Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Crossing the border: Thailand to Cambodia

This section of the trip was possibly most stressful/the worst out of our travels.

We were on Ko Pha Ngan, an island on the south-east in the Gulf of Thailand. We'd haggled our ticket to Siem Reap from one of the travel stalls around the island, and with no clue how exactly we were going to get there - just that there would be several changes in transport (bus/ferry), and that it would take approximately 30 hours.

Now the thing we didn't account for was the waiting. The waiting probably made up 10 hours of the journey. The waiting is definitely the worst bit of the journey. In a car/train/ferry/bus/any mode of transport you're moving, you're actually going somewhere - you feel closer to the destination. Waiting.. you're just stationary, stuck

The very first leg of the journey was leaving Ko Pha Ngan on a ferry to return to the mainland, which took a few hours. With only the ticket receipt given to you, and no other information (timings, place names, nothing), the only method of finding which boat was yours was to just say your destination to the people working on the boats, and hope they heard correctly. We knew to get to Siem Reap we'd have to change at Bangkok, so we followed the man's instructions on which boat to take, and returned to the mainland. Upon arriving we were then shepherded to another bus to another location (the name of which I can't remember). Then a 4/5 hour wait for the next night bus to take us to Bangkok. 

The night bus dropped us off at a main road. A herd of tuk tuk and taxi drivers crowded around the bus doors, ready to talk you into their vehicle. We collected our bags from the heap on the pavement, and walked a few metres away to figure out where we were headed next. The only clue written on the ticket was 'McDonalds Dang Derm Hotel' no address, no other hints. We came to the conclusion to walk to Khao San Road and find wifi to use Google maps. Fortunately the McDonalds was opposite Dang Derm Hotel, which happened to be on Khao San Road. We sat on our bagpacks outside the McDonalds for a few hours in the early morning until a man came up to us asking if we were going to Siem Reap. Nodding, he led us to a mini van filled with a group of middle-aged Spanish people. I sat in the front whilst the rest piled in the back and we drove off, expecting to be taken to another location to change to a bigger bus.

Turns out, this was our transport to Cambodia. I couldn't tell you exactly how many hours it took us, we'd been travelling for over 24 hours, and although the night bus hadn't been uncomfortable - the aircon was on, the seats reclined quite far back, blankets were provided - you're never going to get the best night's sleep on a bus. I had no idea how long we'd been travelling for when we stopped just before the border, at a guess I would say maybe 6? 7? Anyway, we stopped just before the border and the door slid open, and a man who claimed to be our 'tour guide' took us aside, whilst the Spanish group were put in a taxi towards the border. He sat us down on a table and gave us forms for our Cambodian visa, saying we needed to pay 1000 baht for the 'visa fee'. He'd also taken our travel ticket receipt, and asked for our passports.

Now, the one big thing I always am conscious when travelling is to look after my passport. Getting it stolen/lost is a nightmare - practically, financially, mentally, and emotionally. And so when our 'tour guide' asked for our passport, it flagged a warning signal in our heads. Before setting off, we'd talked to a few travellers and looked online, and they all advised to buy the Cambodian visa at the border on the Cambodian side, and that it'd cost about $30USD. A traveller we'd spoken to jokingly called it 'Scambodia', and told us to take everything with a pinch of salt over there. When we told our 'tour guide' that we wanted to get the visa at the border, he instantly turned from being friendly to aggressive. He then told us that we needed to pay 1000 baht for the mini van we took here, changing his story from a minute before. We retorted back that we'd already paid for the whole ticket and he was holding the receipt but he became more aggressive and started banging on the table and demanding we pay the 'fee', or we take our bags and make our own way to the border. He also refused to give us back our ticket receipt.

So with limited options, we made our way to the border on foot, which luckily wasn't that far. All the way up to the border there were yells to "get a visa here!", and several fake signs leading to fake offices to get a visa. We finally made our way through the border, got our passports stamped, and looked for the building where to get our Cambodian visa. One of us sleepily suggested we try the building with lots of flags hanging off it, and as luck would have it, it turned out to be the official Cambodian port where we could get the Cambodian visa. There was a $5USD 'fee' for not having a passport-sized photo, but other than that it was the $30USD that we had expected to pay. Visas in hand, we went through immigration, and headed towards the border exit.

Seeing as our 'tour guide' had kept our ticket receipt, and we had no way of getting from Poipet to Siem Reap, so we decided just to venture out and see if we could get any sort of cheap-ish transport to Siem Reap. On our way out we passed a sign advertising a free government shuttle bus service to the main bus station where we could continue our journey to Siem Reap. But after our experience, we were sceptical of nearly everything. Instead we stepped out onto the streets of Poipet, and were immediately swarmed by clusters of taxi drivers all yelling different prices at us, waving their arms around trying to get our attention and into their taxis. Even as we said 'no thank you' and politely told them we were fine, they took no notice and continued closely following us around with their loud voices. We took refuge in a casino where they kindly disclosed their wifi password and we googled the best way to Siem Reap (also, in our moment of distress, may have panic emailed the owner of our hostel). We found out that there was indeed a free government shuttle bus service, and so we decided to take it. At the main bus station we then bought another ticket for a mini van to take us to Siem Reap, finally!

It was quite annoying that we paid for transport to Siem Reap and we didn't even get taken us across the border but what can you do hey. Could have been worse - at least we arrived in Siem Reap all in one piece with all our belongings!


No comments

Post a Comment

© yvnrgn. All rights reserved.
Blogger Designs by pipdig