Making Trails

the travel blog of Lauren Nishizaki

The Bus Ride from Hell: Battambang to Bangkok

Cambodia & Thailand

Jake and I approached our Battambang hotel for recommendations on getting to Bangkok. Our hotel offered to book us seats on a bus run by the Capitol Tours Bus Company. We were told that door-to-door travel time was 8 or 9 hours, we’d be on the same bus the whole time (even after crossing the border), and the bus would drop us off on Khao San Road (Bangkok’s main backpacker area). Jake and I had had a good experience using that company to get from Siem Reap to Battambang; we decided to book the bus seats.

Our experience was so unexpectedly bad that it warrants its own post. Hopefully this post will help future travelers know what they’re getting themselves into before undergoing the same ordeal.

Travel Time

Quoted 8 / 9 hours
Actual 15 hours

Representatives from Capitol Bus picked us up from our hotel at 7:45AM, and we were dropped off at our final destination 14 hours later, at 9:45PM. It then took us an additional hour to get to our hotel in Bangkok. Significant time sinks occurred at the line for arrival stamps at the Thai border (3+ hours), and at the border bus terminal immediately after crossing into Thailand (2+ hours).

Number of Transfers

Quoted 0
Actual many
  1. Battambang hotel to Battambang Capitol Bus Terminal: mini bus
  2. Capitol Bus Terminal to Serey Sophorn: large tour bus
  3. Serey Sophorn to Poi Pet (Cambodian border town): large tour bus
  4. Thailand side of the border to the bus terminal: large tuk-tuk
  5. Border bus terminal to Ekkamai Bus Terminal: mini-bus
  6. Ekkamai Bus Terminal to Chong Nonsi Station (transfer at Siam Station): BTS Skytrain

All the transfers prior to the border crossing were minor. During the Cambodian leg of the trip, we were on large, comfy, Capitol Bus-branded transportation. However, as soon as we crossed into Thailand, that changed. The man who had been unhelpfully “helping” us through the border process directed us onto a large tuk-tuk and told us that someone else would meet us at the border bus terminal; he then abandoned us. I use the phrase “unhelpfully helping”, since at the border, he pointed us in the wrong direction multiple times, and we only figured out which lines to stand in after collaborating with the only other person from our bus.

Once we arrived at the border bus terminal, a different man flagged us down, and told us to wait for a mini-bus to Ekkamai. Half an hour later, I asked how long we’d need to wait for the bus. I was told that the bus would be there in 45 minutes. 1 hour later, I asked again, and was told the bus was almost there. 30 minutes later, I was told the bus was still on its way. This pattern continued, and we ultimately spent almost three hours waiting.

Presumably, few people book transit through Capitol Bus. As a result, the company doesn’t have incentive to reserve a private bus for the Thai leg of the journey.

Final Destination in Bangkok

Quoted Khao San Road
Actual Ekkamai Bus Terminal

The actual destination ended up being better for us, since we didn’t want to stay in the party-hard backpacker district on Khao San Road. Ekkamai Bus Terminal is located next to the BTS Skytrain, which is Bangkok’s elevated public transit. However, we were only told of the actual destination (“Ekkamai”) while waiting at the border bus terminal, and no one was able to show us where Ekkamai was on a map. We had no idea whether Ekkamai was a small village on the outskirts of Bangkok, a neighborhood within Bangkok, or the name of some town between the border and Bangkok. Luckily, the mini-bus to Bangkok happened to have wifi. We were able to identify Ekkamai before the wifi cut out, only one hour into our 5-hour trip.

Ekkamai is the Eastern Bus Terminal, one of four large bus terminals in Bangkok. Jake and I were relieved to learn that it was right next to a BTS Skytrain station, and therefore a short trip away from our pre-booked Bangkok hotel. Despite the presence of public transit, we decided to cut transportation times and take a taxi. However, the only taxi driver we approached at Ekkamai waved us towards the BTS line. He helpfully told us how to get onto the station and how to get to our final destination.

Next Time

Get a bus from Battambang to Siem Reap, and then pay about $100 per person to fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok. This would minimize the hassle of transferring baggage multiple times, waiting around for unknown amounts of time, and carrying bags long distances. The added knowledge of how things will go and the minimal number of transfers offsets the benefit of the cheap bus ticket ($13 per person).

Alternatively, we would do as Darren suggested (at Jewel in the Lotus in Battambang). Rent a private car or taxi from Battambang to the border (leave at 5AM), and arrive at the border as early as possible. Once in Thailand, take a mini-bus (but preferably a taxi, as it makes fewer stops) to Bangkok.

Had we known in advance the actual sequence of events and a more accurate timeline, I’m not sure we would have gone with either of the two alternatives. After weighing the pros and cons of cost and time, and may have still decided to travel by bus. Regardless, it would have been nice to know that the itinerary, which was communicated to us with such confidence, was just a wild guess that ended up being so, so wrong.