Carrying on to Cambodia
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Where I stayed
Bangkok, Thailand to Aranyaprathet, Thailand; 3rd Class Train,
155 miles, 13:05 to 18:45 48 baht each ($1.60),
then after a 1 km walk
Poipet, Cambodia to Battambang, Cambodia by Gypsy Taxi 71 miles, 90 minutes, $25
They have convenient vans that go from Khao San area to Cambodia every day at 8AM. We thought it would be nice end our stay near Khao San and catch one of the buggers. For just $10 a head, a minivan will take you from Khao San to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. Then over dinner, we talked to Sophie, a young smooth skinned Swedish biologist who had taken the trip. She said the van was uncomfortable and they seemed to feed you into the clutches of the con-men at border crossing without any warning. And once the group made their way through the border proceedings, there was no van waiting for them on the other side. She had to buy a ticket on another bus to take her from the border the rest of the way to Siem Reap. One non-tourist van, that leaves from the bus station costs 192 bhat ($6.40) just to get to the border. So the extra $3.60 for a promise of a ride to the interior sounded like a really good deal (and possibly untrue as in Sophie's case).
We had two choices for train times; 05:55 or 13:05. The later might arrive so late that we wouldn’t be early enough to get across the border before it closes at 8PM. Neither of us was keen to get up at an ungodly hour. We had the morning to kill and lingered at O’Henry’s Restaurant over an extended breakfast using their wifi and sorting photos.
I watched people go by while Dave sorted photos. Suddenly, I noticed movement on a small table top shrine next to the huge tree across from us. A fat rat was making off with the offerings of fruit and rice from the shrine. I was hypnotized watching. Then I noticed a skinny cat below the platform staring up at the commotion. Then 5 more rats shimmied down a tie rope to get to the small platform. occasionally fighting as they made off with the food. While the rats were stealing, the cat lay in wait on the ground, looking up, and willing a rat to slip up and fall. Today, the rats were winning.
CAT AND MOUSE WITH THE TAXI DRIVERS
We didn’t bother with the taxies waiting on Thanon Rambuttri (road), a tourist hub and cleverly (we thought) walked out to the thoroughfare in search for a honest taxi. But even there, we were still too close to sucker central. "200 baht" to get to the train station, we were told by several crooked drivers. Dave told one driver that we know very well the meter fare is 60 and he should just use it. He still refused. He’d rather sit hours waiting for someone willing to pay the premium. And it was not at all busy. I walked a bit further and happened on an honest driver with his license prominently displayed on his dash. He was willing to use the meter. 65 baht later, we were dropped in front of the train station.
The information desk at the station was really helpful. They gave us the train time table and pointed us to the correct window to buy our tickets.
We had an hour. We spotted four fully loaded long distance cyclists chatting in the station waiting hall. Tanya (Switzerland) and Fabian (Mexico City) were getting on our train. They wanted to get out of the chaos of Bangkok before they started riding. Two other cyclists, Germans, had just gotten off the train and were comparing notes with Tanya and Fabian. They were on their way to China. I unloaded our China Lonely Planet to them and they were thrilled.
About five minutes before departure the short third class train backed in and everyone piled on grabbing any of the hard bench seats available. Our packs fit easily on the overhead rack. At 13:06, right on schedule, the train moaned and groaned and was on its way slowly though the urban slums of Bangkok. Air conditioning consisted of all doors and windows open and letting the wind blow through. Good enough! We got a seat so we were facing forward to the east. The sun didn’t shine in our faces.
The train stopped a lot picking up and dropping off passengers at small stations and some spots that didn’t seem like stations at all. It was similar to a buses stopping wherever passengers wanted to get on or off. It took hours to get to open fields of agriculture. With all the stopping, it was no wonder we arrived an hour and a half late.
We arrived at Aranyaprathet station which is still six or seven kilometers from the border. As we exited, tuk tuk drivers latched on to various passengers. One came to us and offered to take us to the border for two bucks. That was the price guidance in the Lonely Planet and we hopped on for the breezy ride as the sun set.
EXPECTING THE WORSE AT THE BORDER CROSSING
We were excited to be getting to our first new country since Mongolia. Cambodia is the smallest SE Asian country on the mainland. We were also wary that we had a gauntlet of con-men waiting for us as we made our way to the border. We told the first tout we already had our visa and he told us we should continue on then, no need to stop at his office. We walked a half kilometer and past customs inspectors who waived us on through and pointed in the right direction.
We exited Thailand without delay. They loved my frog. Between Thailand and Cambodia checkpoints, there is a never-never-land with snazzy casinos and duty free shops. Many signs but nothing obvious for the passport checkpoint. We were approached by a couple of guys who pointed us to office that said something like “Visa Office”. We told them we already had our visas and they pointed us down the road again. But we didn’t trust them and went in the visa office to ask. Yep, continue on down the road. We got to the passport check window and waited in a very short line. It was at a covered patio. And while we waited, we began sweating bullets in the breezeless evening. We had gotten all this way and still nobody had tried to con us. “Welcome to Cambodia” the big sign read. The guys in the passport checking office cracked jokes and welcomed us to Cambodia too. What’s the deal? This is the border crossing notorious for scammers. Having the e-visa already may have taken wind out of their sails. Or perhaps it was getting late and everyone was getting set to go home. Who knows? We felt a little bad for being suspicious of everyone who helped guide us along the kilometer walk through the wickets. We don’t believe getting the e visa in advance for an extra $5 is necessary though.
GREAT BEGINNING IN CAMBODIA
Officially into Cambodia 150 feet, we were met by a tuk-tuk driver who was keeping an eye on us. ”Where you go mister?” he finally asked. We were weary, hungry and leery of the 'border cartel’ that extracts premium payments out of foreigners for onward travel. I told him all we wanted to do was find a hotel in Poipet. He said there were no good hotels in Poipet and he would take us to the bus station. Oh, there is still a bus tonight to Battambang? we asked.” Oh yes, it departs at 9:30,” he said.” Is in a nice bus?” I asked.”You see for yourself” he replied.. We hopped on the tuktuk and he took us to the bus office in town that was on a dusty dark side road. A dilapidated bus stood there in front of a handful of tired waiting travelers. “I hope this is not the great bus you were talking about?” I exclaimed.
While I was checking out the rickety bus and questioning when it would leave and why it was so expensive, Dave offered the gypsy cab driver $20. We had an hour or more to wait for the bus and the cab driver quietly said,”$25 and we go right now!” We threw our backpacks in the trunk but the tuk-tuk driver intercepted my pack and a tug of war ensued between the taxi driver and the tuktuk driver who saw his commission rapidly fade After a couple of minutes, the cab driver shoved a few bills in his hands and the tuk-tuk driver let go. We were off…..We drove off into the night having no idea who’s nice new car we were in or if he really was taking us where we wanted to go.
We arrived in Battambang at 9:30 PM and checked into the LUX Guesthouse. For Cambodia it was pricey at $25 per night and we offered $15. The room was well furnished with a beautifully carved bed and nice cabinet. It looked comfortable. It had wifi and a friendly staff. We settled on $20.
We decided to go out for a snack and the hotel manager drove us in his car a few blocks to a lovely place with potted plants on a balcony. I had stirfried morning glory and rice and Dave, a Khmer national dish called Loc Lac; garlic marinated beef grilled with tomatoes and other local spices and herbs served over a bed of white rice.