Sunday, January 11, 2009

Overland Thailand to Cambodia via Poi Pet. January 11, 2009

At the buttcrack of dawn (4AM), Carrie and I sprung (yes, that's a stretch) out of bed and piled on all our warm clothes in crazy anticipation of the days' journey to Siam Reap, Cambodia. Last night after our journeys around Bangkok, I'd overheard an Argentinian couple discussing their plans to head to Cambodia in the morning. After talking to them, we decided to make the journey as a quad since guidebooks and websites are filled with tales of scams and insanely long overland journeys.

We caught a taxi to the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok and secured our seats to Aranyaprathet. That part was a breeze. If only I could post a photo of the shocked looks on our faces when the bus attendant came around passing out marmalade sandwiches and water. More service than the US airlines and all for $6.50 each.

After that, the adventure began. We were dropped in Aranyaprathet where we had to catch a tuk-tuk to the border. The first scam diversion occurred as the tuk-tuk driver pulled us up to the "Cambodian Consulate" to secure our Cambodian Visas, which were supposed to be available at the border. (We'd read beforehand that they overcharge you for an on-the-spot visa at "Cambodian Consulates" on the Thai side.) We nervously told them, "We have a visa already! An e-visa!" Carrie and I didn't, but the other couple did, so we continued on.

At the border, I met a Filipino woman who said it was difficult to navigate the border and she took us under her wing, directing us to the visa area, where we successfully secured on-the-spot visas for entry into the country.

After entering Cambodia, we were told to take a "free bus" to the bus and taxi station. Of course we were all so scared that we had to go to the bathroom first. Luckily I still had baht in my pocket for the four of us! There was a guy from the border who kept following us along, insisting we get on the free bus. We had a little conference and decided we'd walk a ways and see, but after talking to other tourists on the way, it seemed the bus was safe. So we got on. Still nervous.

This is the type of adventure where you become a traveler rather than a tourist.

The bus dropped us at a rather vacant and new building titled, "Cambodian International Transit Center." Inside were about 20 Cambodians, a couple tables with official receipt tablets on them and a few handfuls of Cambodians milling about. The guy from the border said we either take a share taxi or wait four hours for the bus. Still skeptical, we negotiated for the share taxi and the four of us piled into a very old Toyota Camry with squeeling brakes.

The guidebooks told us the car trip would take from 3-12 hours, depending on the state of the road. Supposedly the road was to be finished paving in 2008. However, after about a half hour on the road, it turned to a gravel-escapade, rife with detours and potholes. But after only two hours and nine minutes, we started seeing hotels labeled "Siam Reap." We looked at each other with excited hopes.

Truly, we were there. The taxi pulled in and told us that we had to take a free tuk-tuk to our hotels. We again didn't believe them. What is free anyway? But after reassurrance from a Danish guy, we rode off. Of course they tried to get us to stay at their guesthouse and then simultaneously tried to befriend us before we finally settled into a place... which in the end was of their affiliation.

Live and learn.

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