Should tourists in Thailand take a gamble on Poipet?

Poipet, a boomtown on the Khmer side of the Thai – Cambodian border, is known for two things: visa runs and gambling.

Just 3.5 hours away from Bangkok, Poipet is popular with tourists looking to exit and reenter Thailand’s border to gain more time in the kingdom.

Beyond the immigration office lies an otherwise unspectacular-looking urban municipality that transforms into a glittering, neon-lit gamblers’ Disneyland after dark.

In this Cambodian town, signs are in Thai language, casinos accept Thai baht only and, for the most, are part Thai-owned and staffed. Even 7-Eleven accepts Thai baht in Poipet.

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Due to bizarre gambling laws, Poipet’s unique atmosphere hovers in a realm which is neither Cambodian nor Thai.

Gambling is illegal in Thailand aside from the government lottery, making Poipet the closest legal casino playground to Bangkok.

In Cambodia, gambling is illegal for Cambodian citizens but not for foreigners. That’s why 95% of customers in these casinos are Thai. The rest are mostly Chinese, a handful of Western but none of them are Cambodian.

Poipet is not high on most travellers’ radar but it did gain international attention last month when a raging fire burnt the Grand Diamond City Casino to the ground. The official death toll was 27, however, locals say that hundreds lost their lives.

Tourists looking for adventure, unique nightlife and insight into Cambodia’s grisly underside should consider staying at least one night in Poipet. If you’re looking to renew your visa exemption in Thailand, you can kill two birds with one stone.

But Poipet isn’t for the faint-hearted or gullible. Read the following review on WikiVoyage…

“Most travellers consider Poipet ‘a dump.’ Poipet hosts a bewildering array of touts, beggars, thieves and dodgy casinos for day-tripping Thais, which all contrive to separate money from the unwary.”

The Internet is filled with complaints from bitter tourists who fell for scams at the border. It’s true, people will probably try to scam you in Poipet like they do elsewhere in Asia, including Bangkok.

Firstly, you do not need the help of a visa agency for a Poipet visa run. It’s a waste of money and easy to do yourself.

To enter Cambodia, tourists must pay a US$30 fee. This is the only fee you need to pay. Tourists have complained about visa-run companies or bus operators “collecting the fee early” just to be charged again upon entry to Cambodia.

You do not need to pay the fee until you have exited Thailand and are on the second floor of Cambodian immigration in the building on the right-hand side (foreign passport queue). If you are asked to pay anything before that point simply say no.

To re-enter Thailand, you won’t need anything aside from your passport and TM.6 departure card. If you’ve lost it you can fill out a new one.

How to get from Bangkok to Poipet

You can travel from Bangkok to Poipet by car, minivan or train.

If you’re driving, it will take around 3.5 – 4 hours. You can park your car on the Thai side of the border in a car park for 100 baht per day and cross the border by foot.

Alternatively, you can take a minivan for 400 baht from Travel Mart Watergate Office in Bangkok to Aranyaprathet on the Thai side of the border. Tickets can be booked online.

A cheaper option is to travel to Aranyaphrathet by train, which takes around 4.5 hours. Tickets are as cheap as 49 baht.

Long-distance trains from Bangkok recently relocated from Hua Lamphong Station to the city’s main new rail hub, Bangkok Aphiwat Central Station, so check updated schedules at the station.

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Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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