Page 17 of 22 (October 2003 - December 2003)
These are a variety of reports detailing experiences traveling both independently and on Khao San Road-purchased bus tickets. If you'd like to share your own experiences, please e-mail them to me. There are also sections here devoted to all other overland border crossings as well.
Visa fees at Poipet (December 2003):
Just thought I would update you on the border situation. The Cambodian Visa Services office took down all posted references to the price of the visa. We unfortunately arrived in the midst of the crust of KSR folks because we were coming from the NE of Thailand. So the visa services officers were none to pleased to talk to anyone.
I pushed my passport through the window with $20 inside for the visa and the officer pushed it back out with out a word and held up a 1,000 baht note. He wouldn't even talk to us. Eventually, after telling him I had no baht and only dollars he said "go across the street and change money." There was basically no chance to get the visa for the correct fee.
I tried asking for a receipt and they refused saying the payment is noted on the visa itself. Since I didnt want to go back to Thailand I didnt have many options... So I went ahead and gave him the 1,000 baht. When the visa came back it was noted that I had paid in USD. I complained to the guy and said that he had made a mistake by recording that I paid in dollars. He flat out told me, "If you dont like it I will rip the visa out and you can go back."
Passport scam at Poipet (December 2003):
I just wanted to let you know about a (new?) scam going at the border. I have a US passport which is mostly full. However, there were three blank pages at the end labeled 'amendments and modifications' or some such thing, rather than 'visas'. The pages were still blank, however, and the Vietnamese embassy slapped a visa on one of those pages no questions asked. However, at the Cambodian border (Poipet) they squeezed 200 baht out of me claiming that my passport was full... I got the impression that this was fairly common. You might want to warn people on the website of this issue as it is pretty easy to get extra pages added to your passport in bangkok, from what I understand. [Gordon here: It is easy.]
Also, after I gave the guy the 'present', he told me to write the following on the back of the visa application form: 'Please immigration help me because my passport full. I go to Siem Reap. I stay three week.' As well as the date and my signature.
"Overlanding on our own from Bangkok to Siem Reap" (December 2003):
Two of us overlanded on our own from Bangkok to Siem Reap via Aranyaprathet/ Poipet. We'd used Tales of Asia to plan our Cambodia jaunt, and while we are glad we were prepared for anything, our crossing was cake. We're betting we just got lucky, but who knows?
Our 7:45 a.m. government bus from Morchit got us to Aranyaprathet around 12:30 p.m. We stopped for a drink after the tuk-tuk ride to the border, hit the crossing around 1:15, and were on our way to Siem Reap at 2 p.m.
The tuk-tuk to the border was 50 baht and no worries, save for one swerve into the parking lot of a tour agency. A few strong "NO!"s from us had him back on the road quickly.
The only snag we had was at Visa Services itself. My girlfriend and I each tried to hand over a US$20 bill, but no luck - the guard literally threw them back at us demanding 1000 baht! The sign displaying the visa charge was not on display, and we couldn't think of any other options.
Beggars and touts seemed to be on siesta. Only one beggar child stuck their hand out, and there didn't seem to be anyone else around. As we hit the in-between land a tout approached, but we said we were on a visa run, kept walking and didn't even look at him. He left us alone. A second tout approached us as we neared the traffic circle, but we said the same thing, and he buggered off.
We spotted a white couple talking with a Camry driver, and walked over to see if they wanted to share a ride. As it turned out they were just arriving from Siem Reap. The driver agreed to 1000 baht first go - probably because it meant he could get out of the circle immediately and not have to worry about the "taxi mafia".
The ride to Siem Reap went fine and fast. Traffic was light, and while dusty the dirt road was dry and packed. Naturally the bumps on the Sisophon-Siem Reap dirt road stretch jostled the hell out of everyone, but on the paved bits our driver zipped along at 120 km. We were at Earthwalkers by 5:30 p.m. - 3 1/2 hours after getting in the Camry, and allowing for a toilet and refreshment stop, and a couple of "cargo pickups" that our driver made. We didn't ask what was in the boxes, but he said he wasn't supposed to do this and did it to snag some extra coin. We just kept out mouths shut at the Poipet "control", and they just glanced in the trunk and let us through.
One side note: When we arrived in Siem Reap we had told the driver we were staying at Earthwalkers. We stopped on the road for a few while he made a call on his mobile; a few minutes later, his "cousin" pulled up on a motorbike. He tried to give us the usual spiel: "You need guesthouse?" "No, we're going to Earthwalkers." "Oh no, that's far far, let me show you places in downtown, close to everything." We said no thanks but were going to Earthwalkers, and he was cool. The driver turned around, and in about 2 minutes we were there - and Earthwalkers is a 5-minute bike ride to the middle of town.
To Battambang and some bonus info (November 2003):
We paid 1000 Baht for visas after our $20 was refused, I don't know how to get round that as you do not deal with the immigration officers directly who issue the visas. The form had to be given to someone standing outside the immigration office who then passed it through a small window which was then promptly shut again. The passports were then returned by the same person outside the immigration office who received them via the small window which was promptly shut again.
We ignored the touts who followed us with a Camry in tow and got in a pickup after agreeing with the driver Baht 600 for 3 seats inside for the two of us to Battambang. The touts became angry with the driver hanging on the door after we refused to tell them what we had agreed with the driver, eventually they gave up after much shouting.
You may be interested to hear that we took the speedboat from Battambang to Siem Reap on 11 November which would have sunk if it had not been "run aground". There were 20 - 25 people onboard, the boat hit the bottom 3 times in the early stages, each time the crew raised the twin outboard engines in turn to check for damage. What the crew did not realise nor did we at the time was that the boat had been holed. The first indication of problems was that the boat became unstable forcing the crew to slow down and we were constantly asked to change position to try and balance the boat. The instability was caused by water sloshing about below the floorboards which then started to rise above the floorboards increasing the instability, when the water reached knee height the crew ran the boat "aground" in bushes at the side of a narrow channel we were in at the time. A member of the crew went over board to inspect the hull in chest deep water and plugged the hole temporarily. The crew then found that the pump did not work so a call went out for penknives to cut the tops off our water bottles to bail the boat, a Swiss army knife was given to the crew to take the pump apart, which they eventually got to work (The crew of course had no tools or means of bailing). After an hour in the bushes the water level had dropped sufficiently for us to limp to the next stilt village where we all got off with our bags whilst the boat was repaired. Our bags which had been placed on the centre of the floor between the seats were of course soaked through and now twice as heavy. After another hour or so we continued our journey at full speed again arriving several hours late at Siem Reap. We left a trail of water from Phnom Krom to Siem Reap and the moto drivers were amazed that water was still coming out of the bags when we arrived in Siem Reap. We had printed some of the information from your website for reference for the later part of our travel through Cambodia, unfortunately most of this became illegible after the soaking.
We can confirm that the good reviews that you reported for the Mandalay Inn in Siem Reap are accurate. We also have good reviews for the Angor Hotel in Battambang, the Dara Reang Sey in Phnom Penh and the Small Hotel in Sihanoukville, however, the Phnom Khieu in Kampot was dirty and not to be recommended.
Visitors from the Philippines (November 2003):
Three of us from the Philippines made the overland trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap last 26 November 2003. We wanted to get into Siem Reap before sunset, so I followed your directions to the letter. We took the 164-baht 8:30am bus from Morchit, the one that stops for fifteen minutes at Nakhon Nayok (Which was fine by me, I needed the cigarette break). We made the 293-km run to Aranyaprathet (which the Thais call plain Aran, dont they?) in 4 hours. A delicious (and cheap) lunch at the bus station and 30 minutes later we were at the border. A busload of backpackers had gotten in ahead of us at Thai immigration and we had to get in line for 20 minutes to get our exits stamped. We beat them to Cambodian immigration though, as they had to regroup themselves, and we were walking faster.
A tout had begun to follow us from Thai immigration all the way to the door of Cambodian Immigration, offering to process our visas, but seeing our Philippine passports, he instead offered to get us a Camry to wherever we wanted to go (Siem Reap? Phnom Penh? Battambang? etc.). Apparently Cambodia doesnt require visas from fellow ASEAN nationals, except Myanmar, and we were stamped through with 20-day visitors visas at immigration without the 1000-baht fee (maybe you should mention that in your site I was a bit confused until I called up the Royal Cambodian Embassy in Manila). [Gordon here: To my knowledge, most ASEAN nations still need visas to enter Cambodia. I know Thais definitely need them.]
Based on your recommendation, we had decided beforehand that a Camry was best way to get to Siem Reap, though one of my companions who hadnt seen your website wanted to go see the Khao San travel agents, as a Tourism Authority of Thailand officer had recommended it to him while we were at Wat Indrawihan in Bangkok. Needless to say, I argued against that.[Gordon here: I doubt this person was really affiliated with the TAT as they don't operate travel agencies and it's a common scam for travel agency touts to misrepresent themselves as TAT officers.]
As per your instructions, we ignored the tout till we got to the traffic circle in Poipet with the numerous Camrys parked there. Perhaps thrown off by our features (Filipinos and Thais generally look similar), he could not immediately tell we were on our way to Siem Reap for the sights, and not elsewhere for business. It was only until two Cambodian officials on amotorcycle in blue uniforms with patches that said POLICE drew up alongside that I stated our destination. The cop driving the bike gave the rate as 1200 baht. Now although you stated that 1000 baht is the going rate and anything extra would probably be for the taxi mafia, I did not bother to haggle anymore, as I figured the extra 200 baht wasnt worth the hassle, and anyway, it was already the police who had stated the price. Perhaps he had a cut of the commission, eh? Before he got into the Camry with us, I saw our driver, a soft-spoken Khmer named Sothy, hand over 200 baht to the tout who we had never spoken to and never acknowledged all the way from Thai Immigration. I guess tourists are like cattle there, branded from the moment you enter the border zone, then milked of money by that mafia. That tout got 200 baht doing absolutely nothing for us! But in fairness our lone tout was not even remotely aggressive in his efforts we have worse here in the Philippines.
The road to Sisophon was mostly unpaved and very dusty, but quite level, with minimal bumps. I thought that was the worst part of it, despite your descriptions, and boy, was I wrong! The road from Sisophon to about 20km from Siem Reap should be renamed Abortion Road instead of Route 6! But seriously, I could only imagine how the tourists on the KSR buses were faring. We did meet up with some of them at a rest stop in Kralanh, about 50 km from Siem Reap (we asked our driver to stop we needed the WC and a break from the Cambodian massage the road was giving us), they were a group of about 25 tourists fanning themselves at a roadside stop, eating some sort of fish crackers offered to them and having cool drinks, while their bus was being fixed. The toilet charge there was 5 baht (tolerable) or 5 euros (outrageous)!! Woe to those who spent all their baht in Thailand!
We just made it into Siem Reap at past sunset, since our driver was a bit slower than the others (about two or three Camrys had overtaken us on the way to Siem Reap) and took 4 hours to make that run, but as we were staying for two more nights, I didnt mind that much. I had the next day, after all.
I also saw that group of tourists I had seen earlier in Kralanh drive into Siem Reap at around 10 that evening, while I was having a few after-dinner drinks with my companions and a gregarious Brit at a roadside restaurant. I recognized their bus, and thanked heavens for your advice! Also following the advice of an Indian traveler I read on your site, we hired our driver for the next two days at $20/day, and for the drive back to the border for 1000 baht. Well worth it, Id say.
The Burmese owner of Mandalay Inn also related to us that not only the KSR bus drivers but also the Camry drivers get a commission from guest houses the bring passengers to. He did say he didnt participate in the practice though. You didnt mention that, though I really didnt mind, since rooms are quite good, and very cheap! I had a decent sized one at Reaksmey Chanreas Hotel on Sivatha Blvd. with 2 single beds, CATV, aircon, bath (no tub), hot and cold water, and refrigerator for only $15 a night!
Needless to say, the trip was a breeze, many thanks to you and your very very accurate and detailed site, and nothing marred my wonderful experience of seeing the ruins at Angkor for the first time.
Siem Reap to Bangkok and some advice on traveling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (November 2003):
Siem Reap to Bangkok
We travelled by bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok on March 29th, 2003 via Red Dragon. We bought tickets from Siem Reap to the border.
The bus was packed, and some luggage was in the aisle of the bus. We left at 7:30 am. The Red Dragon office had assured us that there wouldnt be any stops on the way to the border. So we stopped in Sisophon. They told us we would stop for half an hour. We stopped for 45 minutes. The bus staff drank beer during this stop. There were two other locals on the bus (who I assumed worked for the bus company) who did not go to the restaurant that the bus pulled up in front of. They went across the street.
We got to Poipet at 12:30 pm. We crossed the border without incident (thanks to the Tales of Asia map). The border looked busy, but there werent any touts bothering us. Maybe because we were going Cambodia to Thailand, or maybe just our lucky day. We got ourselves to the Aranyaprathet bus station. The bus ticket to Bangkok was 164B, and took 4 ½ hours.
Im not sure if we would have been subjected to any scams had we stayed with the Red Dragon bus. The public bus was much more comfortable, and not nearly as crowded as the Red Dragon bus that we had been on in Cambodia. I dont know if we saved any money or time by doing the Thai leg of the journey ourselves. However, I was glad to be out of the clutches of Red Dragon, only because they lied to us about not stopping before the border. I dont know if the stop in Sisophon was decided by the bus staff, who would be getting paid by the restaurant for stopping, or if the bus company knew about the stop.
Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap
We travelled by bus from Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap on March 22nd, 2003. We would have rather taken the boat, but frankly we were horrified by the price, $25 US. Seeing as we dont earn money in American dollars, paying in US $ adds up quickly. Also, compared to the price of a boat ticket to Kratie, I really thought it was overpriced. After assessing our options, we took the $4 bus from the Capital G.H in P.P. We were assured it would be a large highway bus. It was a mini bus. We were assured that they would not overload the bus. They would have if we hadnt protested.
We arrived at the Popular G.H. We were immediately mobbed by oppressive touts "YOU NEED ROOM!!!" by 3 different touts within a few minutes. After a full day on the bus, this was too much. We would have considered staying there, but were not up to the harassment, and just wanted to get out of there, so we left.
As for the bus service, other than the usual b.s. about what kind of bus, and overloading it, it was probably as good as it gets in that part of the world. Cambodian roads being what they are makes for a long and bumpy ride. At least the price was decent.
Visa run - [long] - (November 2003):
Wearing only the clothes upon my back, with just my Nokia and trusty Ray-Bans, plus a c+p of the excellent Tales of Asia in my backpocket for company, l made my way to The Northern bus Terminal at Morchit. It was easy to purchase a ticket for the 1st class bus leaving at 8am. Included in the ticket price of 180 baht was a custard cake and a tetra-brik of drinking yoghurt. Yumm.
I boarded the bus just before 8 to find only 3 other passengers on board. I commandeered the front lefthand side seat which was comfortable enough for me. Immediately my thoughts raced back to my travels in India and Nepal, when empty buses such as this soon became crowded to the gunnels after a few stops. After a few very brief stops, we did indeed pick up further passengers, but not many. After 25 minutes we slowed to pick up passengers at ..Future Park. I had taken nearly an hour to journey to Morchit earlier when l could simply have gone to Future Park located only 10 minutes or so from my home. Oh well, lll know next time
At 9.50am we made a brief pitstop at Nakhon Nayok where an ice-cold M-150 went down nicely. Further along the way we passed one of the infamous KSR buses, a small and elderly model with l hesitate to say, many examples of humanity that fitted the KSR stereotype perfectly. Between 40 and 50 kms from the border there are roadworks which seem aimed at widening this 2-way section of the highway. We were delayed at the checkpoint as one man was removed from the bus. The 180baht bus takes a roundabout way of getting to the border which is why it took the grand total of four hours and 25 minutes until my arrival in Aranyaprathet
Alighting from the bus, l hopped into a waiting tuk tuk in which l was taken to the nearby border at hyper velocity. Entering the Thai depature building l was surprised to find it packed out, and not by backpackers. I must have come across a tour group. Thankfully they opened another window and proceeded to efficiently process everyone, so 15 minutes later l was on my way to Cambodia. A couple of guys approached me to assist with my Cambodian Visa. I just smiled, said "mai ow karp" They asked me again so l said "my pen rai" They looked at each other, one smiled wryly and repeated "my pen rai". then shook his head, laughed and l continued on.
Crossing the border l proceeded to the Cambodian Visa office unhindered apart from a few beggars, one of whom l gave the yoghurt tetra-brik. The rest all asked for something, but l just kept on walking and none of them persisted. The visa form was simple to complete, one Cambodian there stapled my photo to the form and passed it through the window to the staff inside, all without any request of a fee for service. Five minutes later he handed me back my passport duly stamped.
I then proceeded a short distance past the casinos to Cambodian Immigration. There were a lot of people sitting around and the Cambodian Immigration officer at the entrance asked how long l would be staying in Cambodia. I said as long as it took me to walk over to the departure office. He then told me l could go immediately if l paid 200baht. I said l was in no hurry, so he verrry slooowly gave me the Cambodian Immigration form. Dont know what everyone was sitting around for. I just walked up to the counter and completed the form while the person in front of me was stamped in. I was next and in 2 minutes was on my way, so l knew for sure the 200baht would have been a complete waste of time. I chatted to other people further along and they had all paid the 200 baht. One guy said he had been doing that for the past 3 years on visa runs. Those Immigration guys must be doing well for themselves l think.
Crossing back into Thailand was a breeze. Took about 10 minutes as there were plenty of others in line. Then time for a quick bite at the Star Grill, a fast food style restaurant with food the same standard as you get in Thai gas stations (ok). Air-con worked well, staff cheerful and the toilets were clean. Finished eating, wandered over and got a tuk tuk back to the buses. Just as we got there, a bus was pulling out. My driver got them to stop, l shoved 60 baht at him as l raced for the bus.He called me back to give me my 10 baht change. I should have let him keep it, but l was rushing and didnt think.
Got on the bus which was a lot nicer than the previous one. When the ticket seller came by l asked her, 180 baht Bangkok? She looked at me oddly, said something to the driver then told me 127 baht. Dont know why so cheap as it was, like l said, a better bus than before. (the ticket seller gave me a long stream of tickets from a metal cylinder, unlike the coupon l had in the morning. the bus was blue and white, different company perhaps Gordon?)
We ran into some lengthy delays as an important piece of equipment on the bus was not working, without which we could not proceed. Eventually we recommenced our journey, safe in the knowledge that we would indeed be able to watch The Scorpion King ,and that abysmal remake of The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce.
After the slow first hour, the yabaa or Red Bull must have kicked in as the driver proceeded to drive like a maniac to Nakhon Nayok. The rest of the journey was uneventful, however there was a pleasant surprise in store for me. I was planning to get off the bus at Future Park and grab a cab home but there was no need as the bus took a slightly different route back to Bangkok which to my good fortune went almost past my front door so l was home by 6.15pm. Not bad l thought.
Total costs for the day, 1,464 baht. (Food, drink etc. everything)
Tales of Asia has got to be one of the best web travel sources around. Certainly made my brief foray into Cambodia a piece of cake. Beforehand l thought it was going to be difficult, but Poipet , well l've seen worse in years past, the touts were meek and mild, l never had to snarl once and apart from one Cabodian official, no-one even tried to rip me off.
More Bangkok to Siem Reap (October 2003):
I travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap early October 2003, in a group of 4 people. Everything went smooth as indicated in your page. I find the touts at the border not as aggressive as I thought. We took your advice to smile and say 'no, thank you' and they will usually leaves you alone or just pestering you from a distance. This does not happens to the touts in Sihanoukville, they are very aggressive and will get physical; the will surround you and shout at you or pull your hand and luggage with force!! How I hated the town.....
We paid THB1100 for the Camry ride from Poipet to Siem Reap instead of the THB1000 paid by most of the people. This is because we have problem finding a driver without the help of touts. But considering we will split the cost to 4, it is still a reasonable price to pay and the best thing is we can skip bargaining under the hot sun! Our driver is a young Cambodian who speaks little english but looks very gentle. The road condition up to Sisophon is quite good but from there to Siem Reap, portholes is everywhere! At one point, we were stuck when one of the bridge is broken. Here we get to see how 'efficient' is the people in repairing the bridge.... Everyone is working together hand in hand and in no time, we get to continue our journey.
We were quite unlucky that we got flat tyre, not once, but twice! The 1st flat tyre happened within 30 minutes out of Sisophon. While the driver is changing the tyre, I was secretly hopping that we don't need to change tyre again when I realised that the car only have one spare.... So, when the 2nd flat tyre 'happened', we have to stop at the roadside while waiting for the drivers friend pass by to borrow a tyre!! Lucky for us, we only have to wait for about 20 minutes when a friend's car pass by and lucky again that he haven't use his spare tyre, considering the condition of the road.....
The journey took about 4 hours and we reach Siem Reap, at the doorstep of our guesthouse at 4pm, and we managed to catch the sunset view of the day from Phnom Bahkeng.
From Bangkok to Siem Reap (October 2003):
I got the bus from Mor Chit to Arranyapratet at 7.30 and got in about 11.15. I thought I would try and have a look around the town but it was too far and too hot to walk it. I went to the tuk tuks and tried to explain what I wanted to do and there was much confusion. Why did I want to go into town? There was nothing there? It was a small town and so on and so on. It got to the ridiculous point where they were going to charge me 60B for going into town but only 50B to go to the border.
So I just went to the border and had a look round the market there. I was very disappointed with it. There was nothing there I would even think about buying and I think most people will agree. There is nothing there that you can't buy in 30 other nicer places. As a bonus by going to the market I also managed to ditch two guides who greeted me from the tuk tuk. Also, saying you are on a visa run deters them.
Getting out of Thailand proved to be time consuming, it took about 50 minutes because of the number of Thais going to the casinos. After that, it was a quick entry into Cambodia but it cost 1100B in total as I had to pay the 100B no photo penalty, my fault for forgetting to bring one so no excuses. At the immigration entry booth, I handed my passport in with no problem but when I was waiting to get it back two German speaking Americans came in with a fixer, the passports were given to the immigration man and he suddenly started asking them questions, what are you going to do in Cambodia? How long will you be here? and so on. They replied they were tourists and would only be there for an hour to which the officer said, ok, now you pay 100B and they handed over the cash. When I got my passport and departure card back I noticed that my time of entry had been written on it. I didnt see what he wrote on their entry cards. Tightening up on people avoiding the same day tax?
Once I had left the entry booth I picked up a couple of new guides and the where you go? You go Phnom Penh? Siem Reap? Where you go? monologue starts. As before I said I was on a Visa run and was going back in and hour or so. Having then persuaded them that this was the case only one stayed and tried a new tack, you want lady? Thai lady? Khmer lady? Viet(namese) lady? There is very little way to describe just how depressing Poipet is and I had no intention to discover the naughty nightlife.
By this point it was almost 1.00pm and at the roundabout were a couple of Toyota Camry taxis waiting but I started walking down to the road to flag a new one down. 15 minutes and 3 attempts later one shook his head, one waived back at me! I was on my way for 1250B to Siem Reap. ( again I didnt see any parked up 300/400m away )
At the first town, Sisophon, we took a turning that I didnt recognise and headed past the pickup (bus) station, it looked actually worse than the chaos it had been described as, we turned onto a side street and then the driver got out. I was wondering just what the heck was going on, was he going to pick up more passengers? Another friend so that they could rob me somewhere or what? He came back two minutes later and in broken English explained that the car was no good and I would swap cars at the same price. To me the car seemed fine but I am no mechanic. About 10 minutes later, another car drove up and some discussions began between the drivers and then it was agreed, I would move cars the thought that I had any real say in the matter was probably not even contemplated, not that I really had a choice anyway. So, car number 2, which to my untrained eye looked in worse condition crack in the windscreen, more rust and so on, than the first one and made just as much noise and clunks and groans. But we set off, me and driver number 2. The scenery, so brown and dusty 6 months before had changed a lot, most of the brown expanses were now under water and were in fact rice paddies.
The road was in fact bad, much worse than in April, so that we were slowing down to 5kph at times moving from side to side to find an unpotholed relatively level section. The trouble was so was everyone else. This was normally not a problem as there wasnt much traffic but when you are suddenly faced with overtaking a truck in the space of 200 yards with a 10 tonner heading directly towards you, it does give you pause for thought. This happened quite a few times but didnt appear to phase the driver at all. All it did was make him hit the horn harder. At 5 kph, its not nice, but when we got to ok bits and he was doing it at 90kph it definitely wasnt. If the car had been steady enough I would have taken a photo but it wasnt so I didnt ( I did manage to get one on the Sihanoukville to Koh Kong road which was pretty similar, so it will give you an idea. )
About 2 hours in, we pulled to the side of the road, I was about to ask why but then I saw the reason, the road was blocked for some reason. It turned out that there was a repair crew working on the bridge. This particular bridge has steel plates joined by welded connecting rods. It was this repair job that had become the focus of everyones attention. Well, what else do the drivers, passengers and so on have to do? We are in the middle of nowhere after all. In April, it not occur to me why there were shops beside the bridges. Stupid me, its a perfect captive market. Where else could they possibly make as much money, lets face it, if you were a westerner and saw one of these shops you wouldnt suddenly go Oh, lets stop at that shop and buy X, stuck for an unknown time at a downed bridge and who knows how much you will spend. Now when I say repair crew, I am being well, lets say, generous. It is 4 guys, of whom one is the welder, one feeding him steel rods to weld on and alternately pound the hot metal with a sledgehammer for that precision finished look and two to just well, sit and talk and watch. Depending on how you are travelling, the delay can be long.
This is where the advantage of taking a taxi can come into play. After about 20 minutes or so, my driver reappeared after going off to watch the spectacle that is bridge repairing, he had been speaking to another driver caught on the opposite side coming from Siem Reap. Did I want to swap cars or wait an unknown period of time hmmm lets think about this one now. OK, Ill swap cars please. This is much more difficult on a pick up or a tourist bus as far larger numbers are involved as well as in the case of pick ups very large quantities of stuff. There is no other way to describe it as it cover the anything and everything that pickups carry as well as people. So I moved to car number 3. From there on in, apart from the condition of the road everything went smoothly until we hit the outskirts of Siem Reap where we hit the rush hour traffic and some flooding from rain earlier in the day. By the time I had got into the hotel, it was 6.50pm, a long day but it would have been much longer if I had taken the KSR bus.
Tout fun - [long] - (October 2003):
My Thai wife and I made the overland journey to Siem Reap on Sunday, October 12, following the advice here on your website. Thank you very, very much.
When we arrived at the Aranyaprathet bus station, the tuk-tuk touts asked us where we were going in Cambodia. Knowing that they would probably have the driver signal to the pertinent touts at the border, I told them that we were going to the casinos in Poipet, and that seemed to satisfy them. 50 baht to the border, no problem.
When we arrived at the border, instead of the convenience store on your map, we opted for the fast-food joint opposite it, and that's a good place to grab a bite and psyche yourself up for the crossing. Most, but not all, beggars and touts are kept out of there. You can see that some of the customers are touts; they sit there and constantly scan the other customers around them with their eyes, barely moving their heads or bodies in any way. One tout did approach us, and I told him to scram. Oddly, this particular tout was able to follow us all the way into Cambodia, bypassing both countries' Immigration; we could not shake him!
I tried to make it look like we do this all the time, but immediately upon leaving the restaurant, I walked straight inside a fenced-in parking lot, much to the touts' amusement; so much for THAT illusion. (Your map shows a straight line to the border, but actually there's a turn or two.)
We obtained our visas in Bangkok, so that we could pay the U.S.$20 and not the 1000 baht, so we did not have to stop at the Cambodian Visa building. (One note: We heard that baht could be used in the western portion of Cambodia, but found that the exchange rate in establishments in Siem Riep was a uniform lousy 50 baht to the U.S. dollar. Even in the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, if you wanted to pay in baht, the fee was listed as a 1000; it WOULD make 1000 baht $20 if the exchange rate really was 50 baht to the dollar, so perhaps instead of being solely corruption on the part of individual border, might the insistence on 1000 baht for $20 partially be a result of the government's official usage of this exchange rate? Of course, the refusal to accept dollars at the border IS probably individual corruption.)
Once inside Cambodia and walking past the casinos to Cambodian Immigration, we picked up more and more touts asking us where we were going, and that one from inside the restaurant on the Thai side was still dogging us, too. We finally had a gang of at least 6 or 7 following us, and they were like those inflatable toy punching bags in the shape of clowns and such that you play with as a kid; I was as nasty as I could be with them, telling them to "Fuck Off!" or "Piss Off!" or just an occasional plain loud scream of "NO!!!," but they would keep keep bouncing back for more. My nastiness just ran right off them like water off a duck; they were incredible! My wife thought I was being a tad too harsh with them, but I assured her that Gordon swears they are human scum and deserve even worse.
The touts weren't allowed inside the little Immigration post, of course, so they waited for us outside. So we're stamped into Cambodia now, and leave the Immigration building. Immigration did not charge my Thai wife an extra 100-baht stamping fee like you warned might happen; could that be because we handed our passports over together, and mine was American? Inside, there was some sort of problem with a Filipina's passport, and behind a partially drawn curtain behind the counter, we could see the legs of some lady apparently being interrogated back there, her purse on a desk; seemed to be with the Filipina who was still out on our side of the counter.
When we left the Immigration building, there was one more Immigration official, standing there to look to see that we really did get stamped into the country. I mistook him for another tout at first and rudely told him, "Get Lost!" Those were my exact words, with an emphasis, to this Cambodian Immigration official. Oops! I immediately apologized and said I had at first thought he was another of those touts who had been hounding us the whole way. He was awfully good-natured and understanding about it; didn't seem to phase him at all. Must be used to it. He did ask us where we were going to go in Cambodia, however, and what I SHOULD have done was tell him what I had said back at the bus station in Aranyaprathet, that we were going to stay right there in Poipet and visit the casinos. Foolishly, though, I told him the truth and said we were going to Siem Reap right then. Now, all of those touts were still crowded around us. I was looking at the official, so I did not notice it myself, but my wife told me later that when I said "Siem Reap," every single one of those touts lit up like a Christmas tree. Boing! Aha! They ARE going to Siem Reap after all! Victory! HaHaHaHa! That was it, they dogged us even closer, all the way into the traffic circle. I STILL ignored them the best I could, though, and headed straight for a row of Toyota Camrys that I figured were taxis, but that was it.
I now had to deal with the touts, there was no way they would let me talk to the drivers themselves. Maintaining my best surly manner, I told them in no uncertain terms that we wanted a taxi all to ourselves, NO ONE else, no one else AT ALL, was to be allowed inside, and we would only pay 1000 baht and no bargaining. (I'm scowling at them the whole time, but they're all still grinning triumphantly). Okay, they said. Bam, that was it! Of course, the driver, who was himself very nice, had to pay his commision to those taxi mafia, but just 5 minutes after arriving in Cambodia, we had our car and driver at the price of my own choosing, and we were off. (Makes me wonder if I could have made the deal for 900 baht.) We made Siem Reap in just 3 hours.
We seem to have been lucky. It did not rain that day, and although the road after Sisophon was absolutely bone-jarring for our last 2 hours, it was not very muddy. Later in our trip, in Sihanoukville, we met 2 different couples who had made the overland journey at about the same time, but not on that exact same day, and they told us that there had been a bridge out, and they had had to hike a long way, and were ferried across a river, then tossed onto the back of pickup trucks, and didn't reach Siem reap until the early hours of the next morning! They were on buses originally, though, not in taxis, but the bridge out still meant they would have had to change no matter what.
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Reports Page 17 (Oct 2003 - Dec 2003)
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