Getting into Cambodia, Tourist Visa

Getting into Cambodia as a tourist is pain free compared to other countries out there, in fact, the only prerequisite is that you have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from your entry date and at least one empty page in your passport as the visa will take up an entire page. Citizens of every country qualify for a tourist visa on arrival, it’s available at all land border crossings and at Cambodian international airports. For the purpose of this article, I will assume you are arriving at an airport as Lisa and I did and do not have experience with the land border crossings (more on why we went via air in a later blog entry).

Before even landing, you will be given three pieces of paper (pictures to come later). This includes your application for the visa on arrival, the arrival and departure card, and finally a custom declaration form. Fill these out on the plane as it will save you time upon landing.

Upon landing, you will head towards the visa on arrival desk inside the terminal. For us, it was a quick walk from the jet outside to get to the terminal in Siem Reap as the airport doesn’t have jetways. You will queue up at the visa on arrival desk. When it’s your turn, hand them your passport, a recent passport sized picture of yourself, the visa on arrival application form you filled out on the plane, and $20 USD for the tourist visa itself. If you don’t have a passport sized picture of yourself, like we didn’t, you will be “fined” $1. The exact amount doesn’t need to be paid as they will tender any change owed to you but you must pay in US notes, one if the official currencies of Cambodia. If you do not have the money on you,  there is an ATM in the arrival hall near the queue but be warned, it could be out of service so best to bring some American money before hand!

Visa for Cambodia, Cost $20 USD as of March 2014, Received on Arrival in Cambodia

Visa for Cambodia, cost $20 USD as of March 2014, received on arrival in Siem Reap, Cambodia

After handing all that in, you will queue up in the next line to receive your passport back along with your visa stamped into your passport. While you’re queued up, the immigration officials are busy affixing the visa to your passport and filling it out. Listen for your name carefully as they do have problems pronouncing western names, they didn’t even bother with mine, they just waived my passport in our general direction since I have a unique passport cover. Your new visa should be placed in your passport and it may contain errors. My visa didn’t even have my middle name in it and they miss spelled Lisa’s last name but it’s Cambodia, they really don’t care!

Next, queue up at the border control desk where another immigration official will admit you into the country. The official will take your passport, your arrival card, and a photo of you before stamping an entry stamp in your passport and giving it back to you.

Entry Stamp for Cambodia on the Left (received in Siem Reap). Exit Stamp for Cambodia on the Right (received on exit in Phnom Penh).

Entry Stamp for Cambodia on the Left (received in Siem Reap). Exit Stamp for Cambodia on the Right (received on exit in Phnom Penh).

Collect your bags at the baggage claim and head to the customs desk. When we arrived at the customs desk, it was unmanned and a box was setup to collect our customs declaration forms. If this is the case for you too, just leave the form there whether you have something to declare or not, it’s Cambodia after all! The last remaining form should be your departure card, most likely it will have been stapled to a page in your passport by border control, do not lose it as you will need it when you depart Cambodia.

As you can see, the process is pretty straight forward and is surprisingly well organized even if their customs controls are lax. Obviously the process will be different if you require a multiple entry visa, business visa, or ancestor visa and the costs will be different as well but if you just need a single entry visa for less than 30 days, follow the steps above and you’ll get in pain and stress free!

Do keep in mind that if you need to extend your visa while in Cambodia, you can only do it once with the single entry tourist visa. If you need to extended it again you must leave the country and repeat the visa process again. Think you’ll be in Cambodia for a while (i.e. more than 2 months)? I recommend getting a business visa; it cost a bit more but can be extended indefinitely regardless if your reason for visiting Cambodia is business or not!

As always, never illegally overstay your visa. Although in Cambodia you’ll most likely be subjected to a fine, they can permanently ban you, just do a visa run if you have to. It’s cheap enough in this part of the world to get a bus to another country you might as well not risk it.

Traveling Thailand via Train – State Railway of Thailand

Thailand is a very large beautiful country with vast jungles, cities, coastlines and everything in between. Luckily, when it comes to transportation between all the places you want to see, there is a variety of choices. There are many bus companies, tour guides, boat companies, and airlines that you can choose from in getting to where you need to go. When it came to us traveling Thailand, Lisa and I always went by train for the longer distance routes, the State Railway of Thailand.

When traveling the State Railway of Thailand, you will find different classes of travel, just like on an airplane. We have traveled 1st Class, 2nd Class with air conditioning, and 3rd Class without air conditioning while getting from city to city and by far, my favorite was 2nd Class with air conditioning. I will review everything we traveled though and you can decide the best class for you.

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1st Class Air Conditioned Sleeper Berth

The first class air conditioned sleeper berth is a great way to travel long distances in Thailand if you want privacy and a completely lie flat bed. The room is basic, about 3 square meters, two windows with curtains (one looks into the corrider of the train car, the other directly outside), a sink, one electrical outlet, a mirror, a padded sitting bench that converts to a bunk bed, and a lockable door. If you are traveling by yourself, you will share the room with someone else that is the same sex as you. If you want the bottom bed when they convert the room for bed time, you will pay a a few hundred baht more when purchasing your ticket. You will not be able to change once you are onboard unless your roommate wants to as seats, and consequently beds, are assigned when buying tickets. If you are traveling in groups of 4, you can request conjoining rooms as there is a door between the two that can be unlocked and opened.

My only problem with this class was the area is very cramped when the bunk beds are put away. You are just sitting on the bench as there is no space to put your luggage or backpack anywhere except right at your feet making it difficult to move about. The generator was also right below our room and is consistently running, making it hard to talk to the person you are sharing a room with and too noisy to sleep at night. It might be quieter in another location in this train car but for us, it wasn’t worth paying almost double the price as air conditioned second class. In my book, the only positive in first class that second class did not have was the privacy but the cons do not outweigh it. Usually we’re more sociable anyway so first class was pointless for the most part.

As far as toilet facilities are concerned, the first class had one western toilet and one squatter at the end of the train car. Toilet paper was provided for both in addition to the bum gun. Soap was plentiful for washing hands and the water coming from the sink was safe to drink as well.

2nd Class Air Conditioned Sleeper Berth
Similar to first class, second class converts your sitting area into two bunk beds when you are ready to sleep at night. The most obvious difference between the two classes is a lack of privacy, you do not have your own room as before and share the train car with about 30 other people. However, being air conditioned and the ability to lay completely flat when you are ready for bed makes this class an excellent choice for long distance journeys at night and you will save on accommodation.

Lisa in the State Railway of Thailand's 2nd Class Air Conditioned Sleeper Car

Lisa in the State Railway of Thailand’s 2nd Class Air Conditioned Sleeper Car

One thing I noticed was depending on the cities you are traveling between, you may either have a newer train car or an older one. In terms of quality of service, they are the same. The cars are quiet and you do not hear the generators as you do in first class. The newer train cars do have more width than the older ones giving you more sitting and sleeping room. We rode the newer cars between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and the older ones between Surat Thani and Bangkok. I do not know if the newer ones are always on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route so it could be hit or miss but for the money you are paying, the older cars are still well worth it.

The toilet facilities were the same as first class but toilet paper was not provided, only the bum gun. Again, no issues with soap for washing hands or the safety of the water coming out of the sinks.

3rd Class Fan Only
By far, third class was the cheapest but also the worst class to travel by for a few reasons, the largest being the lack of air conditioning.

Without air conditioning in this train car, all the windows open instead and there are overhead oscillating fans every 8 seats to keep the air moving. Unfortunately, Thailand is a very hot and humid place so this setup still makes a 14 hour train ride unbearable. To make matters worse, mosquitos love this car and there isn’t enough Off! in the world to keep the bastards away from you because the fans suck them off the ceiling of the train car, where they all congregate, then spit them directly at you. Yuck! As if that wasn’t disgusting enough, their dead carcasses landing on you but sometimes, the fan just mutilates them and they still manage to suck blood out of you only dying after their last meal, while still on your skin.

That’s definitely the worst part of third class without air conditioning but isn’t the only shit thing wrong with it. In Thailand, Thai citizens can ride third class fan only for free which is fantastic for them but not you. Unlike you, they do not need a ticket and can simply hop on the train and off whenever they please and since they don’t have a ticket, they don’t have a reserved seat and if you disappear long enough, they will most definitely claim your seat for themselves! I saw this happen a few times on the train and luckily for those people, the Thais gladly moved but they don’t have to so be aware of this! The most annoying thing about this however is Thais will get on the train to sell you food and drinks all the way to your next stop. It might seem great at first, having food and drinks available that are cheaper than the monopoly restaurant on board but they constantly are yelling and screaming throughout the third class cars to sell you something. Not ideal if you are trying to sleep.

Finally, the toilet is simple at it’s best, a squatter with a bum gun. That’s it. No toilet paper, no soap, and no sink. You are better off trying to sneak into the second class toilets than using these as they are primitive and should only be used if you’re a guy taking a leak, even then, bring hand sanitizer.

Like I said, third class with fan should be avoided at all costs. We didn’t travel third class with air conditioning but I saw it and it was better than the fan only version. People were still trying to sell you stuff but at least it was cool, dry, and most importantly, mosquito free.

Purchasing Tickets
You can purchase tickets at the train station either the day of or the day before you need to travel. You can also prepurchse tickets up to 60 days in advance. We usually bought our tickets the day of our journey a few hours before. We only got screwed over and had to take third class when going to the Full Moon Party. I do not know what the process is like buying tickets before your day of travel but it is probably just as straight forward as buying them a few hours before.

To purchase, just go up to a sales window displaying All Tickets in the screen, tell them what your destination and desired class is and pay. At the train station they accept Visa, MasterCard and Thai Baht. Most of the sales representatives speak and understand English well enough that there won’t be any screw ups. Be patient with them and they will be patient with you. Don’t lose your ticket as the conductor will punch it once you have boarded the train and it has departed the station!

Tickets are also available through travel agents but will cost slightly more as that is how the travel agent makes money off selling the train tickets. If you’re a penny pincher, buy them for at cost at the train station. Tickets cannot be bought online through the State Railway of Thailand’s website but this might change in the future. If you are outside Thailand and need a ticket you will have no choice but to purchase through a travel agent.

After Thoughts
Keep in mind trains are seldom to their final destination on time but somehow always manage to leave the first station on time if not 5 minutes early. Don’t rely on your train being on time if you have a flight out of Bangkok, one of our trains arrived to our destination 5 hours late.

Food and drink is available for purchase on the train both from the dining car and train staff that can bring the food to you. The train staff might sometimes deny the existence of the dining car since they get commission so don’t let that deter you from passing them up on bringing you food if you want to eat in the dining car. After 9pm the dining car turns into a disco eatery which is quite a sight to see! If you are on a budget, keep in mind train food will be the same price from the dining car or staff but will be 5 times what you would pay for on the street!

Also travel during Thai holidays and Full Moon Parties via train is extremely popular. Be sure to book ahead of time.

Hopefully this article gives you some insight into taking the train in Thailand which I would recommend everyone do at least do one since it’s cheaper than it would be in your home country and is safer than the buses! As always, if you have questions just ask them in the comment section. When I’m reunited with my laptop, I will add more pictures and links to the official website so you can get schedule information!