Saturday, 22 October 2011

Siem Reap to Bangkok

With all my hoped for river plans having fallen through due to the floods in Cambodia I'm resorting to taking a bus to Bangkok. It costs $7 including a tuk-tuk pick-up to the bus station (a shop on a back street with the worst potholes in town) & a guide to get passengers on the right bus at the other side of the border. It takes most of the day but so does a flight which costs at least $200.

I was picked up at 7.50 & the bus left at 08.10 to rendezvous with the Phnom Penh bus & pick up more passengers but I was asleep before we were out of town. Some people were using this as a 'visa run' - having renewed their visa the maximum number of times its cheaper, easier & quicker to go to Bangkok for the weekend & come back than go through the bureaucracy of Phnom Penh.

At 9.30 we stopped for a 20 minute rest break at a roadside shop with a pull-in, that charged twice the price for everything - pretty much to be expected. There were hoards of cheeky kids scrounging, they know there's a trapped audience with nowhere to go.

The standard opening line for kids & tuk-tuk drivers is 'where you from?' which almost forces a curtious reply (until you learn) but then you're hooked into a dialogue & there's a chance of a sale or a begging opportunity. Kids often follow up a straight 'No' with 'take me for a meal?' They probably follow this up with an 'I know a cheap place' which gives them a commission. Cambodian kids are so street smart & cheeky.

In Phnom Penh locals told me much of the begging is an oraganised activity by rural people that bring their kids into town to beg. There's also a woman who sells small ready-made bags of glue for a few cents - which may be where many generous donations end up.

At 11.20 we stopped for another 20 minute break at the border town of Poipet where tickets were collected & coloured stickers were put on us, like a group of school children, to indication our final destination - mine was red for central Bangkok, the Khao San Road.

The Cambodian border control is little more than a shed with a couple of windows & a table for local people but they repeat their digital finger printing & facial recognitional photography.

Then its a 2 hundred yard walk through no-mans land, across a little river, past last ditch begger kids, dozens of food & drink shops & surprisingly a massive new building - the Poipet Casino Resort. Make sure you take the left hand route to passport control otherswise you just get sent back. The Thai immigration control is more the usual international format of desks & queues; also beware that arrival cards have two sections that must be completed or you get sent back, like me.

Then around 1pm we load our baggage & climb aboard a pickup truck that took us a quarter of a mile where we unloaded again, waiting at a cafe & then reloaded onto a modern minibus. Then the final 4 hour run into Bangkok.

The landscape is identical but there's a different feel to Thailand. The driver is doing 70 mph instead of 40 mph in Cambodia, the roads are bigger, there are 4 lane super highways with lots of large scale construction & all the begger kids have disappeared. The flooding however is just as apparent beside rivers.

There's another 15 minute refueling stop & we fianally arrive in Bangkok around 5.30pm. It took just over 9 hours in total but this included at least 2 hours of stops as well as the border crossing. It can't have taken more than a couple of hours longer from city centre to city centre & the bus was $200 cheaper than the cheapest flight.

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