Ah yes, the day I have been dreading ever since I started planning my trip. Siem Reap to Bangkok, which includes the dreaded border crossing. Admittedly, I’d already done this with Vietnam/Cambodia, but all my research and everyone I met who had done it warned me this was the worst – at least I was leaving Cambodia from this crossing rather than going in.
I could have tried to do it solo, which a lot of people recommended, but I’d had no trouble with companies so far, so decided to roll the dice one more time. The company I ended up going with was Angkor Amazing, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t use them again. Ironically, right up until we passed through the border, I thought they were pretty good, it was the behaviour of the staff afterwards that ruined it – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The minibus picks me up about 7:30 (meaning I did have time to wave goodbye to Bernard and have breakfast), and takes us to the bus. Unlike the other tour companies, its pretty much just a bog standard bus, and there’s no allocated seating. Sadly, my minibus had arrived pretty late, and the seats left were few and far between. Ended up sitting next to a French guy who barely said 2 words to me the entire trip.
Despite an 8:00 scheduled start, we didn’t leave Siem Reap until 8:30 at the earliest, and stopped less than an hour in at a shopping point. Though at least this gave me time to talk to some others on the bus – I’m mostly worried about when we’re going to get to the border, research says it becomes intolerable just after noon. Thankfully, our next stop is the bus station, where we stop for an hour for lunch, after which we go straight to the border crossing. The station stop is also where they check the tickets, and fill up any empty seats with random travellers who are making the crossing solo.
The Cambodian border (which I have no photos of since there are not-so-nice policeman making sure you don’t) is a little corner of chaos all on its own. Imagine 2 identical buildings on opposite sides of a gated road – one for people going in, one for people leaving. Put 4 ticket counters in the part of the buildings alongside the road, and a luggage security room at a 90 degree angle from them. Then put about a hundred people in front of them, desperately trying to follow poorly painted signs on the floor and failing miserably, and you more or less have the border crossing.
The bus can’t leave Cambodia for reasons I do not know, so we have to go through the crossing and meet with our Thai representative on the other side. Grab our bags, and join the seething pile of humanity that is the crossing. The worst part is the end, because you honestly have no idea whose in front or where you going, but once you get absorbed into the collective and find a line, it goes pretty smoothly. Only panic I had was when I saw signs insisting you fill out cards for leaving or you’d go to the end of the line again, which they weren’t handing out. With the help of some older gentleman from my bus, eventually realised that was a small piece of paper stapled to my passport when I arrived in Cambodia, and quickly scribbled in the last of the info before I got to my booth. Once my finger and thumb prints were taken, I was in the clear, and sent towards the road.
Here I had a small panic, because its not very well signposted – in that its not signposted at all. There’s the road, and then there’s several dozen buildings, restaurants, transport areas…theoretically I know that the Thai border is probably further up the road, but I’m on a company bus and if I get lost, they will not wait for me. Decide to hold back until the gentleman from my bus are through, and walk along with them. Probably for the best, because the Thai border is actually under some construction, and you do have to pay some attention to find the right set of stairs – nearly everyone passed it first time round. Its time to get your bag scanned and then get your visa checked so you can enter Thailand. A queue just as long as Cambodia, but far more organised. Takes a good 20 minutes to get through, but get through with no complications.
Arrived at the border just before 12:30, and had made my way through the whole thing in less than an hour. Frankly, I was feeling quite pleased with myself, and when I met up with the rest of my group (we all got little while stickers to denote what company we were with), we were in high spirits that we’d make Bangkok for 18:30 no problems.
Soon people start leaving, mostly those heading to other places or with other companies. Then they take about half or our group to a minibus, and leave us waiting…and waiting…and waiting. When we ask our guide what’s going on or how long it’ll be, all we get is ‘don’t know, don’t know’ while he counts our heads constantly until he eventually vanishes altogether.
About an hour later, 2 girls from our bus arrive – they’d had a problem with the Cambodian part of their visa and had to go through the process again, and were probably quite surprised to find us still waiting. We briefly wondered for a moment if our guide had been waiting for them to let us go, but that ended up being wishful thinking.
Finally, a good 90 minutes later, 30 minutes longer than we’d actually needed to get through the border, he shows up again. But not with good news. I don’t hear it as he’s talking to a group further from me, but down the grapevine I hear that the bus will be a while, but we can hire a minibus for the equivalent of 40 pounds.
Uh, no. We paid for bus service from Siem Reap to Bangkok – we’re not paying more for additional service just because you haven’t provided it. You knew how many people were coming (or at the very least you should’ve, this is a daily service you provide!), so tell us the problem or give us our bus.
Another half hour passes, and the most annoying thing is that they wont tell us how long the bus will be, or indeed what’s taking it so long. Its just a constant ‘don’t know, don’t know’ and counting our heads, as if the number has magically changed since the last 30 times he’d done it (especially considering the 2 new girls had gone up to him and told him they were to be added). About half of the group snap and decide to go in for the minibus hire, and we wish them luck while we continue to wait.
By this point there were about 9 of us left, 3 of which has planes they were supposed to be catching/meeting, and watching their time trickle away as we got no answers. Finally, finally, our guide motions for us to move, and we head along the road in hopes of a bus.
Nope. Taken us to their office…where from what I and everyone else could understand, we were basically being told we were on our own. There was no bus.
So much anger and frenzy at this announcement. One of the girls in our group complains about the lack of bus and what the problem is. The man in question? Blows up in her face, saying there was a traffic jam, and what exactly did we want him to do about it?
(Well for one thing, you could have had your colleague SAY there was a traffic jam – which was not visible AT ALL from where we were at the border – when we asked why it was taking so long, just to, you know, keep us in the loop!)
A guy in our group (ironically from the Netherlands, same as the girl) immediately comes to her aid and gets in bus guys face to get him to back off. He wants his ticket back as evidence. There’s nothing obvious on said ticket, so also takes a photo of the company office. Guy in charge does not like that at all and gets back in our guys face about it. Both of them are inches from tearing into each other (bus guy all but egging him on to take a swing), and we have to drag our guy away while some British expats try and calm the Thai gentleman down.
Frankly, we don’t know what the hell to do, and settle for sitting down and cooling our heels until we figure it out. We don’t want to pay for a minibus, but the last train’s already left and Angkor Amazing doesn’t appear to fulfilling their end of the bargain.
As it turns out, the issues are a non-entity. While I’m on the phone the minibus either makes it through the traffic, or the company finds another willing to take us, and we’re finally off. A good 2 1/2 hours after getting through the border – no wonder people say do it on your own, its not the security that gets you, its transport after…
The trip takes the expected 6 or so hours, stopping a few times along the way. The longest was for petrol at a station right next to a giant 7/11 (my favourite convenience store!), that was chock a bloc with tourists while white minibuses littered the pumps. Apparently its a well known pit stop between the border and Bangkok.
While we were there? Who should we run into but the travellers who had gotten on the earlier minibus! Turns out they hadn’t had such a great trip – their minibus had been involved in an accident on the way to Bangkok. They were all fine, but the bus had to be taken to a mechanic to be checked up, there had been reports – and basically had spent 3 hours going nowhere just like us.
When we finally roll into Bangkok, its about 9pm, and even though we’re dropped off in what appears to be a fantastically awesome night market, I have no interest in checking it out. I just want my hostel so I can fall asleep and forget today ever happened. This is slightly problematic because not only is it pitch dark with only neon lights to guide me, but my map for the Born Free Hostel is pretty poor, and I can’t even figure out where I am on the map, much less where I’m supposed to go. Instead I snap, and grab the first tuk tuk that comes my way. I don’t even try to haggle him down in price – just hop straight in and pray its not far (and yet not so close that I feel like an idiot for paying 100 baht for it – though to be fair 50 baht is about a pound, so its not like I’m losing a fortune).
Tuk Tuk actually has trouble finding the hostel – the sign is quite high and the tuk tuk has a solid roof so I can’t spot it either. End up driving along the back roads for a good several minutes searching and asking for directions before we come full circle and spot it right at the front. Its very much a hole in the wall and hard to spot from a vehicle.
The staff are really friendly here. Once I’ve checked in I’m given the tour. On the ground floor is the social area and kitchen (my god, an actual kitchen in a hostel, I’d forgotten you actually got those by this point), on the second floor is 2 bathroom stalls (which have a very odd design if I’m honest), and on the third floor are the security lockers, 2 more bathroom stalls and my room. I barely do much more than plug in the desperately low electronics and dig out my toiletries before I hit the sack – looking forward to seeing Bangkok tomorrow, really liked what little I saw tonight.