Our time in Cambodia had come to an end. We wanted to save money so instead of taking a flight into Thailand from Siem Reap we decided to take the bus. We heard it wasn’t the best trip but, hey how bad could it be? If this was a 80’s movie you would now cut from two bright eyed and bushy tailed travellers stood in Siem Reap to two angry, tired, hot and sweaty people in a 4 hour queue at the Thai boarder.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll start at the beginning.
Getting into Thailand by bus is a popular choice. We wanted to get to Bangkok, one of the closest cities to Siem Reap so it was the smart option. A bus would cost us from 7 – 14 dollars if we did it cheaply , where as a flight would cost almost 60 dollars. It was an easy decision.
We research and researched (and RESEARCHED) every company that does the trip and we established three things we needed to be aware of:
. Leave as early as possible. Arriving at the border after 11am will have you waiting in huge queues.
. Go with a company that uses a bus not a minivan since most people have horror stories of being left in service stations for hours until they bought expensive perfume or food and then also being packed so tightly into vans that they were sitting on their own luggage in the aisle.
. Don’t pay for the most expensive since its pretty much the same as the next cheapest.
So armed with these rules we approached about 6 companies and struck up a deal to leave at 8am, be picked up from our hotel and get a coach all the way through the border to Bangkok. We paid more than the average since we really wanted a coach. Lee’s long legs don’t allow for minivans and we wanted to avoid the evil scams mentioned above. We paid about 17 dollars which was quite an expensive option (they do go all the way up to 40 dollars but PLEASE don’t pay that).
We felt we’d prepared as best as we could. We were ready and waiting at our hotel at 7:30 , which is when they were due to arrive. So we waited, and waited……and waited some more. Any one that’s done any travel in Asia knows this isn’t surprising . We assumed that we were just on their route and everything would be okay. At 8:15 we got the hotel to call them. Apparently they were on there way….45mins later we still had no bus. FINALLY after it was very apparent that there was no 8am bus , a man on a tiny Tuk Tuk pulled up shouting our names. This was even more confusing since we were expecting a bus. He loaded our bags precariously on the tiny car and told us not to worry, he only had two more people to fetch. Unless they were sitting on the roof I don’t know where they were meant to go. Luckily they’d given up and gone with another company (smart people) .
When we arrived at the bus company building we were frustrated but happy to almost be on our way. another half hour later we were pulling our knotted traveler hair out. The bus pulled up at 9:45 and I will tell you that it was lovely. A huge bus for about 9 people, lots of room and even some drinks and snacks. This did make up for the morning issues and we arrived at the boarder in comfort. Yet again we were lulled into a false sense of security. Somewhere the boarder gods were laughing at our relief.
We were told to get off the bus at what looked like a market that sold nothing but bad dreams and our bags were thrown at us. Since we were told our bags would be staying on the bus our entire trip this was not a pleasant surprise. We worked out as a group , since English signs or telling us would spoil the surprise, that we needed to join the throng of people in front of us.
They should be a a Twilight show episode about the disappearance of queues in Cambodia boarders because we sure as hell didn’t see one. It was like a scene in a disaster movie .People screaming and pushing, ladies holding their babies above their heads. I was half expecting a alien race to appear and start shooting .
We made our way through the Cambodian border and then walked under the bridge that separated the two countries. I was hoping for a enlightening travel moment as I walked through one country to the next. I though that feeling the earth beneath my feet would transform me into an enlightened traveler with a soundtrack playing in the background…something by an indie band that wear flower head bands. Instead I was accosted by Cambodian men trying to steal/carry my bag for me, woman screaming at me to buy their bracelets and one woman in a shell-suit circa 1989 shouting ‘give me the money!’ like a bad Jerry Maguire..but this is why we like travel, the unexpected moments.
We rounded the corner and joined the huge queue to get into the Thai broder control building. It was annoying to line up outside but at least it wasn’t raining….it started raining. After 40 minutes Lee and I were called forward and we ran up the stairs triumphantly, trying not to get to the top and re-create the famous Rocky moment. We turned, walked through the door and realised , to our horror, that THIS is where the queue actually began.
I’m not going to tell you every detail of our 4 and a half hour queue but I will tell you that i’ve never been so close to punching a stranger. That air con not working in a tiny space with about 400 people in it would be how I imagine hell now . And that if I ever meet the Chinese lady that was queuing behind us again I will punch her in the spleen. The entire time that we queued she refused to believe she wasn’t pushing past us, like adults we should have just given up and let her past but we aren’t adults so we had to create a human shield with our bags and bodies. She even tried to push past Lee once and got a face full of sweaty arm pit. I’d say that was quite a punishment in itself.
To explain to you the anger every person felt in that line let me tell you that when we could almost touch the customs desk and had just one more lady in front of us a man walked up in a fancy suit, got a wad of money out of his jacket and offered a line of poor travelers a load of cash to let him cut in line…the line screamed ‘NO!’ and called security to have him removed.
We got to the other side of customs, found our bus and danced a little dance of happiness. I can only imagine it’s how people feel when they find water in a desert…okay that may be a little dramatic but at that moment I think we would have kissed the Thai floor if it wasn’t covered in spit and gum.
To celebrate our victory (and while we waited another hour for all the other people on the bus to get through customs) we treated ourselves to a 7-11 binge , which if you know Thai 7-11’s you’ll know that this is a great country to do this in. It was the best toastie and Big Gulp we’ve ever had.
4 hours later we saw the lights of Bangkok appear outside with the skyline out in front of us. We were so excited to return to a city we’d loved so much the first time around, even if we it had been a bit of a disaster. With our eyes fixed on the lights far away the bus seemed to slow down, and it kept slowing until it stopped and the driver shouting in Thai what we can only imagine was ‘get the hell off my bus you filthy foreigners’ …but it was probably something much more polite.
We realised we’d been duped yet again once the bus pulled off and then paid another 15 dollars for a taxi to our hotel.
Overall it wasn’t the best trip…in fact I now imagine hell to be that customs room but every time you get to the end you enter into the exact same customs room only a few degrees hotter and the people a tiny bit ruder (if that’s possible).
So would we advice getting the flight in Thailand from Cambodia? HELL YES! for the small mark up (when you add up all the extra hours, taxi’s, water to live in the hellish heat of those offices and our sanity). I’d take the one hour flight any day.