When we first set off on our travels we were merrily hopping around Borneo and Indonesia for as little as £13 a time. So it came as something of a shock when we planned to head to Vientiane – the capital of Laos – and were shocked at how expensive flights were. There wasn’t a cheap flight out of Siem Reap to be found. Lacking the £100+ each needed for the short flight, we realised we would have to get from Siem Reap to Vientiane overland.
This left us with two options. We could head across Cambodia and up through southern Laos – a journey that reportedly could take over 30 hours if we didn’t add in stops along the way. We ruled this out quickly, fearing there might be karaoke on the bus.
We decided on plan C – we would bus it to Bangkok and jump on a sleeper train to Nong Khai on the Thai side of the border. We booked a bus to Bangkok (splashing out on the “luxury” $28 tickets – a cheaper $9 ticket is also available) which left Siem Reap at 9am and arrived in Bangkok just after 4pm.
As an alternative, we could have arranged transport just to the Poipet border crossing and then picked up one of Thailand’s subsidised “casino buses” to Bangkok from the Thai side of the border, which may have been slightly cheaper. Details are here if you are interested but we opted to stick with just the one bus. We are far too old to be faffing with bus changes, and we didn’t want to miss our train. We might have considered it if we were finishing our journey in Bangkok.
The Poipet border crossing is notorious for scams and overcharging going into Cambodia. I’m delighted to report heading out of Cambodia and into Thailand was straightforward and scam-free, and we were back on our bus within an hour. It’s always a pleasure to be back in Thailand. The food is delicious and everything just runs a bit…smoother. We relaxed and settled in to the last leg of the journey.
A short 4 hours later, we pulled into Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus station and paid a tuk tuk driver 50 baht to drop us at the nearest MRT station, which we took to Bangsui railway station. The journey (with one change) takes about half an hour including the tuk tuk and buying tickets.
If you are going from Siem Reap to Vientiane overland I think you can do the entire leg in one go from Bangkok by changing to a shuttle train in Nong Khai, but we opted to break our journey in the Thai border town of Nong Khai. I do love a border town.
The sleeper train from Bangkok to Nong Khai departs from the main station – the gloriously onomatopoeic Hualamphong – but the same 8pm train can also be picked up a few minutes later at about 20:18 in Bangsui station. Bangsui is easier to get to on the MTR from Mo Chit bus station, which is where Siem Reap buses terminate at.
We booked our tickets at the counter at Bangsui station; our preferred second class tickets were sold out for that evenings train but we splashed out and picked up a first class sleeper cabin for £24 each instead. Let it never be said we don’t know how to live, people.
After a leisurely meal in a local restaurant we headed back to the station for our train, which pulled in bang on time. Safely installed in our compact little cabin, we read and ate Oreos (again, never say we don’t know how to live on our travels!) until we were lulled to sleep by the rocking of the train.
Seven hours of decent sleep later, we were woken up by the train guard 20 minutes before we reached Nong Khai station. We stepped outside our cabin, and within a minute he’d packed away our beds and set them up as a comfy seat for two, like some kind of room-rearranging ninja.
At just after 7:30am we were in Nong Khai and headed to the beautiful Mut Mee guest house. You could just as easily head to the border and be at the Laos border crossing for 8am.
All in all our journey took 22 hours, but 12 of those were spent dozing on a train. It may not be the quickest route from Siem Reap to Vientiane, but going overland was less than half the price of a flight (£100 v £44) and we arrived fairly refreshed. If we’d taken cheaper buses and used third train class seats we could have saved even further, but sometimes you have to treat yourself, no?
If you want to travel from Siem Reap to Vientiane overland
- Most guesthouses in Siem Reap will be able to help you with booking a ticket on a bus of your choosing to Bangkok. Book at least 24 hours in advance if you can to secure the time you want. Our tickets cost $28 each – roughly £18.50.
- The journey from Mo Chit bus station to Bangsui takes about half an hour, which includes the tuk tuk ride and one change of train. This costs about ฿50 for the tuk tuk and ฿28 each (I forget the exact cost) for the MRT – about £1.50 per person.
- A first class sleeper carriage from Bangsui to Nong Khai costs about £24 per person. This was the most expensive ticket; there are also second and third class options and we’d have gone second class if it had been available.
- If you need help with train times, train costs or anything else train related, Seat 61 is the place to go for pretty much any country in the world. We’ve used it several times; it is a helpful, up to date and comprehensive guide to international train travel.