Saturday, February 21, 2015

Crossing Border at Arayanprathet & Poipet

Date: 26th December 2015

Arayanprathet is the nearest Thai town to the Cambodian border, only about 6 km away. The border itself is located in central Poipet, open from 07:00 am till 22:00 pm. Seated next to the Thai immigration facilities is Rongkleu Market, which has wide facilities, i.e. banks, cafes, a convenience store, money changers and buses. I must admit that the crossing was very unpleasant experienced for me, especially on Cambodia side. When we passed through the Thai border, we had to walk to the Cambodia Immigration office. The walk in a smelly surrounding was not pleasant at  all. The annoying smells was disturbing my concentration and I felt it was lucky that I don't have to return to this part of the crossing in the future anymore. One time experience is enough. At that point in time, I highly regarded my self, being able to restraint under those inconvenience situation at my stage of age.

Poipet on the other hand is a large town that is well connected with reasonably priced buses to various points in Cambodia. The three major cities of Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap are each directly connected to Poipet. The bus station is located in the city center near the southwest end of Pub Street. We opted to take the shuttle bus (belonging to a charter buses to Siem Reap) from the Cambodian Immigration border. The shuttle bus pick up point seated next to the immigration office, i.e. follow a walkaway straight ahead after you have done your business with the office. In addition, you really can't wait to get rid of the uncomfortable Poipet once you have stamped the passport. I was lucky I did not pass out though the crowded Immigration office was without AC, and far from fresh air.

Entering Thailand from Poipet is quite a straightforward thing for travellers who do not need to apply visa, like Anne & I, or for those of you who have obtained visa in advance. Since 31st October 2013, Visa-free entry is valid for 30 days. Should you require an extra month, i.e. 2 months, then consider getting visa in advance. For information, Nationals of countries were 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. Talking about casinos, we were quite surprise to see the modern casino at Poipet though their immigration center is in a very poor condition. However there's a separate line for non-Thais which moves quickly, except during the midday log-jam of tourist bus arrivals.

Heading to Cambodia, the formalities of leaving Thailand are simple enough and we were warned from the website about the visa scam and the tuk tuk drivers demanding a high fare. God bless, as we have not facing any problems at all. Even when the tuk tuk driver tried to drop us at a visa centre, we strictly told him “NO”. You see, all of this can be easily avoided. Once you have arrived in Aramyaprathet, getting into Cambodia is simply by doing the following:-
  1. Find a tuk tuk to take you to the border, cost around 80 baht, about 15 minutes journey maximum; and
  2. Exit Thailand through Thai Immigration, cross the walkaway and enter Poipet in Cambodia through Cambodian Immigration. Make sure you stamped your passport at both sides of the Immigration.

Poipet hosts Cambodia's main border crossing with Thailand, which links the 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.

While most travellers only pass through, the town can provide the savvy and curiosity looks with some fascinating insights into Cambodia real life. Functionally as a transport hub, the town is relatively easily covered on foot, for those who wish to explore it. Hotels are within walking distance of customs. Poipet is a border town typical of where shocking development disparities exist between two nations, not unlike an impoverished Sungai Kolok in southern Thailand, which borders more prosperous with Malaysia. The town offer the usual Khmer mix of market, stalls, coffee shops and beer gardens.

Beside the bad smells all the way to the Cambodian check point, I found the service provided by the Cambodian immigration officer was rather poor. I'm sharing herewith photos taken inside the immigration office. You would able to see how cramped we were waiting for our turn. The immigration officer simply take their own sweet time to record the foreigners arrival without sense of consideration about the long queue line awaits. Anne and I were both in sweat. Another information to share which I found very weird is that we have to scan all our 5 fingers. Other countries we've been thus far never imposed this kind of practice. It is really strange.

After we both have done with the immigration, the wait for shuttle bus was a God sent. It comes very quickly and we do not have to wait long to catch 1 to the next dedicated bus station. I met a tuk-tuk driver who happened speaks fluent Bahasa Melayu (my native tongue) as he was working for a Malaysian boss in Phnom Penh before. Anne captured a photo of me and him having our nice chat in below photo. I finally found something good to write about in Poipet. This guy has shared quite a useful tips of what not to do in Cambodia. I pray for him and his family of 6 be bliss with happiness and a peace of heart all the time.

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