With the global climate crisis knocking at our door and a significant number of travelers looking for smarter and efficient ways to travel, it’s time we reconsider how we think of international travel. In many regions of the world, especially in Asia, traveling from one country to the next is only possible by taking a flight, even if the two countries share a land border. However, there are still several international borders that you can cross easily within Asia, where a new country is just a bus or train ride away.
But where do you start? Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is one of the few cities in the region from which you can reach not just one or two, but at least five different international destinations without taking a flight! Never imagined international travel this way, did you? To help you plan these trips, we’re spilling all the beans on which destinations to visit, how to plan transportation and everything else you need to know in order to make this happen.
1. Siem Reap
Siem Reap may be primarily known as the gateway to Cambodia’s fascinating Angkor region, but the rest of the country is no less interesting. The country’s largest town outside of the capital city of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is steeped in history and works as the perfect getaway destination from Bangkok for a few days.
How to get there: Getting to Siem Reap from Bangkok is fairly straightforward. The journey of roughly 400 Km takes 9 hours to complete if you hop on a direct bus between the two cities. Two of the most popular bus operators on this route are Travel Mart and Giant Ibis, so keep an eye out for them when booking your tickets. The bus journey is comfortable with multiple rest-stops in between and is definitely much more economical than taking a flight.
Visa and entry formalities: Gaining entry into Cambodia by land from Thailand is possible in two ways. You can either obtain an e-visa from Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for $30 USD (plus $7 USD as processing fees) or you can receive a visa on arrival at the land border for the same price. Both visas are accepted at the international checkpoint at Poi Pet, through which most buses on this route pass.
Before you choose which visa to opt for, make sure to confirm with the Cambodian Embassy in your country if these visas are valid for your nationality. For example, citizens of most countries are able to get a 30-day visa on arrival when they reach Cambodia, except countries like Bangladesh, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, among a few others. It’s always better to check what works for the specific passport you hold.
The process of getting a visa on arrival is pretty simple. All you need to submit is a passport-sized photo and $30 USD in cash. Having said that, there have been incidents of the visa officers overcharging travelers especially if they don’t have exact change or they want to pay in Thai Baht. If you want to avoid these hassles, just stick to the e-visa which ensures you pass through seamlessly.
2. Phnom Penh
The capital and the largest city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is a beautiful concoction of ancient architecture, vibrant culture and gorgeous nature all thriving together. Thanks to its central location, Phnom Penh makes for a good place to start exploring the rest of Cambodia.
How to get there: The road journey by bus from Bangkok to Phnom Penh takes a good 15 hours, so this mode of travel is great for those who have plenty of time in hand. Travel Mart is one of the most highly recommended bus operators on this route and offer both day time as well as night time buses.
Visa and entry formalities: All visa and entry requirements for land travel to Phnom Penh are the same as with Siem Reap. In fact, most buses cross over to Cambodia on this route through the same international checkpoint at Poi Pet, as they do on the journey to Siem Reap.
Yangon conjures up images of towering golden pagodas that coexist with modern-day high rise buildings. Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon is rapidly growing and is home to many of the exciting things to do and see in the country today. Whether you’re looking for the best Burmese food or you’re keen to visit some of the largest pagodas and temples, Yangon is the place to be at!
How to get there: The 830 Km journey from Bangkok to Yangon takes almost 16 hours. Although long, the overland journey is exciting and is a great way to observe Thailand and Myanmar in a way flying wouldn’t allow. The most convenient way to traverse this distance is by hiring a private taxi or minivan, which makes for a perfect ride if you are traveling with a group of friends or family.
Since this option is fairly expensive (you have to rent the entire car or minivan), you could alternatively do this journey by bus. Although a cheaper option than a minivan, do keep in mind that there are no direct buses between Bangkok and Yangon. The first part of your journey will take you from Bangkok to Mae Sot, a Thai town close to the international border. Once you get past the checkpoint, take another bus from Myawaddy to Yangon. The bus journey is definitely not for everyone since it can be time-consuming and slightly complex, but if you’re up for the adventure, this will be a journey like no other!
Visa and entry formalities: In order to enter Myanmar through one of the land entry points, nationals of most countries need to obtain an e-visa from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population which costs $50 USD. In most cases, whether you take a bus or a private minivan, you’ll be crossing over from Thailand into Myanmar through the Myawaddy checkpoint. In order to do so, it is essential that you either have an e-visa or hold a passport from a country that has visa-free access to Myanmar (Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, among others).
Architecture inspired by French and Buddhist cultures adds an interesting dimension to Laos’ national capital, Vientiane. Flanked by the mighty Mekong River on one side, the city brings together the best of Laos in one place.
How to get there: It is possible to get to Vientiane from Bangkok either via bus or via train, depending on how much time you have on your hands and your budget. An economy bus journey from Khao San Tara Tour costs only $43 USD and takes 19 hours while a first-class train ride from Thai Railways costs $76 USD and takes only 13 hours to cover the distance.
Another thing to keep in mind while choosing between bus and train is that while the same bus directly takes you from Bangkok to Vientiane, you’ll have to change trains at Nong Khai, near the Thailand-Laos border. Once you exit immigration at Nong Khai, hop on the next train to reach Thanaleng station in Vientiane.
Visa and entry formalities: There are two ways to get a valid visa for Laos if entering the country through the land border – e-visa and visa on arrival. Both visas cost the same, but the price depends on which country’s passport you hold. So expect to pay anywhere between $40-55 USD for a 30-day visa. However, if you are a citizen of visa-exempt countries like Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Switzerland, among others, you get visa-free access to Laos.
Popularly referred to as the ‘Food Capital of Malaysia’, Penang’s reputation precedes itself. With a heavy influence of Chinese culture, Penang’s landscape is dominated by some of the grandest Chinese Buddhist temples in Asia, flanked by a beautiful coastline opening up to the historic Malacca Strait.
How to get there: Unfortunately, there are no direct trains or buses plying between Bangkok and Penang but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to undertake an overland trip. Here’s how you can do it:
Take a bus or train for the first part of your journey that will take you from Bangkok to Hat Yai, a Thai town closer to the Thailand-Malaysia border. The travel time for this journey is around 16 hours, both on the bus and train. The next half of your travel from Hat Yai to Penang will be much quicker, lasting 4-5 hours on a minivan. On your way, you’ll be entering Malaysia through the Bukit Kayu Hitam checkpoint in Kedah.
Visa and entry formalities: Malaysia has relaxed visa policies, but whether you need a visa or what kind of visa you need entirely depends on which country’s passport you hold. For example, citizens of the European Union countries, the USA, Australia, Canada, and several others, do not need a visa in order to enter Malaysia for a stay of up to 90 days. However, if you are a citizen of countries like China, India, Bhutan or Nepal, you’ll need to apply for an e-visa prior to your arrival, the fees for which varies for every country.
Now that 2020 is almost here, it’s time to rethink how we travel, not just where we travel to. For that ultimate Asian adventure that you’ve been planning for ages, take one of these overland trips from Bangkok for a unique travel experience you may never have imagined before!