Getting from Koh Chang to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh and vice versa has now become much easier than in the old days, with through tickets on share minbuses, buses and private transfers.
The journey uses the border at Had Lek (Cham Yeam on the Cambodian side), which is situated about 120km from Trat, the provincial market town which is itself 20km from the ferry piers for Koh Chang.
The road to Had Lek (Cham Yeam)
Had Lek lies at the end of a very scenic coastal road which takes you through the narrowest part of Thailand, the sea on one side and the Thai/Cambodian mountains on the other. During the dark days of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian War, this whole area was a smuggling route for arms and an escape point for people fleeing the fighting, so the forests clinging to the hillsides are reputedly still mined and dangerous.
There are a handful of sandy beaches and resorts dotted along the way, with Centara, the management chain that operates The Tropicana in Koh Chang’s Klong Prao Beach, running perhaps the pick of them at Chaan Talay Resort. These are popular with Thai tourists and those coming up to the border to gamble at the casino, which sits just a few hundred metres along on the Cambodian side. Gambling is illegal in Thailand, so this is how the law gets circumvented and the Cambodians, good luck to them, make a killing as a result.
Along the way, Koh Kood is at times clearly visible on the horizon, though as yet there remains no public boat service across from this area. Klong Yai, the fishing port and town, 15km from the actual border, would be the logical place for it, but numbers are still not sufficient to make business sense. That said, if there were 15 of you coming out of Cambodia or indeed on Koh Kood wanting to go the other way, transport is possible by private speedboat, so do please contact us if it is of interest.
Koh Chang to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh -Through Tickets and Visas
Depending on the agent, through tickets from Koh Chang to either Sihanoukville (Cambodia’s beach area and departure point for boats out to Koh Rong and other islands) or Phnom Penh cost around 900bt, with the ferry tickets included.
Travel is by share minibus with collection from your resort around 07.00am, arriving at the border around 11.00am, a fast journey broken only by the usual maddening 45 minute LPG stop shortly after the ferry crossing. Had Lek is nothing like Aranya Prathet or Poipet, sleepy and sedate in comparison, the odd little restaurant and identikit shop houses flogging household and holiday items, such as hammocks, beach mats and small tents, at prices just that bit cheaper than inland.
You stamp out of Thailand and walk across the border into Cambodia, the sea on your right. Ignore the health check desk, 50bt for a chap in a grubby white coat to hold a stethoscope to his chest and tell you your heart is beating well, while simultaneously confirming that you have neither Ebola or bird flu (hint; it’s a scam) and instead head to the windows for the visa.
We would suggest obtaining Cambodian evisas before you travel ($40, with all processing fees https://www.evisa.gov.kh/), but if not, normal tourist visas (30 days) cost anywhere from 1,300bt to 1,500bt depending on what you do or don’t know. Have the correct money ready in your passport to suggest you have a fair idea it’s nearer to the 1,300bt mark. If you don’t have a photo, then add another 100bt.
Various assistants are on hand to guide you through the process, none of them employed by Immigration, but they will get you the forms, lend pens and generally look busy, for which you give them a note of some denomination at the end. If you smoke, avoid the proffered American cigarettes, remnants again from the war and liable to leave you without a voice after a single packet. With your form filled in by those assistants, you then need to stamp into Cambodia at the next window back. If you have an evisa already, then you go straight to this window on arrival.
From the Border to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh
Once the visa business is taken care of, someone will also ask to see your through ticket and then point you in the direction of a desk, a tree or a single chair, where you now wait for your connecting bus or minibus (depending on numbers) down to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. This will appear around 13.00 to 14.00, not before. You may all then get on the same bus and head to Koh Kong, where those for Phnom Penh will change or two separate buses may go straight from the border. This is Cambodia so things can be pretty fluid. Either journey will take 5 hours, with a stop in somebody’s brother’s sister’s restaurant (inflated prices) en route.
At the border, touts are are also on hand, offering you share taxis (quicker for sure) for the next leg at $40 to $50 or private taxis at $85 to $120.
Koh Chang to Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh – Independent Travel
If you like doing things yourself, travel is possible with a combination of songthaew taxi, public minibus and bus. With your first destination, Trat Bus Station, you will need to be on the 07.30am ferry off Koh Chang. Generally, the taxis do not start running down the island until 08.00am. so you will have to work out your transport to the ferries the night before or hop over to Trat and stay a night.
Once at Trat Bus Station, the public minibus to Had Lek border leaves every 45 minutes or when full for 120bt per person, 1.5 hours journey time. With that early ferry and subsequent 20 minute share taxi ride from the ferry pier to the Bus Station, you stand a chance of catching a minibus around 09.00am. That in turn means you should reach the border in time to stamp out of Thailand, into Cambodia and get to the Koh Kong Bus Station for the daily bus connections to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, which leave at 12.30pm. If you do miss those buses, you can fall back on the share taxi option or spend a night in Koh Kong.
Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh to Koh Chang – Through Tickets
Coming back the other way, the through ticket service sees collection from your resort in Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh at 07.00am, which will put you at the border around lunchtime, tickets $25 to $28 including the ferry ticket to Koh Chang.
Once at Cham Yeam (Had Lek), stamped out from Cambodia (the furthest window along) and crossed back into Thailand, you will have a frustrating wait for the minibus departure, which will not leave until all other public transport has also arrived. When it does finally go, it takes you direct to the ferries via a ticket office in Laem Ngop, about 4km away from Centrepoint Pier. Here, you will be offered transfer in the same minibus over on the Koh Chang side to your resort, for 100bt to 150bt per person, depending on which beach. It is slightly more expensive than taking the songthaew taxis, but regardless of whether you say yes or no, all passengers are driven onto the ferry, by now 19.30 being the likely time.
There have been times when the minibus, in a change of plan, actually goes to Trat Bus Station, not to the ferries. The operators have an easy out, given you purchased the ticket in Cambodia, so complaints will fall on deaf ears. If this does happen, jump in a share taxi to get to the ferries, 60bt or more per person depending on numbers, but hang on to your minibus ticket, as you should be still able to use it for the boat.
Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh to Koh Chang – Independent Travel
If you want to do your own thing, seek out the Virak Buntham Co bus from either Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville, as this is the only service which goes all the way to the border. Departures are daily at 07.45am (Phnom Penh) or 08.15am (Sihanoukville), cost $10 to $12. The other services stop at Koh Kong Bus Station, from where you will need to take a tuk-tuk (150bt). Avoid the night bus at all costs – it’s a living and sleeping nightmare. Once at the border and back into Thailand, you can take the Had Lek to Trat minibus service, with its meeting point about 200 metres down on the right hand side. This runs every 45 minutes, but after 13.00, it tends to wait for all the daily transport to arrive from all points in Cambodia, before anything moves. It you may also change vehicle in Klong Yai, 15km down the road, which usually results in another good old delay. Once in Trat, you can take a songthaew taxi to the ferry piers for 60bt per person, journey time 20 minutes.
From either Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville, you can also charter your own private taxis with prices from $80 to $120, depending on your haggling skills. At Had Lek border, you can then find private taxis that will drop you at one of the Koh Chang ferry piers, prices in the region of 2,500bt to 3,000bt. They will not however deliver you to your resort door, nor is the ferry ticket included in that price.
Private transfers, just you by car or minibus, are the most comfortable way to get between Koh Chang, Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. There is a change of vehicle at the border and the ferry tickets are included. These private transfers travel door to door, picking you up at a pre-arranged time from your resort in Koh Chang and dropping you at your hotel or resort in Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. They can also be booked in reverse. Please do contact us for a quotation, with prices from 8,000bt upwards. We can also organise transfers just from the border at Had Lek to and from Koh Chang, with prices starting at 3,000bt for a car.