Airline customers pay a pretty penny for the pure speed and convenience of traveling by jet to Thailand—a top-of-the-line way to go, when getting there is all you have in mind.
But many travelers who might prefer a little more of a Cambodian odyssey—or who would rather not part with hundreds of dollars—often miss out on other options for exiting the country.
Rest assured, those options are out there.
Travelers journeying from Cambodia to Thailand can make the trip overland in less than a day with relative ease, for about $25—and most of this jaunt can be made by air-conditioned bus and large boat.
One or two standard overland routes are charted in the major Cambodian travel guides: the long taxi ride to Poipet and the ferry from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong.
But another, virtually unknown route, which is in many ways more attractive than these, is available via the tiny port town of Sre Ambel.
A remote fishing and ship-building community, Sre Ambel sits at the tip of a narrow inlet off the Bay of Kompong Som, in the southeast corner of Koh Kong province. From Sre Ambel, fast boats leave for Koh Kong town every day at 11 am.
Board a 7:15 am bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and tell the driver you are going to Sre Ambel. He will let you off roughly 120 km outside Phnom Penh at a junction on National Route Four, where motorbike taxi drivers will be waiting.
From the junction, Sre Ambel is 18 km away by road—about a 15 minute ride over pastoral land and the foothills of a coastal range.
Once in Sre Ambel, head to the ferry landing on the waterfront. Ferry tickets are $10 each. The boat is docked just down the road from the town’s main shipyard, where a few big fishing boats are liable to be perched in drydock, under construction.
The ride to Koh Kong should take about four hours in fair weather, and about half of the time covers smooth waters in the Bay of Kompong Som. The ride is marked by wonderful views of tiny tree-covered islands and pristine coastline, often deserted but sometimes dotted with fishing boats beached on the sand.
The ferry makes a brief island stop at its halfway point, and then proceeds to the Rak Long checkpoint just outside Koh Kong. Get off at Rak Long, and take one of the small speedboats waiting there to the Thai border at Hat Lek. Expect to pay about $2.50 or $3 for the ride.
The border closes at 5 pm. If you are heading to Bangkok, you will need to catch a bus out of Trat, a town about an hour’s ride north of the border. Trucks will be waiting at Hat Lek to take you there.
Take care to move fairly quickly once across the border, as there is a 6 pm bus out of Trat and then not another until 11 pm. The ride into Trat should cost about 100 baht ($2.50), and the bus to Bangkok is 170 baht ($4.15).
If you return to Cambodia by the same means, it is best to take an overnight bus from Bangkok to Trat and then cross the border just after it opens at 7 am. A $15 boat to Sihanoukville leaves from Koh Kong every day at 8 am—you can catch a speedboat from the border to meet it.
If you’re looking for sheer convenience and speed, take a plane. But if you have the time to take in the scenery, the overland trip to Bangkok is easy on the pocketbook and will show you more of Cambodia than the inside of Pochentong’s pre-flight lounge.