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Published: June 21st 2017
Cambodian border crossing
The sign is partially obstructed by my noggen.
Geo: 13.662, 102.535
How in the hell do I get myself to see Angkor Wat? Crossing the overland border from Thailand into Cambodia has become an infamous undertaking. A Google search results pages and pages of info to warn tourists that this is not for the faint of heart. (www.travelfish.org/feature/71)
The thing is that lots of tourists want to go into Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, and Bangkok Air is the only airline that'll take you. It's not because no one else wants to, it's that Bangkok Air has monopolized the route to inflate their price. Indeed a flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap (the town adjacent to the ruins) is five times the price of any other flight around Indochina. Bangkok Air has even gone so far as to bribe whoever you bribe in order to keep the road all the way from the Thai border to Siem Reap unpaved! Unpaved!
So in the end I had a choice; 1. Pay around $400 US, and fly to Siem Reap in 45 minutes, or 2. Pay $30 US and drive there in about 12 hours. I labored for my last two days in Bangkok over this, I flip flopped at least 2
times on either option, certain that the other one was just preposterous. In the end, I chose the land route, and looking back I'm sure it was the right choice.
It was a real adventure to see the Cambodian country this way. And though I took the economical route, I paid for every extra that was offered to me to make the ride as easy as possible. I had my visa taken care of before the border for and extra $10 - rather then dealing with the legendary & infamous scam artists that swam you at the border with fake forms and fees. I hired a share taxi at the border, instead of the cheaper regular bus, so I got the front seat of an air-conditioned taxi that cut about 2 hours off the travel time of the bus. And I tipped a guy a dollar at the border to carry my pack from the border office to the taxi's trunk, just because he offered and it was hot (and um there were a couple puddles around. See pics.)
I ended up sharing the taxi with a couple of guys that were on the bus with me from Bangkok. They'd bought
a pre-arranged package and paid $200 each for round trip transport. I negotiated and paid as I went and ended up paying about $30 for one way transport and upgrades, not including the $20 visa fee we all had to pay, half what they paid. I've found this is usually the case, if you are willing to shoulder the stress that comes with a little uncertainty and winging it, you can save 75% of what the pre-paid folks do. The thing that probably really bummed them out was the girl that negotiated at the last minute to hop in the cab with us, so they ended up with three people in the back seat - for 6 hours. I was living large in the front seat with my own A/C vent and view of the craziness. Happy camper am I. It's the little things, you know?
So, in the end it was 5 hours on the big bus from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet at the Thai border (which I slept through). About an hour in Aranyaprathet having lunch at a nice little cafe and filling out my visa application with the nice bus attendant guy. Really breezing through customs and the border
office in Poipet thanks to paying that extra $10 ahead with the bus company at lunch. (We all just followed our driver as a group and no one bothered us, it was heaven compared to what I had prepared myself for. Totally worth $10.) And walking sans backpack, thanks to the nice Cambodian guy at the border, to my taxi. Getting in the front seat. And 6 hours on the bumpiest road I've ever been on. Seriously, it was like riding a horse for 6 hours. I can't even relay the experience with words. We went 5mph most of the way for the 6 hour drive, steering from one side of the road to the other to avoid puddles the size of Olympic pools and bumps that were more like small hills. Well, some actually were small hills. Did I mention this was in a Toyota Camry? (I kept thinking of all those SUVs in LA that had never been off of concrete a day in their lives. ha!) I arrived at my hotel in Siem Reap at about 7pm. Just in time for diner and a shower and BED!
*Some colorful commentary: During the 6 hours of bumpy travel along
the road-from-hell in Cambodia I had some time to think. Whilst the driver kindly blasted his favorite ear-wrenching, off-pitch, Cambodian yodeling music with a nifty trance beat music for us. I sat cool and calm with my trusty 30G iPod on my lap and noise-reducing in-ear headphones that I got to keep out the subway noise on my morning commute in Manhattan tightly plugged in my ears. I sat calmly knowing that I had an extra battery pack in my day-pack that would last me another six-hours should I need it. I've always loved my iPod, its not that I took it for granted before, I didn't. I've loved it since I tore open the wrapping paper on it Christmas morning. (Thanks again Mom!) But my love for my iPod and the carefully selected 30G of my favorite music that's on it has made my heart swell just like the Grinch's. I even swooned to myself a little 'Ode to my iPod' in my mind as I day dreamed looking at the crazy foreign Cambodian landscape while listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bjork and Justin Timberlake. I really love my iPod. If you are going to travel this
I'd heard stories...
about how bad the roads were in Cambodia, but jeesh!
road, I highly recommend getting one for the trip. Ohh and a sports bra would be a good idea too. =)
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