Siem Reap is the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia due to its proximity to the temples of Angkor, so is relatively easy to get to from Pakse in Laos. It is 300km away but overland the trip will take at least 9 hours if travelling through Stung Treng, but passing via Kratie and Kampong Cham make the journey even longer, but the flight is only one hour long.
Since Pakse is the transportation hub of Southern Laos, it has many options to get to Cambodia, and Siem Reap is specifically well connected, costing around USD30. You can take a bus or minivan which run regularly by many companies every day as well as direct and indirect flights each day.
From Pakse to Siem Reap by bus
If travelling from Pakse to Siem Reap via Stung Treng, the road distance is about 530km and will take at least 9 hours if everything runs smoothly.
There are many operators that offer bus services from Pakse to the border or to Kampong Cham and then get you to change to a different bus going to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
It is better if you can ensure the same bus for the entire trip as sometimes they do not coordinate the timing or the amount of passengers very well for the transfers and you may end up waiting or not having a seat.
Buses are large and run daily leaving early in the morning to make the long trip. The buses in Laos are relatively comfortable offering water, air conditioning and a toilet on board. They will also make stops for food along the way. They also help with the visa process if you do not have your Cambodian visa yet by offering forms ahead of time. Normally, visa scams the travel from Thailand to Cambodia is famous for, are not so common on Lao–Cambodia route.
You can book tickets at travel agents or at many guesthouses which offer the service because many companies are not represented online or are formal companies at all. There is no need to book far in advance as there are many options available, only during high season should you worry about space (December through March).
Note It is good to know that all buses arriving in Siem Reap go to the bus terminal 7km from town, which is a short tuk-tuk ride.
From Pakse to Siem Reap by van
Minivans are generally faster than buses because they are smaller and easier to handle, get through traffic and have less people to keep track of. They usually fit about 12 people plus luggage in the back or around the passengers depending on the space available. There is usually more legroom than in buses; also expect a free bottle of water and air conditioning.
Vans for SIem Reap leave early in the morning to cross the border at midday and arrive in Siem Reap the same evening.
In many cases, minivans from Pakse will drive you to the border, then often switch to a Cambodian minivan for the remainder of the trip, stopping in Stung Treng for lunch. To book a minivan, you can contact a travel agent or your guesthouse to organize as not many companies offer online booking. Vans run daily so booking a day or two ahead should be adequate.
Minivan companies between Pakse and Siem Reap
Asia Van Transfer (AVT) have a van leaving at 8am; it takes up to 10½ hours to reach Siem Reap for USD30
Balaha Asia Express costs a bit more at USD34 and leaves early morning taking 10 hours
Flights from Pakse to Siem Reap
Lao Airlines offer direct flights to Siem Reap five times a week. Other days there are connecting flights by Lao or other regional airlines, but since Pakse is not a major airport hub, layovers and be long in Phnom Penh, Saigon, Vientiane or Luang Prabang and often take just as long as the bus.
The flight takes about an hour and costs USD100 and up per trip.
It is best to get a visa in advance if possible to avoid any hassles or price hikes at the border. It may take a few days to process if you do it prior so if that is not available, it is very easy to do it on arrival at the border. Tourist visas are processed on site for a fee, that may vary depending on random factors but should be around USD35 or more if you do not have a passport photo. Also remember to carry cash in USD as there probably will not be any ATMs or card machines in the middle of the jungle border crossing.
Cambodia uses USD to it is advantageous to change money in advance or there will be ATMs once you stop in Stung Treng or Siem Reap.
Why go to Siem Reap
Angkor Wat is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world now and is the largest religious temple in the world. It has become famous after being the set for the Tomb Raider movies but is only one of hundreds of Angkorian era temple ruins in Siem Reap’s proximity. People come to see the grand historical architecture of the 11th century but Siem Reap now has many other tourist sights ranging from outdoor activities to shopping, museums, local crafts and humanitarian endeavours available, along with international and local food and nightlife options.
Popular day trips from Siem Reap are to visit the floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake, mostly landless Vietnamese immigrants that use the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia as their home and livelihood, never going ashore. You can also bike through the mostly flat countryside touring ruined temples, local culture and tropical markets and handicrafts for the day. Mount Kulen is another natural attraction that is well worth a visit, as a waterfall on the most sacred mountain and pilgrimage site of Cambodia.
Onward travel from Siem Reap
Siem Reap is well connected overland or by air or boat to other destinations. Every year more direct flights are connecting Siem Reap with the region, becoming the hub of Cambodia.
Since Siem Reap is located in the northwest of Cambodia, most other tourist towns are accessible by bus going through Phnom Penh which is now only 4 hours away because of the newly paved road.
Kampot, Sihanoukville and Mondulkiri can all be reached from Siem Reap via Phnom Penh by bus, minivan, or taxi. A boat service is also offered down the Tonle Sap Lake and River to Phnom Penh or Battambang, taking around 6 hours and avoiding the traffic.