Driving from Thailand to Cambodia – Bangkok to Angkor Wat by car
The hardest part of any trip is the destination, not the path that takes us there. The destination delimits our trip, it puts an end to it. We started our long trip with one question: can we drive to Angkor Wat from Bangkok?
Angkor Wat has been described in the mid-19th century as grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome. The French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot continued by saying that one of these Khmer temples was a rival to that of Solomon and erected by some ancient Michelangelo.
The first Angkor Wat pictures I saw were just unique, with the vegetation now part of the building, keeping together an otherwise collapsing series of temples.
So we rented a car in Bangkok with the idea to drive along the old Khmer Highway that goes through Northeast Thailand in the Isan region and from there cross the border in O Smach to drive south to Angkor Wat.
Driving from Bangkok to Angkor Wat – Key points to the Cambodian Border
Getting to Angkor Wat is not that easy! It has been a long trip. Two intense weeks of driving through Thailand, on the east side of the country.
There were so many question marks. Contrasting information was available on the Internet, so we finally decided to rent the car in Bangkok and we left the capital with the hope that we could go through the border with the vehicle.
Worst case scenario, we would have stayed in the country to enjoy more the Isan province, a part of Thailand hardly touched by any form of tourism.
Travelling in Thailand is usually quick and easy, if you are on the typical tourist routes, however, if you go off these routes you should expect a challenging transportation system, unspoken English, hard to find accommodation. This is Isan.
By the way, what about the food in the region? Always gorgeous, although much hotter than usual, especially once you get closer to the Cambodian border, where the Isan food is very common.
Here is a table with the stops that we did to approach the Cambodian Border north of Angkor Wat.
|Distance from Previous Stop (Approx.)
|Type of Road
|Easy drive, historical city with ancient ruins. You can easily spend 2-3 days in the formal capital of the capital of the Kingdom of Siam.
|Another smooth drive, known for its monkey population. Lopburi is another destination to spend at least a night and explore the town and temple where monkeys outnumber the people living there.
|Khao Yai National Park
|Highway to Local Roads
|Spent a few days, rich in biodiversity. I was so surprised to see so much nature and so many wild animals including elephants (I had one that just walked metres from me), and you can trek around on your own. No tours needed
|Historical site with ancient ruins. As we drove towards Cambodia on the Khmer Hway we started discovering an amazing temple complex like Phimai, with a lovely genuine town all around.
|Nang Rong itself is not the most exciting town in Thailand, however, it’s a great gateway to nearby ruins like Prasat Phanom Rung Historical Park, Muang Tam Sanctuary and the Ta Moan Complex which can be done on the last day before approaching O Smach, the border point.
|Ta Moan Complex
|Till now the roads were very good, sometimes multilane highways, which I can compare to any country in the Western world. The road to the Ta Moan complex is not maintained as well as the others, however, this is probably the complex I liked the most, completely off the beaten path, without tourists around. but there is a catch that you can read on my story.
Ancient Khmer ruins, less frequented by tourists
|O Smach (Cambodian Border)
|We decided to reach the O Smach border after visiting the Ta Moan complex. You can also do it from Nang Rong, adding a few more km, however, the road is going to be much quicker
Bangkok to Angkor Wat by car – Driving to the Cambodian Border
An important thing to know is that the Ta Moan Complex is a strip of territory still in dispute between the two neighbouring countries. It is an unofficial border where you leave your passport to an unofficial frontier service sitting on a school bench.
Of course, no way to take the car through. You can just have a walk accompanied by either the army of Thailand or Cambodia, based on which side of the temple you are. We finished the day with our passports in hand and an incredible and unique travelling experience, not really a place visited by tourists on a bus.
Thai-Cambodia border, is it possible to drive to Angkor Wat from Bangkok?
I think there is a bit of adrenaline in our body. We pass by a small forest in the hills and there it is the border, with the usual hurly-burly.
I step out of the car and I go to the border officials to have a first talk. I explain we are driving to Angkor Wat from Bangkok and we will be back in a few days, a bit of chitchat, not that it makes a difference, but you never know.
The first response is positive. They first want to check the passports and there is a tax for the car, somehow expected. It’s not a steep tax, and that is fine, however, it covers only the Thai side and it does not cover the way back.
These are the steps that I summarize in a table. Just be aware that things may change from one day to the next and you need to check yourself the most up-to-date process. In a few words, this sequence of steps may be out-of-date or still valid. It all depends on any new possible immigration laws for both the person and the car.
|Get stamped out of Thailand
|First step in exiting Thailand
|Customs Hut on the Thai Side
|Customs Hut on Thai Side
|It’s clearly signed. Straight forward
|Submit passport and blue book
|Customs Officer at Hut
|The Blue Book is the official document of any car in Thailand. They will print an “Information of Conveyance” form
|Sign the log book
|Same Customs Hut
|After receiving the form, sign your name in their logbook
|Head to the arrivals side for the export document
|Arrivals Side Customs
|A temporary export document for your vehicle will be printed
|Return to your car
|Have both documents in hand
|Show documents and pass the barrier
|The barrier will be moved, allowing you to proceed to the Cambodian side
|Drive on the right-hand side
|Thailand is a left-hand side, Cambodia is a right-hand side country
|Visa on Arrival
|Usually straightforward, watch for overcharging which is typical for foreigners.
|Check your passport
|Ensure no mistakes are made during the stamping process
|Stop at the customs hut
|Bottom of the Hill, Cambodian Side
|You may be asked to pay 100 Baht and state your destination. No customs documents issued
Happy with the process we go to the Customs to find out that we cannot get through with our rented car. The reason is that the rental contract clearly states that we cannot drive to other countries except Thailand.
You may well understand our disappointment, however, yes, we were really naive. We should have checked straight away when we picked up the car.
Talking more about this subject with other fellow travellers, I was also told that driving a Thai car in Cambodia is not really a great idea, overall, as you get targeted by the local police and possibly by petty crime (having a Thai car is a sign of being rich)
Angkor Wat temples
We were looking forward to seeing Angkor Wat. We went there over 20 years ago when a sealed road was a dream, when the trip from the airport to the hotel was on the back of a motorbike on a red dirt road, without helmets of course.
It was the time when the town was so small that the main square was the evening headquarter for the backpackers exchanging information. It was the time when the price of my 4M digital point-and-shoot camera was as high as 1,500 Pounds!
I was so stupid to buy it…..or maybe not because I still have these photos that remind me of fantastic trips.
An this is the beauty of travelling, the unknown of what is next, the plan that can change on course. I do not consider this trip as a failure because we did not reach Angkor Wat.
The trip is not just the final destination, the trip is the road to the final destination and we experienced some incredible situations, and some lovely food, although quite spicy :), we met so many charming locals, always with a smile.
We pushed our boundaries being without a passport in an undefined stripe of land (Ta Moan).
It was a fantastic travel photography trip where I could capture so many beautiful images, landscaping, markets, temples, and people. It was somehow a trip I started 10 years ago, with my first digital camera and many Angkor Wat photos to think back
I cannot say how is Angkor Wat today. What I can show is how was Angkor Wat 20 years ago, and hopefully, it has not changed too much. It was of course a popular place to visit however the area is so big that the crowd of tourists did not invade every corner.
You just had to rent a motorbike driver for 3 days and enjoy the fantastic and unique area built in the 12th century
Travel & Photography Tips
I still remember the Angkor Wat trip like it was yesterday. I already had the photography bug and a passion that is still with me today. There are so many photo opportunities in this beautiful place
- a visit to the Angkor War will prove to be a real marathon. Do not underestimate it. Take at least a 3-days ticket, possibly 5-days. The area is really wide.
- plan your touring day around sunrise and sunset, have a 2-hour nap in the mid-afternoon or stay at the swimming pool in the hotel, if you have one. It will be hot and you want to avoid the central hours of the day, not good at all for photography anyway
- be at the Angkor Wat main temple area as early as you can in the day, possibly when it is still dark. Be ready on the stone bridge at the main entrance, you will be a spectator of one of the best sunrise in the world (the sun will rise behind the temple)
- explore the temples quietly. These are still visited by the monks, which are an awesome subject for your photos
- have some shots of the happy faces in low relief and organise a multi-window composition of them
- take some portraits of the locals, some real characteristic faces; they may ask money for it, so be selective if you do not want to splurge 😀
- do not miss documenting how the temples became part of the local nature, with the tree roots holding together the building stones
- go to the Bayon for your sunset photography, you will experience a magical reflection from the pool
- Phnom Bakheng is a famous sunset viewpoint, however, expect a big crowd. You will have a fabulous view of the valley but you will share it with a massive amount of people. I was unlucky when I visited it. It was misty and the visibility was a problem however I would definitely give it another try next time I visit Angor Wat
- I heard you can now fly over the area with a helicopter. Maybe another sign of this changing world. I personally discourage it