Koh Chang to Cambodia via Hat Lek

It was the day we'd been dreading; the day our visa ran out and we had to leave Thailand. We were excited about going to Cambodia, but we were not excited about getting to Cambodia- via the border at Hat Lek.

I'd done a lot of online research (typical me!), and it became painfully clear that this journey was going to be difficult. 'The Hat Lek crossing is the worst!' and 'be prepared for SCAMS!', read the advice.

I wished we could just stay in Thailand, but we'd already extended our tourist visa and our allotted 3 months was up. We had no choice but to leave, and Hat Lek/Cham Yeam was the closest and cheapest crossing.

Scam #1:  Evisa

After reading about the 'visa on arrival scam', we decided to purchase a Cambodian evisa online. But this was still troublesome; there were quite alot of people on TripAdvisor who reported that they had never received their evisa after their online payment had been taken!

We decided to take a gamble, as the visa on arrival experience sounded so horrible. I would buy my visa first  as an experiment, and then, if all went well, we'd buy one for James (in order not to lose too much money).

Waiting for the evisa

After filling out the online form and paying $36, low and behold, I received my evisa the next day. 'Great, nothing to worry about there!', I thought with relief, as we applied for James' evisa.

However, we didn't receive James' visa the next day. Or the day after that. 'Maybe it's because of the weekend', we thought. But after a few more days of no visa, we started to get worried. We sent an email and no reply came. Uh oh!

Our anxiety increased. The next idea was to ring them, but luckily on the day we'd planned to call, we checked and an email with the visa was in James' inbox!

Luckily we applied 3 weeks prior to leaving for Cambodia, otherwise we wouldn't have got our visas in time.

After getting our visas sorted, we booked a through minibus which would take us from our accommodation in Koh Chang to Sihanoukville in Cambodia. It cost 800 Baht each and we bought the tickets from Baanmai restaurant in Lonely Beach (one of our favourite restaurants!).

A bumpy start 

The day had come. At 5.40am our alarm woke us from a fitful slumber. Our minibus to the border was arriving at 6.40am, so we hastily packed the rest of our things and waited outside our accommodation (the Hippy Hut in Bang Bao bay).

It was still dark and the stray dogs (or 'Nueng Roys' as we called them!) were going crazy. A songthaew turned up which we tried to jump on to, but it turned out to be the school bus. Oops!

Luckily, our bus showed up at 6.45am (only 5 minutes late!). Our driver was grumpy and drove like an absolute maniac. We went round the resorts and picked up a motley crew of fellow travellers; all destined for the Hat Lek border and the fate that awaited us there.

In that present moment, it seemed like our days might be numbered anyway, as our driver overtook two buses on a blind corner and then dodged back into the traffic, nearly missing two women on motorbike. They looked back in shock, and our driver beeped angrily. What was this guy's problem?!

Arriving at the Centre Point ferry port

Thankfully, we were let off at the Koh Chang ferry port. Our driver handed us a ferry ticket, and pointed to the ferry. Great instructions!

We bought some iced coffee for 40 Baht to calm down and boarded the ferry. We'd already been travelling for 2 hours and we hadn't even left Koh Chang! I had a sinking feeling that this was going to be a long day.

The ferry crossing was pretty uneventful and the 40 minutes passed quickly (probably as we weren't fearing for our lives). Too bad we had to get back on our scary minibus when we reached the mainland.

The next challenge was finding the right bus! There were about 20 white buses to choose from, none with any distinguishing features. To be honest, I don't think any of us cared if we got on the wrong one.

Unfortunately we found it and all squeezed through an insanely small gap in the parked buses to get on. Right, time for round two with the crazy man...

The road to Hat Lek

This is the part of the journey where I was drifting in and out of consciousness due to lack of sleep, so I don't remember it being so bad. Probably because the roads were wider, making aggressive undertaking a tad easier.

The road to Hat Lek was becoming more and more industrial. JCBs, steam rollers and men in hard hats could be seen for miles. Earth was being dug, trees were being cut and large metal pipes inserted. We had entered a 'Special Economic Zone'. It looked apocalyptic. Not far to the border now; we wondered what awaited us in this bizarre wasteland.

Getting through the border

We reached Hat Lek and, before we'd even pulled up to park, a crowd of people started grabbing at the bus and opening the door. One guy from our group (who seemed like an old hat at this) marched straight past them and grabbed his bag from the boot.

While others were dithering and having their bags packed into a big trolley, we decided to copy Mr. Confident. We got our bags from the boot and asked our driver if we'd see him on the other side. He simply pointed in the direction of the border (again, great instructions!) and that was the last we ever saw of him.

We were on our own; we couldn't see anyone from our bus anymore. We walked the way our driver pointed, through a large open road barrier.

The Russian woman from our group caught up with us and started asking questions we didn't understand. I think she wanted to know if we should go back to our driver after we got our visas. I didn't know the answer either.

Leaving Thailand

We had no idea where to go next! Luckily, we were directed to the Thai side of the border, by a random traveller where we had our passports stamped to exit Thailand. This was pretty painless.
Level one: complete!

Next, we were funnelled towards some sort of health checkpoint. Now, I'd read online that this was one of the SCAMS! Avoid, avoid! James and I pretended not to see the checkpoint, blatantly ignoring all the calls of 'over here!'.
Level two: complete!

Stress at the arrivals booth

Next, we lined up at the arrival booth to get our evisa stamped. Here, things started to get a bit more hectic. When I was handing over my passport and talking to the immigration officer, some man (I'm not sure if he was an official or not) stared hassling me about taking a bus (or something?!). When I said I didn't understand he said 'you not listen to me!'.

I tried to ignore him as best I could, while getting another copy of my evisa out of our document folder (luckily we printed two copies!). After some deliberation, the immigration officer took both copies of my evisa and gave me a form to fill out. I tried to fill it out there at the booth, but the angry bus man yelled at me to take it to a table.

Filling out the arrivals form

Luckily, I'd come prepared with two pens (I'd read that they charge you to use a pen- another SCAM!).

On the form there was a section for 'transport out of Cambodia'. The trouble was we hadn't booked a flight yet. I wrote 'bus to Vietnam' and hoped they wouldn't ask me for the ticket confirmation.

All the while, we were being hassled left, right and centre. People selling mints and cigarettes wouldn't leave us alone.

A man who looked like a harmless traveller asked us where we were going. I answered, 'Koh Rong', and he asked where after that, so I answered with, 'Vietnam', and he asked where after that... This continued, and eventually he tried to get us to visit to some Cambodian school for volunteering. I said firmly that I wasn't interested. He carried on. I just blanked him, and after a while he left us alone.

Finally receiving our visas

People were asking about the visa on arrival, looking worried. Our Russian friend wasn't having much luck and was led away to get a passport photo. Another guy asked if he could borrow a pen. Everyone was confused and stressed.

After we'd filled out the tricky form, we queued again to get our visa. I hoped the officer remembered we'd already given him two printouts of our evisa and that wasn't another opportunity for a scam ('you never gave me your printouts' scam!?).

Luckily, he had our printouts and spent ages stamping lots of different things in my passport. I had to give different fingerprints. Eventually, he gave my passport back to me and I had my golden visa ticket.

Final level: complete (well,sort of!)

Onward travel from Hat Lek: 'big bus' scam

Now to find our transport. A guy asked us if we were going to Sihanoukville and led us to a little shack where another guy looked at our ticket. He said the bus would leave at 2.30pm, but if we liked we could pay 800 Baht for a taxi, which would be quicker. I declined, knowing this was part of another SCAM where they make you wait ages for your correct bus.

Resisting the hard sell

We waited around at his shack for a while. We could buy drinks, cigarettes and SIM cards if we wanted, but we declined, guessing these would all be at inflated 'border' prices. The only thing we bought was a bottle of water from a mini mart which cost 20 Baht.

Meanwhile, the guy at our shack kept pressing us to pay for a taxi, saying that if we didn't take one then we would get into Sihanoukville at 9pm and transport to our accommodation would be very expensive. This man sure knew how to hard sell! We resisted with all our might.

Waiting, and more waiting

Now the waiting game began. It was only 11.30am. Luckily, we'd bought some sandwiches from 7/11 in Koh Chang to keep us going. We didn't really want to be in the company of this guy who kept pressuring us to buy taxi tickets, so we pretended to need the toilet as an excuse to get out of there.

We waited across the road, but the beating sun and strange looks made us reluctantly return. We met a Swedish couple, who were also waiting for the bus, and bonded over a sighting of a rather large lizard!

The guy at the shack finally gave up on his sales pitch and wearily handed over tickets for the 'big bus'.

Boarding the 'big bus'

The bus arrived at 2pm (earlier than expected!) and we got on with luggage in tow.

Surprisingly, it was relatively comfy, and we relaxed to take in the scenery of a new country we'd gained entry to. Water buffalo galloped down the road, cows and chickens roamed freely, and the wooden houses were on tall stilts.

The roads were quite bumpy and the bus pootled along, stopping multiple times to pick up and drop off. I would have slept, but the constant beeping of the driver prevented this small luxury. I have no idea what he was beeping at! He was merely communicating in the language of bus to anyone who would listen.

We stopped a lot for toilet breaks and other breaks, but we could never be bothered to get off.

'Big bus' confusion

A couple of hours into the journey, the bus pulled into a parking area. It seemed like everyone was getting off. There was a lot of confusion; people were leaving their things on the bus and others were taking them with them.

What was going on? No one seemed to know. Maybe this was a food stop? Looking around, there didn't seem to be much on offer. A few people bought packets of Pringles and cans of drink, while we opened a packet of Thai banana chips.

It seemed that our bus was going on to Phnom Penn and those going to Sihanoukville had to wait for another bus. Although the driver didn't say anything about this, he simply drove off, leaving us stranded in this random place!

We waited. And waited. A couple of guys got a frisbee out. Another couple of girls wandered across the road to the fruit shop. A bus arrived and everyone cheered, but it turned out it was going back to the border! Umm, no thanks!

Finding friends on foreign transport

We waited together and bonded over confusion. The best way to make friends: take public transport in a foreign country!

#Some people thought the next bus would arrive in three hours. Others speculated half an hour. Who knew? It started to get dark. More people arrived and seemed just as confused.

Two hours had passed, and just as we thought about going to the fruit shop across the road ourselves, a bus arrived and, after much deliberation from the driver, we all got on.

It was packed, so we had to sit apart and jam all our luggage in the foot-well. Google Maps said we'd be in Sihanoukville in an hour. Sadly, I think Google Maps was being very optimistic.

Even though I managed to get a little sleep, this bus was so uncomfortable and unbelievably slow. At one point we ground to a halt, and the driver left the bus holding several spanners. I think this was the most frustrating part as we were only 5km away from Sihanoukville when this happened!

The final scam

Eventually we were dropped of at a petrol station, in the middle of nowhere. This was the big scam finale. A throng of motorbike and tuktuk drivers eagerly rushed over and started quoting prices. One guy was trying to charge us $15 to get to our accommodation.

Feeling way out of our depth, we rushed over to Yvonne and Thomas (our Swedish friends we'd met at the border), who had warned us not to take a tuk-tuk for more than $3. They were just as shocked about the prices here. We suggested we club together and managed to barter the price down to $20 for four people.

As we got in the tuk-tuk it started raining. This wasn't just any old rain! Floods of water crashed down on us and the road. We got soaked as we twisted and turned down dark alleyways, which may as well have been rivers at this point.

Yvonne and Thomas didn't have a place to stay for the night, so we headed to the place we'd booked, hoping they'd get a room there. Our driver didn't know where our guesthouse was, so had to pull over to ask. In the end, he dropped us at a the wrong place and we had to run through the torrents to find it.

A welcome arrival

Arriving at Tiki Club

It was now 10pm. We'd been travelling since 6.45am. We were exhausted and starving, and pretty much collapsed at the entrance to the Tiki Club guesthouse, weak with happiness! We were greeted warmly by our host, Jeff, and offered a welcome rum planteur.

Enjoying a welcome drink at Tiki Club guesthouse!

Yvonne and Thomas got a room, which we celebrated with Angkor Beer while our host ordered us Italian from a takeaway that was, by some miracle, still open. I don't think I've ever felt more ecstatic!

Our first Angkor beer!

Jeff, the amazing host!

Have you ever crossed at the Hat Lek/Cham Yeam border?

What was your experience like?

Did you use evisa?

Let us know in the comments!


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