If you do get a bit nervous about border crossings by foot as well, this blog post is perfect for you! In my experience, it’s quite difficult to find information on this, so I’ve piled my experiences together for you in this article!
Being from Europe, border crossings have never really been a problem to me. Thanks to the Schengen deal, we can just hop over the border in our neighbouring countries quite easily and without a visa. If I go somewhere I need a visa for, like the US for example, the process is rather easy and there is a lot of information about it on the internet. Southeast Asia however, is a whole other story!
Border Crossing Vietnam into Cambodia
The first time I crossed a border by foot was from Saigon into Cambodia. I went to a booking office in Saigon and booked a bus to Phnom Penh for the next day. A few hours later, an American girl I’d met in Dalat messaged me and said that she decided to go to Cambodia tomorrow as well and asked which bus I was on. When we went to the booking office together an hour later, we were told that the bus was already full and she had to take the next one.
Fast forward to the next day. I get to the booking office where a girl takes me to the bus stop and shows me my seat on an empty bus. I sat down and was excited that I’ll be in a new country in a few hours! More people got on but we were by no means full when we left the station. Turns out we were collecting more passengers along the way. By passengers, we’re talking Vietnamese men. I looked around at one point when they brought out little plastic chairs that they put in the aisle for more people to sit on (in Asia, full is only full when there is literally no more space to move!) and realised that I was the only tourist on the whole bus!
We got to the border and a guy came round the bus collecting our passports. I heard lots of stories like this and was rather hesitant to give my precious passport to anyone! Well, it didn’t seem as if I had any chance, so I gave him my passport and prayed for the best. He also asked for $20 and since I knew that the visa only costs $15, I told him “No, it’s $15”. We argued for a bit and I was fed up at one point and just gave in. Turns out I shouldn’t have!
We got off the bus at the border and went into a place that looked like a huge warehouse. The other people from my bus were just standing around waiting and I had no idea what was going on. So I found some guys that spoke English and asked them about what’s happening. Turns out that the guy I gave my passport to had already given them to the border control and we had to wait until we see our guy again and then march through the barriers. I was utterly relieved when I saw our bus guy waving after 20 mins and went to collect my passport.
I was sooo happy to have it back but that only lasted a short while. Just at the exit I was approached by a guy with a red sweater that asked me to give him my passport. “No visa for Cambodia yet, only exit stamp Vietnam. I get you Cambodian visa!” Hahahaha, was pretty much all that I was thinking. I surely wouldn’t hand my passport to some guy approaching me like this! The bus guy came to me and told me multiple times that it’s ok and I have to give him my passport. At that point I just gave up and handed him my passport and he took off with it on a scooter. Yay, me!
I got back on the bus, we stopped again after a minute, had to get out and walk through another border control (without being checked or controlled) at what I later realised was the Cambodian entry point. Got on the bus and went off to a restaurant by the highway somewhere in Cambodia. Remember, I still didn’t have my passport and already saw myself in Cambodian prison for being illegal without documents.
I couldn’t eat and just stayed on the bus waiting for the others. An hour later everyone is back on the bus and a guy with a red sweater arrives with a plastic bag full of passports (!!!), gives them to the bus guy who then proceeds to open them and read out the names for us to collect. Needless to say my passport came last but I finally held it back in my hands!
Border Crossing Cambodia into Thailand
This border crossing was quite easy speaking of paperwork, but the busses made this the worst day of my travels.
We had booked a bus from Siem Reap to the island of Koh Chang which was meant to be leaving at 8am. We dragged ourselves to the front of the hostel only to be picked up at 10am. Not kidding! We got on the bus, drove for an hour and stopped. For a break! We had barely made it 30kms! Well, I went to the bathroom and waited for the onward journey.
Got back on the bus, drove for another hour and stopped there for nearly 2 hours! I could see on my phone that we were super close to the Thai border and didn’t get why we had stopped again! I also read online that the border gets super crowded after 1pm so I just couldn’t understand why we were just waiting around! I’m guessing now, that it was because we had only booked a normal transfer and not the fast transfer, because we met people that had left Siem Reap 2 hours later than us and got to leave the bus stop earlier than us!
It’s a pretty weird system and I ended up getting pretty upset about this, but well – pro tipp No. 1: It’s not worth getting upset because you won’t change anything anyways! We finally, 5 hours after we’d left Siem Reap, got to the border and from there on it was pretty straightforward. You get dropped off at a roundabout and have to to the the Cambodian border control where you get the exit stamp on your Cambodian visa. You then walk through the Cambodian gate (see picture below) towards the Golden Thai Gate.
There will be lots of people approaching you wanting to help you with your luggage, offering to take you to the other side by motorbike or helping you with the visa, but it’s best to avoid them since it’s only a few hundred metres!
On the left side, there’s an office upstairs where you get in line for your Thai visa. It’s pretty much the same as at the airport. After that the real fun began. When you get on the bus in Cambodia, you get a sticker in a colour that shows your destination. When we entered Thailand, we were instantly approached by people from our bus company gathering us at a collection point.
Unfortunately, our collection point was right beside a bin on the road. Not the nicest place, but at least there was a tree giving some shade to protect us from the scorching heat. Whilst the busses for Bangkok came frequently, there was no bus for Koh Chang. We met this English guy who had been waiting at that exact point since 10am since they cancelled the first bus. We waited there until 6pm when a mini van finally showed up. Since this was the only bus that day to Koh Chang, we were fully packed with lots of luggage and NO AIRCON!
We basically raced to the ferry port since the driver told us that the last ferry to Koh Chang leaves at 8pm and it usually takes 3 hours to get there from the Thai border. We just about made it, but boy, no one on that bus felt very well when we arrived. The ferry took another hour and we then got a collective taxi to our hostel which took another 45 minutes.
If you’ve done the maths now, you will notice that I spent 14 hours travelling for a total distance of 350km. That includes roughly 8 hours of pure waiting around!
I hope this rambly post has helped you if you plan on crossing borders by land in Southeast Asia. Somehow every country is different in that way. I’ve heard weird stories about other border crossings, particularly Laos to Cambodia or Vietnam and Thailand into Malaysia. If you have any experiences with these border crossings, please share them in the comments below!