next to where it goes from.
Very close to immigration, on the northside of the roundabout, Long Sen Guesthouse has a convenience store. In front of the post office is a little street stall does reasonable meals and coffee and doesn't rip off tourists, which is a pleasant break from the border stress.
In the duty free zone, in front of the Poipet Resort Casino is a laid back coffee shop (i.e. True Cafe). Also, some of the casinos offer buffets. Though they have dress codes, so you may have to spruce up a bit. Holiday Palace and Diamond serve good coffee and even frappes and have airconditioning, although in Diamond you need to explore a bit to find it, an interesting experience in itself. Food in the casinos is good and a welcome change from the standard restaurants in town.
Beyond the immidiate border area, the markets probably offer the most atmospheric dining. Also Capitol Restaurant (2km from the border) has A/C. Meals cost $2-4.
Destiny Cafe (7am-7pm) - An NGO supported cafe with a range of breakfast options as well as lunch items such as Stir Fried Chicken with Cashews (80 baht). The onsite bakery also bakes a nice slice of banana bread for 15 baht. They also sell a variety of fruit or coffee drinks. Nice and clean environment with aircon and free wifi. About 2km from the border and roundabout.
While many choose Aranyaprathet to spend the night, Poipet does have a resonable selection of accommodation. For the budget conscious, it is a cheaper option.
Like most of South East Asia, unprovoked violent crime is not rife. However, being foreign and out at night could be construed as sufficient provocation. During the day, one can wander through the town and its slums without fear of a beating. Being robbed more subtly via scams and pickpockets is a different matter. Any visitor should explore Poipet with the expectation of spending more than reasonable and also of losing the contents of his pockets. Wear a money belt and stand your ground if you think you are being scammed. Watch out for pickpockets and snatch thieves, including the adorable little children who swarm you and cheer at the border. If you've managed to arrange a taxi away from the monopoly, don't pay up front, and do not let anybody you don't know into the car. The small upside to the travel monopoly is that, once the exorbitant price for the taxi has been paid, they're reliable, and the driver will take you anywhere you like once you've reached your destination.
On the south side of the roundabout, in front of the cluster of radio masts, is a post office. Postcards not available but it's your last chance to get a Cambodian stamp on those Angkor postcards.