One of the questions we most get asked by readers is how to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the gateway to Angkor Wat and departure point for excursions into nearby Angkor Archaeological Park. Here’s what you need to do.
Every day we get contacted by people planning a trip to Asia and at the moment we’re getting loads of extra enquiries from people considering our May Culinary Travel Writing and Photography Retreat. The first question we’re getting asked is how to get to Siem Reap.
You see, when you do a search on some airline or travel sites, you might get a message that there are no flights. This is because there aren’t any direct flights from Australia, Europe, Africa, or the Americas, and some sites don’t seem to be able to deal with that. Siem Reap International Airport is a small airport and doesn’t have the capacity to handle the big long haul jets. The only direct flights are from Asian cities.
So if an airline doesn’t have a partner with which they operate code share flights to Cambodia, you’ll draw a blank. You really need to go directly to a good flight search engine, such as Skyscanner, Bravofly or Kayak, which show you the various connections, rather than go to your favourite airline or travel sites.
How to Get to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Getting to Siem Reap by Air
The recently expanded, swanky Siem Reap International Airport (REP/VDSR), 8 kms from the heart of Siem Reap, is around 15 minutes by taxi to the city centre or up to 20 minutes if you’re staying on the other side of the Siem Reap River, at, say, Sala Lodges or Navutu Dreams.
If you’re flying long haul from Australia, Europe, Africa, or the Americas, no matter what airline you are flying with you will have to go via another city (or two). A lot of the flights are code shares so you could find yourself having tested out two or three different airlines by the time you get to Siem Reap.
The advantage of buying your flight to Siem Reap with one airline is that your baggage should go through and meet you at the end of your journey (touch wood). The disadvantage is that you might not get a stopover (especially if you’re buying the ticket online).
If you do want to break up the journey with an overnight stopover, then it’s a good idea to go into an old-fashioned travel agency to discuss your options and fly via one of the Asian hubs, although keep in mind that it’s then only an hour or two (or three) on to Siem Reap.
Airlines flying to Siem Reap
How to get to Siem Reap by air from Australia, Europe and the Americas baffles a lot of people who rely on airline and travel sites to search for flights. A tip: whenever you’re planning a trip to a destination you’ve never been to before or know little about, make a beeline for the Wikipedia page for that city’s airport, which should list all the airlines flying into that city.
You can fly to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh and Bangkok with Cambodian Angkor Air; with Vietnam Airlines from Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Nha Trang, and Hanoi; with Bangkok Airways from Bangkok and other Thai destinations; Lao Airlines from Luang Prabang, Pakse and Vientiane; with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur; SilkAir from Singapore; DragonAir (now Cathay Dragon) from Hong Kong; Cebu Pacific Air from Manila; Asiana and Korean Air from Seoul; China Southern from Guangzhou; Jetstar flies from Singapore with connections to many Australian and Asian destinations; and Scoot flies from its Singapore hub to Bangkok and Phnom Penh, with many connections to Asian and Australian destinations. This is by no means comprehensive. There are many more options.
Keep in mind that Bangkok has two international airports. Premium airlines use the main, newer international airport, Suvarnabhumi (BKK), while the old airport, Don Muaeng (DMK), has become the hub for low-cost airlines, such as Air Asia, Scoot, Nok Air, Tiger Air, Thai Smile, Orient Thai, etc.
While you might save a little money by taking a long-haul premium airline to Bangkok and then a low-cost airline such as Air Asia to Siem Reap, you need to consider the time you will waste travelling between Suvarnabhumi (BKK), 27kms east of Bangkok’s Siam (which we consider to be the heart of Bangkok’s ‘downtown’) and Don Muaeng< (DMK), 28kms north of Siam.
Firstly, if your plane arrives at Suvarnabhumi at one of the farthest gates, it can take you 10-15 minutes just to walk to Immigration. Allow another 3o minutes to one hour waiting in line to get your passport stamped, and another 10-15 minutes for your luggage. We’ve been through the airport countless times and we never get from the plane to the taxi in less than an hour.
The average journey time from Suvarnabhumi to the heart of Bangkok is one hour. It’s around 40 minutes if you’re travelling in the early hours of the morning or late at night and anything from 70 minutes to up to 2 hours (seriously) during peak traffic periods when vehicles are bumper to bumper, even on the toll ways. Although Don Muaeng is the same distance from the central Bangkok, it’s a faster journey, and can take anything from 30 to 50 minutes during quiet periods.
Do whatever you can to avoid arriving or departing during Bangkok’s most congested times: 7am to 10am, noon to 2pm, and 4pm to 7pm. Friday afternoon is especially horrible, when a lot of Bangkokians go away for the weekend.
Bangkok Airports Free Transfer Bus
There is a free transfer bus that runs between Suvarnabhumi and Don Muaeng airports from 5am until midnight, however, the journey can take anything from 70 minutes in the early morning and late at night and up to 2 hours during traffic peak hours.
The free transfer bus departs Suvarnabhumi from the 2nd Floor, Exit 3, and departs from Don Muaeng on the 1st Floor. However, note that buses arriving from Don Muaeng will drop passengers on the 4th floor at Suvarnabhumi.
Bangkok Airport Transfer by Taxi
Taxis run 24 hours, so if you don’t wish to take the bus, follow the taxi signs and take the escalator down to the 1st floor for the public taxis. Limousine touts will accost you as you leave Arrivals, however, you’ll probably only want a limousine if you’re on your honeymoon or business trip.
Bangkok has some of the worst taxi drivers in the world. It’s so rare that we get a good, honest, English-speaking taxi driver in Bangkok that we are over the moon when we do and take his number. While the situation at the airports is much improved when it comes to queuing for taxis, you still need to hope that you get a taxi driver who will go someway toward trying to understand your address and that there will be seat belts (even more rare than honest drivers).
Then you need to be prepared to play the metre game. Most don’t want to turn their metres on and will claim they’re broken or insist that it’s going to be cheaper to negotiate with him and propose an outrageous price. We’ve had taxi drivers say “No metre, 500 baht (US$14/A$18). With metre, 900 baht! (US$25/A$33)” We’ve argued black and blue with the drivers to turn the metre on while threatening to get out and report them. The driver will reluctantly turn the metre on and the ride will cost 250 baht (US$7/A$9.50). (Note: these prices were correct at the time this post was published but currencies fluctuate.)
Note that if you want to travel via the toll way (and you should, it’s much faster), you will be required to pay the toll fares directly to the driver and he’ll generally ask you for them on approach to the toll booth so make sure you’re carrying change. On top of this you must pay the driver a 50 baht fee. While this is an official, legitimate fee, this will not be on the metre, you need to add it.
If you have to travel between the two airports, insist the driver turn the metre on and change for tolls.
Bangkok Airport Rail Link
The Airport Rail Link runs from 6am to midnight between Suvarnabhumi Airport and Phaya Thai Station but is only useful if you’re actually staying at a hotel by one of the stations en route: Lat Krabang, Ban Thap Chang, Hua Mak, Ramkhanhaeng, Makkasan, and Rajaprarop. This is not a train that is dedicated to air travellers, but also operates as a commuter service, so it can get very crowded.
While the train only takes 33 minutes to the end of the line, depending on how much luggage you have, you’ll need to allow around 10 minutes to get down to the airport station on Basement B, buy your token from the token dispenser (90 baht one way), and get to the platform.
The rail link doesn’t connect well with the BTS/Skytrain or MRT/Underground and nor are their smart passes compatible with the airport train. There’s only a connection to the MRT at the Makkasan Interchange Station (MRT Petchaburi) and a BTS/Skytrain connection at Phaya Thai Station. At both stations you will need to be prepared to negotiate steps, take a short walk, and take steps or escalators up to the BTS again. Not fun after a long haul flight if you have a bit of baggage.
Or, you’ll have to hail a taxi from the street to take you to your hotel and the chances of finding a driver who speaks English and/or knows the hotel will be very low. Try to get your hotel to email you the address in Thai.
You may find that it’s better to stay overnight in the city and at least enjoy yourself.
Getting from Siem Reap Airport into Siem Reap City Centre
Things are so much easier once you arrive in Siem Reap. Siem Reap International Airport is on the outskirts of the town, 8 kms from the main crossroad of National Highway 6 and Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. Transport from the airport is by taxi, van or tuk tuk. Some hotels provide complimentary transfers by one of these means of transport.
Taxis cost US$7, while US$10 will get you a van, handy if you’re a family or travelling with friends. These don’t need to be organised in advance. You simply pay for the ticket at the clearly identified glass booth inside the new Arrivals area. The driver will meet you just outside the booth, show you where to wait and go get his car.
If you want to use a tuk tuk you need to arrange this in advance with your hotel. Many hotels offer complimentary tuk tuk transfers.
The most luxurious hotels, such as Amansara, will send a vintage limo. When you’re leaving, tuk tuks will take you to the airport for around US$6-7 while taxis booked in advance are US$10. Plush limo services booked through five-star hotels can cost around US$100.
Getting to Siem Reap Overland from Thailand
Travelling overland from Thailand is possible by coach, mini-bus, taxi, and private vehicle, or a combination of train and tuk tuk. We advise organising a driver and car in advance to meet you at the Thai-Cambodia border (Aranyaprathet-Poipet) for the 2.5-3 hour drive to Siem Reap (US$35, higher in wet season when the roads are worse).
You can book this through Sopheak from Sopheakna Travel (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Siem Reap. The driver will wait at the roundabout just after Cambodia Immigration at Poipet. You can also try to find a driver at the border yourself as there are generally a few cars waiting around.
After Cambodian Immigration, walk directly past the travellers waiting for the free bus to the bus station. Ignore the tout who will tell you to stop. Once out a driver will likely ask you if you want to go to Siem Reap. Suggest US$35. As he’s parked illegally and will have to pay a cop a fine if you don’t hurry up and get in his car, he’ll probably agree. The drivers may try for US$40-50, which, if you have a group of 3-4 is fair and will still save you time and money; it’s a far better option than going to the bus station. Do hurry to hop in the car. If you don’t and he’s fined, then give him a few dollars extra.
There are also shared taxis and buses to Siem Reap (5 hours, sometimes longer) from the bus station on the edge of Poipet. First you need to take the free bus from after Cambodian Immigration to the bus station just outside town. No matter which vehicle you take, add anything from 1-3 hours during the wettest months when the roads can flood and turn to mud and sometimes creeks.
Buses from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap are meant to take 5-6 hours but can take 7-8 hours. We recommend the Giant Ibis (US$15; departs 7.45am, 8.45am, 12.30pm), which, while slightly more expensive than the other companies is generally on time, cleaner, more comfortable, has more leg room, and offers online bookings, complimentary pick-up, and onboard WiFi, snack, water, and cold towel. We’re not fans of the sterile restaurant they stop at mid-way and the break is far too long (we much prefer the local place where the other buses take a break), but overall Giant Ibis is the best and safest option.
Getting Visas for Cambodia
Visa in Advance or On Arrival
Before you leave home, contact the Cambodian embassy in your country to find out if you need a visa. It’s also possible to get an e-Visa online from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, which speeds up the airport process a little. These incur a US$7 fee, however, and take three days to process, although some people report getting them back earlier.
Complete the Visa Application Form and Arrival Form on the plane to obtain visas on arrival at Siem Reap airport. Make sure you check with the Cambodian embassy in your country to make sure your nationality is eligible. If not, you’ll need to apply in advance for an e-Visa (see below). You’ll need to bring one passport photo and the fee in US dollars.
Visas on arrival are US$30 for a 30-day single-entry Tourist Visa, which can be extended at a travel agency for one month only, or US$35 for the 30-day multiple-entry Ordinary (Business) Visa, which can be extended to a three-, six- or twelve-month visa. Payment is required in US dollars. Bring the right money with you as there is no ATM in this section. Once inside the airport just follow the signs to the visa desks. The process is quick and painless and involves no more than a 5-10 minute wait or fifteen minutes at a stretch if it’s super busy.
Visa Scams on the Thailand-Cambodia Border
If you’re coming overland via the Thailand-Cambodia border at Aranyaprathet (on the Thai side)-Poipet (on the Cambodian side), ignore the Thai touts who meet buses offering visas organised at their travel agency office. Completely unnecessary and of course they’re going to charge you extra.
Some tourists have reported that the drivers have actually stopped to let these guys get on well before the bus stop so they can start persuading you to use their services even earlier. Yes, it’s a scam, but it’s no great drama if you know ahead of time, and now you do. Simply ignore them and ignore the sign that says ‘visa office’.
If you are taking a tuk tuk from the train, tell the tuk tuk you have a visa and he should drop you as close as possible. Just follow the signs and go directly to Thai Immigration. It’s on the opposite side of the road to where the bus drops you office. If coming by train, an honest tuk tuk driver will drop you right at this entrance if you ask.
At the Thai Immigration office, go up the stairs, complete the departure form, have your passport stamped, then head downstairs again. Cross the road to the Cambodia visa office to obtain your visa if you didn’t get an e-Visa online. Travellers often complain on TripAdvisor and other travel forums about being ‘scammed’ here. This usually involves being asked for a small ‘visa processing fee’ (read: lunch money) or not being given change. We’ve crossed this border countless times and never had this experience, however, we always make sure we hand over the correct visa fee and only the visa fee.
Once you have your visa, continue on to Cambodia Immigration, past the casinos in the no-mans land between immigration offices. Lines can be long in peak season, so if you’re arriving in high season (December-February) and live near a Cambodian embassy obtain a visa in advance or get an e-Visa online to save time.
Always check visa rules and prices with your nearest Cambodian embassy before you travel, as things can change.
Getting from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat
Getting to Angkor Wat by Tuk Tuk
If you stay in the centre of Siem Reap you’ll probably do a lot of exploring around town on foot, though tuk tuks are terrific in the hottest part of the day and for heading out to dinner at night. A short tuk tuk ride costs US$1-1.50 around the old town and commercial centre, along Sivutha Boulevard. Double that for longer rides from one end of town to the other, for example, if you’re staying in a hotel on the edge of town. Breezy tuk tuks are also the best way to visit Angkor Archaeological Park, home to Angkor Wat.
Tuk tuks are not only cooler than riding a bike, but they’re better for photography, without the glass windows of an air-conditioned car, getting you up close to the action, whether it be temples, monkeys or elephants. Most people do a tour on their first day (see our guide to the best tours in Siem Reap), and after that explore independently by tuk tuk. Expect to pay anything from a minimum of $10 for a standard 8-hour day; $12-15 for a longer day if you’re starting out early for sunrise and going until sunset; and up to $20 for a whole long day.
Hotel staff can book tuk tuks for you, however, most will give you higher rates than these as some will take a commission. We recommend that you negotiate with the tuk tuk driver yourself when you find one you like using our suggested fees.
We strongly recommend waking in the darkness for sunrise, scrambling the temples until about 10-11am, taking a break of a few hours in the middle of the day to return for lunch, a swim at your hotel, and a rest, and then returning in the afternoon until sunset. If you choose to do this, make sure your driver is very clear about the hours and that you want to return to town in the middle of the day.
Getting to Angkor Wat by Motorcycle Taxi or Motodup
If you’re a solo traveller or budget traveller you can use a motorcycle taxi or ‘motodup’ and driver and ride pillion to get around the temples. This is the most affordable way of seeing the temples and a day-long will cost you no more than US$8, much less if you’re only going for sunrise or half a day, and a maximum of US$10 for one long day, which would cost US$20 by tuk tuk. You’ll see motodup guys on street corners all over Siem Reap.
Getting to Angkor Wat by Air-Conditioned Car or Van
If you’re travelling with a few friends, older family members, or small children, you can also hire an air-conditioned car or van. Rates can start at US$30 a day for a old Camry with no amenities and go up to US$100-150 a day for something much more luxurious, with a icy cold towels and iced water provided by the driver every time you step foot back in the vehicle.
The air-conditioned cars and vans that collect passengers from Siem Reap International Airport also do temple tours and their standard prices are listed on a sheet behind the driver’s seat or you can ask for a price list if you don’t see one. If this is something you’re thinking of and you like your airport driver and his car, I strongly recommend grabbing his business card and engaging him for temple tours. Otherwise, you never know who you are going to get.
Getting to Angkor Wat by Bicycle
See this post on Cycling Around Siem Reap for information on getting to Angkor Wat and getting around Angkor Archaeological Park by bicycle, including cycling tours.