Difference between revisions of "Aranyaprathet"
Revision as of 13:04, 23 September 2012
Aranyaprathet (อรัญประเทศ, also Aran Yaprathet, Aranya Prathet, or just Aran) is a border town in Eastern Thailand. Nearby is Cambodia's busiest land crossing, which is the most popular tourist route for travel between Bangkok and Siem Reap and the Angkor Archaeological Park.
The border is 6km to the southeast of the town. It is open 08:00 to 20:00 and there is no time difference between the two countries. Immediately next to the Thai immigration facilities is Rongkleu Market, which host banks, cafes, a convenience store, money exchangers and buses. The market - like the border and the town itself - is the scene of industrial scale visa scams for unwary travellers (see below). Immediately on the Cambodian side of the border is Poipet, a much maligned grot hole that appeals to those with a warped aesthetic.
For the traveller, Aran's focus is the crossroads near the train station (see map). Clockwise the roads go to the train staion (NE), to the border (SE), to the clock tower and the town centre (SW) and to the bus station (NW). The town can serve as a staging point for journeys to various points in both Thailand and Cambodia, though the Bangkok-Siem Reap trip is the one that most travellers will undertake.
There are two bus stations in Aran, the main one is in the town about 400m northwest of the crossroad and a less busy one is in Rongkleu Market.
In and around Rongkleu Market touts offer taxis (1900฿/taxi) to Bangkok, and slightly more for other Thai cities. Sharing a taxi might be a good idea.
A few meters beyond this, in the market, there are air-con minibuses to Bangkok (250-300฿/person). The drop-off point may range from exactly where one wishes to in front of a skytrain station (Victory Monument is popular). The market bus station also has buses to Bangkok's Mo Chit bus station and Suvarnabhumi airport. There are also buses from the market to other Thai towns, such as Nakhon Ratchasima and Chachoengsao (which is useful for Pattaya and other destinations on that coast). Such buses allow travellers to avoid Aranyaprathet town, though the main bus station is better connected.
From the bus staion in town, there are reliable and inexpensive government bus services to many destinations, including Bangkok (frequent), Buriram (frequent), Chachoengsao (frequent), Chanthaburi (frequent), Mukdahan, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) (frequent), Pattaya, Rayong, Surin, and Udon Thani. For Trat, go via Chanthaburi.
Bangkok's Northern Bus Station (Mo Chit) is the best choice for buses to Aran. First class and second class buses leave from the ground floor of the terminal approximately every half hour (4-5hrs, 207 Baht and 160 Baht respectively). A first class may include a snack and drink. The last bus to Bangkok leaves Aranyaprathet at around 6:00 pm.
Bangkok's Eastern Bus Station (Ekamai) also has buses to Aran leaving every hour or two (4.5-5.5hrs). Ekamai service: 06.15, 08.30, 10.30, 12.30, & 16.30. 200 baht, not a vip, but ok aircon bus. Phone: 0 2713 5335. Online ticket: www.airaran.co.th Ekamai can also be reached by going via the Suvarnabhumi Airport bus terminal.
The roads to Aranyaprathet have checkpoints and most buses will be boarded at least once by uniformed military/immigration personnel looking primarily for illegal immigrants from Cambodia. Westerners are rarely bothered, but keep your passport handy. If you've overstayed your visa it may be worth using a less busy crossing like Ban Pakard/Phsar Prom.
Buses run between Aran and Bangkokg's Suvarnabhumi Airport bus terminal (about 10 minutes drive, free of charge) regularly throughout the day but not the night.
The Suvarnabhumi Airport bus terminal can also be a good way to connect with other destinations, including Ekamai and many other points in Bangkok served by Suvarnabhumi's extensive and frequent local bus services.
Don Muang Airport
To reachDon Muang take a bus to Moh Chit and ask to get off when as it passes the airport. When going to Aranyaprathet, it may be possible to save time by boarding the bus at Rangsit; though the 1st class buses won't stop there if all seats are already taken.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road tourist buses are more expensive and less comfortable than government services; those to destinations in Cambodia always involve a change of vehicle at the border, and are usually full of irritating people, plus plenty of SCAMS are awaiting you
Two trains a day in each direction connect Aranyaprathet with Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station. To Aranyaprathet (i.e. to Cambodia), trains depart at 05:55 and 13:05, scheduled to arrive at 11:20 and 18:05 respectively. To Hualamphong direction (i.e. to Bangkok), trains leave at 06:40 and 13:55, arriving at 12:05 and 19:55, respectively. The fare is 48 baht; the surcharge for a bicycle is 80 baht. Be prepared though for multi-hour delays.
During the rain-season the region around Aranyaprathet may be flooded, resulting the train to terminate at an earlier stop, e.g. about 20km before. Get off the train, follow the crowd to the main road north of the railway and wait for a bus that should take you to Aranya or even directly to the border for about 30 baht. In this case also beware your baggage that may get wet if stored down in the bus.
All trains are 3rd-class, which means no air-con (windows open for a substantial breeze). There are toilets and sinks. Seats are a mixture of padded benches, padded bucket seats, and wooden benches. If taking the afternoon train try to sit on the shady (north) side of the train (i.e. left from BKK, right to BKK). The morning sun isn't so bad and doesn't so greatly affect the early departures. The train is a great opportunity to watch people, countryside and wildlife. During the dry season, smoke and ash can blow through the windows from the burning rice fields.
Food and drink vendors work the cars, provinding cheap sustenance and refreshment. Many of the things wrapped in banana leaf are fish/chili based and peculiar to Western palettes; Khao San Road pad thai it ain't. If you're faint hearted, stick to the grilled chicken that can be found close to the station at either end. The thick bamboo tubes contain the imaginatively named "bamboo rice", a mildly sweet and savory sticky rice, most easily eaten with chopsticks.
The train can provide cheap and scenic but slow and often late connections with Suvarnabhumi airport. Go to Lat Krabang (ลาดกระบัง, about 1hr from Bangkok). The staion there abuts the airport and is directly under the planes' flight paths. Then either walk upstairs to the Airport Rail Link train which will take you to the terminal (15 baht) or take a taxi (50 baht). If you miss Lat Krabang, Tab Chang, Hua Mak, and Makkasan also connect with the Airport Rail Link
For Don Muang, you'll have to switch trains at Hualamphong, which given the congestion on the lines in Bangkok is only for serious train freaks.
Crossing the border
Entering Thailand from Poipet is straightforward for travellers that do not need a visa or have obtained one in advance. Visa-free entry is for only 15 days, consider getting visa in advance if longer is required.
Nationals of countries not permitted visa-free entry but who are entitled to a visa on arrival require proof of onward transport out of Thailand and a 1000 baht fee. The visa is likely to be valid for 14 days (not 15 as sometimes stated).
Many Thais cross the border in the morning on one-day trips to gamble at the casinos in Poipet. However there's a separate line for non-Thais which moves quickly, except during the midday log-jam of tourist bus arrivals.
On the Thai side near the queues for immigration (both arrivals and departures) are vats of cool drinking water for anyone with a bottle to fill.
Getting to the border
Aranyaprathet is the scene of some of the world’s great border scams - a major local industry. The Thai police are paid off to turn a blind eye, so will be of no help. Those heading into Cambodia may be subject to any of these:
There are many more variations, both in town and at the border itself. Most of Aramyaprathet's hotels and tuk tuk drivers are in on these scams.
The result? Lots of time and money lost. For example, instead of a 15-minute journey to the border, you will find yourself driven in circles - sometimes for as long as seven hours - visiting offices, shops and restaurants owned by relatives of the scam operators: and paying at each for spurious paperwork, fake visa stamps, food and drink. (To ensure the latter, your driver will simply disappear for an hour.)
All this can be easily avoided. Once you arrive in Aramyaprathet, getting into Cambodia is simple:
1. Find a tuk tuk to take you to the border. This should cost 60 baht, and will take 15 minutes maximum. Better still, take the songthaew (15 baht, see #Get around) which will go past all the scam offices and straight to the border.
2. Exit Thailand through Thai Immigration, cross the bridge, get a Cambodian visa (tourist visa $20) at the official Cambodian office and then enter Poipet in Cambodia through Cambodian Immigration.
Negotiate any tuk tuk fare in advance, and insist the driver take you to the border (everyone knows that word). Refuse to get out at unplanned stops. Keep saying ‘Border!’ A fallback is to say ‘Mee visa lao!’ (I already have a visa) or 'Ba!' (Go!). This should ensure they drop scamming attempts. Hundreds of fresh victims arrive every day, and it doesn’t pay for them to waste time on the non-credulous.
1. No Customs or Immigration formalities take place anywhere but the border itself, and then only after you have entered Thai Immigration.
2. Crossing from Thailand to Cambodia does not require intermediaries of any kind.
The town is fairly small and easily covered on foot. 20 baht for a tuk-tuk ride within the town may be slightly generous.
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 to the border after haggling and a motorbike taxi should be 40 Baht after a haggle.
Central Aran has several banks with ATMs and foreign exchange. When the banks are closed changing money is difficult in the town, though there should be traders at the border willing to exchange money. Over the border in Poipet, baht and dollars can be changed with market traders all day and well into the evening.
If you're looking for breakfast in the morning, you'll find most restaurants closed, but there are fruit sellers in the market, and some convenience stores. Numerous restaurants are open in the afternoon and evening.
Real coffee (at least to farangs) can be found at Coffee Break on the road heading southeast from the clocktower. Free WiFi.
Aran's solitary Western-run nightspot, Farang Bar, is now closed.
Near the train station there are some expensive but basic guesthouses aimed at people who don't know what their doing. However, cheaper basic accommodation and better quality hotels can be found .
There are more than 6 internet cafés in the centre of (0.5 kilometre radius) Aranyaprathet. They have broadband and are reliably fast. 20baht/hour, or 40baht /3 hours. The post office is on the road from the train station to the clock tower.