Route: London – Bahrain – Bangkok – Siem Reap – Ho Chi Minh City – Nha Trang – Hoi An – Hue – Da Nang – Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok – Bahrain – London
Time schedule: 5th November 2009 – 19th November 2009
Participants: 2 P & Me
Here we are at the Bangkok train station on 6th November 2009 early afternoon. It’s my second time in Bangkok so yesterday – the first day we spent in bangkok, we were able to avoid some of the tourist traps tyros do encounter (more about it in a different post). Nevertheless booking train tickets through the agency seemed easy and very tempting, mainly because we were to arrive in Siem Reap late evening and didn’t fancy walking from one hotel to another in strange city, tired with a heavy backpack. So we bought: train tickets to the Cambodian boarder, bus ticket to Siem Reap and overnight stay in a guest house; in the agency at the main railway station. Of course we overpaid, but well the journey was supposed to be smooth and comfortable.
We are waiting for the train to arrive, expecting probably something like what you see in the pictures from India. We read in our guide that you need to hurry to get seats as the trains are usually overcrowded. While we are waiting there is more and more people coming. I don’t think we spotted any other tourist among them besides two German guys with backpacks. Finally the train arrives and we are able to get in, interior looks pretty the same as in some old carriages in Poland, P says it might be even better. When we depart most seats are taken but there is no one standing yet. This is of course going to change along the way, there will be youth traveling from school, farmers with their crops, traders offering coconuts to drink and different kinds of food jumping on and off the train. The journey is fantastic. We can’t take our eyes from the view outside the window. Firstly we observe life around the tracks with so many families using the space for their everyday life. Health and safety in Europe would never allow that. We can barely recognize where the stops are, as there are no platforms or signs. The train just stops and people get in. Then we come across group of graduates who have their pictures taken on the tracks. Is that for good luck I wonder… then the landscape changes and we come across rice fields, little cottages between palm trees just next to fish ponds, pastures and stations in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of sites you can only see while traveling by land transport. I’m so glad we didn’t take the plane.
A person working for agency was going to wait on us at the final stop to take us through the border and lead us to the bus going to Siem Reap. Sounds good. We had no idea what time it was and it really didn’t feel like a long journey. When we arrived everyone suddenly seemed to be in a hurry. We looked around in search of our guides. It was them who found us and insisted on moving quickly to a tuk-tuk. For those of you who don’t know what a tuk-tuk is: it’s a motor vehicle with three wheels used to transport passengers and goods, called sometimes auto rikshaw. There was an American couple who didn’t know where to go. I tried to help and offer them to come along with us but we got separated by our guides who insisted we move along faster. And so we did. There are plenty of tuk tuks for hire so if you travel by yourself, don’t worry you will be able to hire transport. I tried to assess if you could walk instead of hiring wheels and I think is doable. I recently walked to Dublin Port from O’Connell St in Dublin (so compare it to what you are willing to walk).
Anyway we already had our visas from Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok (tip: if you are taking taxi get the address written in Thain alphabet not Latin), so we only had to fill out immigration cards supplied by our guides. You can get Visa and immigration card on the border. The first one is paid, the second free of charge (in case someone wants to charge you). So this is how it looked like: before the border our guide took us to table under a tent and asked to fill out the cards. We did that and waited for him for a while. He came back with another guy and the four of us approached the border post. Our guide told us he cannot cross the border but the other man will take us across and if we want to take out some money we should do it now, because in Cambodia there are no ATMs and a lot of pickpockets. He kept repeating how dangerous it is and we started to get nervous. It was getting dark by now and plenty of people with all types of bags, cases and carts were crossing the border. We did not know what to believe. We had $ so we didn’t feel it was necessary to take out any money, so we just kept on going. When we got to Thai border a man started to camrecord us, which felt really strange. The thought crossed my mind “is this for ransom purposes???!!!” It was really dark by then. We found ourselves in the stream of people walking in darkness. We could barely catch up with the man who was supposed to take care of us. We walked over a stream smelling of fish and dirt. People were brushing and bumping into us. I was getting more and more aware of the stress I felt… And then there was light. We thought we were already in Cambodia, but this was actually a zone of enormous hotels and casinos with limousines parked outside. Everything was luxurious and glittering, like some other world, Asian Las Vegas type of thing. Now I thought about mob and drug lords, but we just kept on walking until we got to the Cambodian border. You know it’s communist country, so we were treated as all foreigners in communist country, which is something difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Let’s just say people are very unhappy when you disturb their “work” even when this work is supposed to be serving you. Just before approaching the official we met Polish couple traveling to Siem Reap as well. We quickly exchanged experiences and wished them farewell.
When we got to the other side P had to go to the toilet so I stayed with the luggage waiting. The man who crossed the border with us just then told me that the train was late and so the last bus is gone and now we need to pay for a taxi to get to Siem Reap. I got really angry, I said I didn’t care, that we paid for the transport and it’s their problem to provide us with replacement.
He kept on saying: “No buses today”
and I kept saying: “I don’t care I paid!” (believe me I know it wasn’t constructive but I was too tired to care).
So it went until P came back and the couple we met earlier suggested we could share a taxi. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by taxi drivers, touts, our guide and Polish couple. Everyone wanted to pull us in different direction, shouting and convincing us we should come with him. We couldn’t even talk to each other to decide what we want to do. Next minute an old bus approached us and our guide told us to get in so we can drive away where taxis are cheaper than here. There was another tourist already on the bus reaching his hand towards us.
We looked at the bus, at the guide and decided NO WAY!
So we shared the taxi for $30 (for the whole car). Our guide was really mad that we didn’t do what he wanted. And told us to give back our transit tickets (the ones we got at the agency). We thought “well obviously he needs them, fine let’s get it over with!”. So we took off happy to be on the way, chatting about our trips and places we’ve seen, when suddenly a police patrol started to flash light at us in the middle of nowhere and our driver did not want to stop… but I will tell you all about it in the next post.