Asia, Cambodia, Destinations, Travel Resources, Visa Help

Overland Travel in Cambodia

Border crossings are never pleasant and sometimes the best you can hope for is not getting yelled at in Spanish by an angry Honduran man even though all your passport stamps are in order (this incident was almost a year ago and I’m still sore about it). However, sometimes you get lucky and find a company that takes the stress out of overland border crossings and that company is Giant Ibis. Giant Ibis is a Cambodian bus company that does all the big tourist trips in Cambodia; we used them for all of our overland travel in Cambodia, trips from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The Siem Reap to Phnom Penh trip does not contain a border crossing, but it was our way to test out the bus company to see if we wanted to use them for the more complicated Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City route. Needless to say they passed our test with flying colors and now I’m singing their praises to anyone who will listen.

Why might you ask is this bus company so special? Well for about $3 USD more than the other bus companies (as of February 2017 tickets for Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City are $15 USD and $18 USD respectively) you get large comfortable seats with charging ports, seat belts, a professional staff who leaves/arrives on time, free wifi, and fresh pastries from Blue Pumpkin (an upscale Cambodian coffee shop). Seat belts seem like a given to most Westerners, but travel in a developing country long enough and you will know they are the exception rather than the rule and once you see the Cambodian drivers, you will want the exception. Seriously, I have never seen such insane driving and I spent six months flying around hairpin mountain turns on the infamous Guatemalan chicken buses. I think they technically have right side driving, but with the scooters flying every which way it is clear that road rules are more of gentle suggestions rather than laws in Cambodia.

Considering my rule of bordering crossings always being a pain, our trip across the Vietnamese border with Giant Ibis was the exception, it was easy, pain-free, and nothing went wrong. Before you get on the bus they will make sure that you have your Vietnamese visa, which unlike the Cambodian visa you cannot get at the border. A Vietnamese visa can be arranged by most hostels or hotels for $54 USD for next day processing and I do recommend that in this case you use the middlemen to avoid going to the embassy yourself. Apparently, Westerners who attempt to arrange the visa themselves just end up paying even larger bribes than the middlemen do and incurring a lot more stress than entirely necessary.

So visa in hand, we bordered the bus, settled into our seats and waved goodbye to the Cambodian countryside. Upon our arrival at the border the bus dropped us off to get stamped out of Cambodia, we re-boarded, handed the staff our passports, and got dropped off again at a funny little shopping center in the no man’s land between Cambodia and Vietnam. There we had 30 minutes for a passable lunch of bland fried rice and instant noddles cooked to look like they weren’t instant noddles, then with a honk of the horn we were called back to the bus, handed our passports that had been stamped into Vietnam without any work on our part (we didn’t even have to stand in line), grabbed our bags to send through the rudimentary bag scanners, and just like that we had crossed the border. Welcome to Vietnam, the easiest border crossing I have ever done, all thanks to Giant Ibis.

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