There is actually no other reason for visiting Aranyaprathet except for crossing the border to Poipet in Cambodia and then going further to Siem Reap, the main base for exploring the amazing Kingdom of Angkor. Casinos, located in the equally plain town of Poipet on the Cambodian side of the border, is a big draw for the Thais who usually do one-day trips for gambling, exiting Thailand in the morning and returning in the evening of the same day.
How to get from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet
Though both buses and trains link up Aranyaprathet with Bangkok, buses departing throughout the day from different locations in Bangkok are a much more convenient option to get to this border town. There are only two trains a day, which are slower, less comfortable but cheaper than buses.
From Bangkok to Aranyaprathet by bus
By far the easiest and most comfortable way to get to Aranyaprathet from Bangkok is by bus. In Bangkok, the northeastern destinations are served from Morchit, the Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal located in the northern part of the capital. The nearest to Morchit BTS station, which shares its name with the bus terminal, is two km away, so getting to Morchit on foot if you have a lot of luggage is not a good idea. Take a bus or a taxi instead.
Aran bus company operates frequent Express buses from Morchit to Aranyaprathet. There are 12 buses a day with the first one leaving as early as 3.30am and then every hour or half an hour till12.30pm. All buses take from 4½ hours to 5 hours to arrive to Aranyaprathet. The last bus departs at 5.30pm and arrives to Aran at 10.05pm – if you are planning to get to Cambodia, you will have to spend the night on the Thai side and proceed with your journey on the following morning.
There are two bus stations in Aranyaprathet. All Aran buses except for the evening one call to the both of them. Centrally located Aranyaprathet bus station lies to the northwest of the train station and within an easy reach of several budget guesthouses. It has good transport connections with many cities and towns of Isan, as well as some destinations in the central part of the country, including Chachengsao and Chanthaburi.
The second bus station of Aranyaprathet sits right by the border between Thailand and Cambodia at Rong Klua Market. It is about 15 minutes by bus between the two bus stations. If you need to cross the border, you have to get off at Rong Klua Market, not in Aranyaprathet Town. You can easily walk to the Thai immigration office from the market. If you happen to get off your bus at Aranyaprathet bus station, take a tuk-tuk (THB60) or a songthaew (THB15) to the border. The trip lasts just 15 minutes.
Tip: Even with non-touristy buses you are still at risk of facing a popular visa scam. Usually touts at Aranyaprathet proper or a few kilometres prior to it ask foreign passengers who are heading to the border change to a minivan/songthaew/tuk-tuk as the big bus ‘does not go to the border’. The new transport then brings you to a ‘Cambodian Immigration Office’ which is actually an ordinary Thai tour agency where the staff will try to force you to obtain your Cambodian visa for some extra baht. Normally you are asked to pay the double price (apprx. THB2,000 instead of USD30). If you do not mind paying more, then the process is straightforward and hassle-free. If you prefer to do everything by yourself and at official rates, then firstly, do not get off your bus before you arrive to the border; and secondly, if touts insist, tell them you have already your Cambodian visa. In fact, you can apply for an e-visa online before your trip – it costs a bit more (USD30 plus USD7 for online processing) – but saves your nerves and time.
From Bangkok to Aranyaprathet by train
It is possible to get to Aranyaprathet from Bangkok by train, too. To cover a 255km leg trains take from 4½ hours to six hours and are notorious for multi-hour delays. Third class fan seats only tickets cost THB50 and are easily bought at Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok. There are two trains a day, #275 at 5.55am (arriving at 11.35am) and #279 at 1.05pm (5.35pm). Basically there are only two reasons for taking a train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet: the first one is obviously the price and the second one is excellent people-watching opportunities. But well... Six hours of people-watching while sitting on a wooden bench on a sunny side of the carriage may prove too much!
Tip: Choose your seat carefully – if you do not want to spend the whole trip sweating under the sun, take a seat on the left (northern) side of the carriage on your way from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet.
From Bangkok to Aranyaprathet by taxi
For those who appreciate more comfort than buses can provide, PGS offers chartered rides in a Toyota Camry (THB3,520) and Toyota Commuter (THB3,850) which accommodate up to three and nine passengers respectively. The rates are all-inclusive – you will be picked-up at any location in Bangkok and dropped-off at your hotel in Aranyaprathet (or at the border). Normally the whole trip takes no more than four hours.
From Aranyaprathet to Poipet
Aranyaprathet–Poipet is quite a busy border crossing as all tour buses from Thailand heading to Siem Reap and Angkor get over to Cambodia here. Queues at times seem endless, and you can spend a couple of hours under the scotching sun waiting to have your passport stamped. Even if after the crackdown on visa-runners in 2014 crowds have thinned a bit, be ready to spend at least an hour totally at the both sides of the border.
The official fee for a Cambodian tourist visa is USD30 at the moment, but touts and even immigration officials offer ‘VIP visa’ for about THB1,500-2,000 to speed up the process. There is absolutely no sense in paying extra ¬– be firm and insist on the official rate. E-visas are accepted at Aranyaprathet–Poipet border crossing, too, and it is a wise decision to obtain one in advance as it facilitates the process a bit and saves you a page in your passport.
Note that if Siem Reap and the Angkor complex are your final destination, there is a direct international bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. There is at least one morning bus a day from Morchit in Bangkok, and the travel time is about ten hours.
Aranyaprathet Town is relatively small and easily covered on foot. There is not much (well, frankly speaking – there is absolutely nothing) to see and to do in the town itself, apart from doing some shopping in Rong Klua market and tasting local food at the food stalls by the cement reservoir, so you are unlikely to do a lot of walking, either. Songthaews run between Aranyaprathet bus station and the border (Rong Klua market), and motorbike taxis are also readily available at the bus station.
For onward travel from Aranyaprathet to destination different from Bangkok or Nakhon Ratchasima, use Aranyaprathet bus station (not Rong Klua market, which offers a limited choice of routes). There are frequent buses to Udon Thani, Buriram, Surin, Mukdahan (for getting to Savannakhet in Laos), Chanthaburi (for Trat and Koh Chang), Rayong (for Koh Samet), Pattaya and more.
Want more Angkor-style temples? Check Phanom Rung!
Though Thailand cannot boast anything of Angkor Wat scale, it still has its fair share of Khmer temples, too. Phanom Rung Historical Park, located in Chaloem Phra Kiat district in Buriram, is ranked #1 among all the other Khmer monuments in Thailand.
This sandstone and laterite complex was built between the 10th and 13th centuries and its long processional walkway never fails to impress even those who have already seen all the wonders of Angkor. For a more private, exclusive experience visit Prasat Mueang Tam, also close to Phanom Rung. Blooming nympheas in its water-filled ponds make the whole monument feel wonderfully alive.
To add a bit of difference to the palette of Khmer styles in Buriram, venture to Wat Khao Angkarn. Occupying a commanding position on top of an extinct volcano, this young temple in new Khmer style is an ideal place to savour golden fall in Thailand, if you happen there during the cold season.
There are direct buses from Aranyaprathet bus station to Phanom Rung. Travel time is about four hours.