About Me

My photo
We wanted to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a holiday we'd never forget - we reckon 6 months of travelling the world (from trekking on the Inca Trail and through the Amazon to riding an elephant in Thailand) should just about cover it!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Bangkok to Cambodia (via God-knows-where)

We had been told by the honest-looking tour operator that the bus journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia, would take around 10 hours. We automatically added on a few hours to allow for "Thai time" and booked the earliest bus to give us plenty of time to find accommodation upon arrival. We had heard about a scam whereby the driver purposely takes a longer, bumpier route than necessary in order to ensure that the bus arrives late at night. He will then drive straight to the guesthouse of a relative who pays him commission, and as it is so late at night and the travellers are so exhausted they agree to stay at the substandard guesthouse. Determined not to be sucked into such a ploy, we made sure that the border crossing to be used was at Poipet, the most efficient checkpoint,said the Lonely Planet.
It didn't get off to a good start - we got up bright and early and strode purposefully towards where we thought the tour office was. What we hadn't taken into account when mentally noting landmarks was the fact that at that time of the morning the market and shops would all be closed. The Khao San Rd area looked like a different place without the brightly-coloured stalls and bustling streets, and there were at least 30 different tour operators in the immediate vicinity. Huffing and puffing with our heavily-laden rucksacks on our backs, we eventually found the right meeting spot, outside the Canary Travel tour office. We needn't have worried..the operator who was due to round everyone up and lead us to the bus Pied Piper-style was 20 minutes late, then when we went to meet the bus it didn't show for another 45 minutes, then when it did finally arrive and park up right in the middle of a roundabout the driver forgot to put his handbrake on and the coach full of open-mouthed tourists started rolling backwards, careering across the main road. All the guys grabbed hold of the bus and managed to bring it to a halt as the driver leapt aboard and pulled on the handbrake. Disaster averted, we all clambered on board, where the tour operator began pressure-selling Cambodian Visa assistance, saying (falsely) that we'd have a tough time at the border should we attempt to arrange the visas ourselves. Thankfully we didn't buckle and arranging the visas at Poipet was probably the easiest part of the day.
Crossing the border into Cambodia, the roads took a distinct turn for the worse. We were instructed to change bus for the third time that day, this time for a smaller, ramshackle local vehicle with no headrests and hardly any legroom.Whoever designed that bus must have been some kind of masochist. Folding ourselves into the seats like a couple of contortionists, we took out our inflatable neck pillows and attempted, ridiculously,to sleep. Any hopes of slipping into unconsciousness were dashed when the bus began juddering it's way over gravel and dirt tracks, jolting us around like crash-test dummies. It wasn't neck pillows we needed so much as neck braces and a couple of gumshields as our teeth rattled in our heads and almost got knocked out on a few occasions as our driver did emergency stops at every opportunity. At least we knew the brakes were working. What was supposed to have been a 10hr journey turned into 12hrs, 14hrs and finally 15 long and painful hours in that old boneshaker.
Having left at 7am, we should have arrived at 5pm but instead we rolled into the dusty driveway of a shabby-looking old guesthouse at around 10pm. It had already dawned on us that the old commission scam was alive and kicking, and sure enough the guide told us that this was (by sheer coincidence) his uncle's hostel, and he would kindly arrange cheap rooms for the entire busload of disgruntled, weary tourists. Quelle surprise...
The rooms were sparse, unwelcoming cells and had we arrived at any other time of day we'd have turned our noses up and looked elsewhere but under the circumstances we practically ripped his arm off. It's a sorry state of affairs when a landlord has to go to such lengths to get custom, we agreed, and duly paid the room rate without a struggle. Well, it was only 6 US dollars.We were so exhausted we could barely string a sentence together so we didn't bother to haggle. We were asleep as soon as our heads hit the dusty pillows, which at least meant we didn't have much time to take in the grotty surroundings...

No comments: