The first thing which should come to your mind when you want to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap is to take a plane. With a direct air link between the two you will get to your destination in two hours. Travelling overland is also possible – it is actually an epic, at least two- or three-day affair, which will not save you any cent compared to flying but which will definitely enrich you with new experience. To our mind, there is not much sense in getting from Malaysia to Cambodia overland unless you are planning to make several stops en route in Thailand: you will travell the length of the country and you will not need to detour too much to savour the flavours of Thai Deep South, enjoy transparent seas and island life of the Gulf islands or experience the vibrant atmosphere of Bangkok.
Flights from Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap
Currently only two airlines operate direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Siem Reap and both are Malaysia-based. Depending on the day of the week, AirAsia offers either one or two direct flights to Siem Reap – one morning and sometimes one afternoon flight at 6.50am and 1.20pm respectively. Though it is an international flight, you can buy tickets for as little as USD40 which is a really great deal, even if checked luggage and check-in fees are not included into the price. For USD100 you are sure to get your seat even if you wish to fly the next day, though for better prices some flexibility is necessary – e.g. Saturday and Sunday rates are often better than Friday ones, so check several dates before buying your ticket.
Malaysia Airlines fly from Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap in the morning (10.35am) with airfare starting from USD55 with some checked luggage already included.
Note that Malaysia Airlines operate from the main terminal of the international airport in Kuala Lumpur, KLIA, while AirAsia uses the low cost airlines terminal KLIA2 as its hub. The airport is located 45 km south of the centre of Kuala Lumpur.
In case all direct flights on the date you need to fly are full, you can connect yourself via Bangkok. It is obviously going to be more expensive but in any case much faster than travelling overland. AirAsia alone has a dozen daily flights to Don Mueang airport in Bangkok; throw in Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways flights to Suvarnabhumi airport and chances to grab a reasonably priced ticket are quite good. Flying time from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok is two hours 20 minutes.
Tip if you buy two separate tickets from Malaysia to Thailand and from Thailand to Cambodia, you will need to go through Thai immigrations to enter the country, retrieve your luggage and then check-in for your international flight again. Firstly, check visa requirements for your passport. Though the majority of nationalities can get a free 30-day stamp on arrival to Thailand, it always pays to check in advance. Secondly, allow a fair amount of time for this procedure, as queues at the immigration can get astonishingly long and slow, especially at Suvarnabhumi airport.
You can continue your air journey to Siem Reap from the both Bangkok airports. Check Thai Smile if you arrive to Suvarnabhumi airport and AirAsia – if you are connecting in Don Mueang airport. It takes from one hour to one hour 20 minutes to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap by air. Dirt-cheap tickets are hard to come across at on this route so expect to pay about THB2000/USD60 for a one-way ticket.
In Siem Reap, all flights arrive to Siem Reap International Airport. It is the second largest airport in Cambodia (after the one in Phnom Penh) located 8.5 km northwest of the Old Market. To get to the city, take a taxi – there is the official prepaid taxi booth right outside the terminal. The rate is fixed (USD7); the same prepaid tuk-tuk ride will cost you slightly less.
Tip If you have already booked your hotel in Siem Reap, check with your host whether they organize complimentary pick up from the airport. Most of the middle-range hotels do, and even some guesthouses are joining the club, too.
Getting your Cambodian visa
The best way to get your Cambodian visa is to apply online for an e-visa. It saves you time and nerves at the immigration. That said, you can also get your visa on arrival, but the usual Cambodian techniques of making you pay extra for your visa are used at the airport, too. The immigration guys are ever sober and unfriendly and asking – or rather demanding from – foreigners to pay extra for a ‘quick lane’; and ‘tips’ during festive periods are a normal practice. Generally, if you refuse to pay – politely but firmly – you will be admitted in just the same. It is your choice – to give some small notes or to insist on going through without paying extra.
From Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap overland
The road distance from Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap is 1900 km – and already at this point you know it is going to be an epic journey. There is no direct overland transport – you will need to tailor-make your trip all by yourself. Though the whole distance is easily covered by a combination of buses, it is highly advisable to rely on trains at least on several stretches as travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok by train is a classic experience. You can actually get up to the Cambodian border hopping from one train to another, but Bangkok–Aranyaprathet leg is served by third class fan cars only – extremely cheap (USD1.5) and similarly extremely slow.
Another piece of advice for those considering an overland travel between Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap is do plan at least one – or better two or three – stops on the way. Not only will they make your journey less tiring, but will definitely brighten the trip with many colourful pictures of local Thai life.
Here are several suggestions on how to plan your overland itinerary.
As quick as possible – Kuala Lumpur–Padang Besar–Bangkok–Siem Reap – no overnight stops en route, train and bus combined
There is no direct train from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok – you have to connect via Padang Besar in Perlis. KTM trains from Kuala Lumpur to Padang Besar take 6 hours to reach the border and you have a choice of four departures a day out of which two morning ones (6.50am and 9.30am; USD20) allow you to hop onto international express train #46 from Padang Besar to Bangkok the same day. The train leaves Padang Besar at 5pm Thai time and arrives to Bangkok at 10.10am the next morning (17 hours, USD35 for a second class AC sleeper).
By the time you arrive you will miss all the morning direct buses from Bangkok to Siem Reap, but you can spend a day exploring Bangkok and then head to Siem Reap with Travel Mart – they have a night bus from Khao San Road at 1am arriving to Siem Reap by 9am (USD25).
Taking your time and Andaman islands hopping – Kuala Lumpur–Penang–Langkawi–Koh Lipe–Phuket–Bangkok–Siem Reap – a lot of ferries involved
Instead of going from Kuala Lumpur to Padang Besar, take a train to Butterworth and spend some time in the foodie’s paradise of Penang.
Do not leave Malaysia immediately and catch a plane from Penang to Langkawi (35 minutes; USD15) and compare the two islands. You can as well get to Langkawi by ferry.
From Langkawi you are only 30 minutes away from one of Thailand’s best kept secrets, a heavenly island of Koh Lipe. Going through immigration on Koh Lipe is an experience in itself.
Take a bus from Phuket to Bangkok (from 12 to 14 hours; ticket prices vary depending on the type of the bus from USD13 to USD30). There are a lot of departures during the day and in the evening, as well, which arrive to Bangkok in time to let you hop onto one of the direct international buses from Bangkok to Siem Reap, but it is always a good idea to spend a few days in Bangkok to soak the atmosphere of one of the most beautiful, tasty and modern Asian capitals.
Southern culture, the Gulf islands, Bangkok and Khmer ruins in Thailand – Kuala Lumpur–Padang Besar–Hat Yai–Suratthani–Koh Samui–Bangkok–Buriram–Aranyaprathet–Poipet–Siem Reap
As in the first itinerary, take a train from Kuala Lumpur to Padang Besar where cross the border to Thailand and hop onto a shuttle train to Hat Yai or take a local bus heading there (one hour) to savour the southern flavours and feel the local rhythm of this workaday Thai city with strong Muslim character. You can skip this part and take the same train #46 instead, but get off at Suratthani (6 hours), the gateway to Koh Samui (two hours; from USD13 with Lomprayah), one of the star island destinations in Thailand.
After you have had enough of the sea and the sun, you can either return to Surattahni and then take a train or a bus to Bangkok (from 10 to 12 hours; USD28 for a second class AC sleeper) or buy a combination trip from Koh Samui to Bangkok (12 hours; USD37.50) which saves you some headache of transferring between the trips by yourself.
Spend some time in Bangkok and then prepare yourself to the impressive temples of Angkor visiting the Khmer ruins in Thailand. Take a train from Bangkok to Buriram (7 hours; seats from USD15) and check all the lintels, enclosures, gopuras and more at Phanom Rung complex in Nang Rong. From Buriram, a direct bus brings you to the border crossing at Aranyaprathet (3¼ hours; USD5). Cross the border and take a direct bus (USD12) or a taxi (from USD30 for the whole vehicle) to Siem Reap from Poipet.
Onward travel from Siem Reap
Local buses connect Siem Reap with the major destinations throughout the country. It takes four hours to get from Siem Reap to Battambang and from 6 to 7 hours – to Phnom Penh by bus or van (from USD12 to USD30 depending on the operator).
From Phnom Penh, you can further connect to Sihanoukville (4½ hours, USD12) or Kampot (two hours, USD9). There is a convenient international bus service to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, too (6 hours, USD18).
There is a direct flight from Siem Reap to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and many other international destinations are reached by connecting flights via Bangkok or Phnom Penh.