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Wanderlust Blog of the Year ’13
Author: A Potato in a Rice Field
Aranyaprathet to Poipet is by far the busiest of Thailand-Cambodia border crossings. It is the road to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat and a convenient border for travellers to get stamped on Thai VISA runs. In my younger years I bussed here every month from Bangkok to be stamped out and back in. These days this journey is not really worthwhile as new regulations allow only 15 day tourist VISAs to be issued at land border crossings. The 30 day tourist VISAs now restricted to airport arrivals. Return flights now the better option for VISA renewal. If planning to get a 90 day tourist VISA in Cambodia the closest Thai Embassy is in Phnom Penh. A hefty trek. In short Cambodia is not a smart option for VISA runs when you factor in time, travel costs and VISA fees for both Cambodia and Thailand… For three month tourist VISA try Laos (Vientiane) or even Malaysia (Penang). By far the better options.
We went slightly off-track recently traversing the Thailand-Cambodia border to the North of Poipet. For these areas personal transport (road trip) is necessary. We first call at the Thailand-Cambodia border crossing at Chong Chom to O-Smach in Thailand’s Surin Province. A local border crossing with no tourists. In fact the main traffic crossing here is the local Thais who travel for Casinos on the opposite end. The two larger casinos being Royal Hill Resort and Casino and the O-Smach Resort and Casino. On this visit we cross to O-Smach Casino where our camera is held on entering until we leave (sorry no photos). This goes the same for guns and weapons. Gambling is illegal in Thailand meaning borders are littered with Casinos (including tourist crossings at Poipet and Koh Kong). This goes the same for the Burmese borders.
While gamblers go one way trade and cheap goods go the other. On the Thai side of the Thailand-Cambodia borders you find sprawling markets of cheap junk, second hand clothes, knockoff goods and not really much of interest. Worth a visit for a unique and bizarre market experience. We visit Talad Chong Chom Market at the Chong Chom O’Smach border crossing.
Our original plan was to visit the contentious temple of Preah Vihear which now sits firmly on the Cambodian side of the Thailand-Cambodia border. A border better known for recent military clashes and artillery bombardment. These plans were scuppered over uncertainty with VISAs and legitimacy of the crossing. Instead we opt for Prasat Ta Muan in Surin province. Civilians cannot cross here and visits to the temple are under constant watch of Thai soldiers. To visit Prasat Ta Muan we are escorted past fencing, razor wire, sand bags and signed no-go areas. Cambodian soldiers are on the opposite side of the temple. On the Thai side we are told “It’s ok to photograph Thai soldiers…. but not Cambodian soldiers. Do not photograph Cambodian soldiers!” Full blog on Prasat Ta Muan temples here.
Much of the Thailand-Cambodia border is untouched and wild. Only a handful of border crossings possible. These parts are very remote and potentially dangerous. Mines from former conflict and venomous snakes just a start. Apparent dangers highlighted by a snakeskin found at the first Khmer Temple we visit. Luckily the closest we come to meeting them.