Thursday, May 6, 2010

Border Crossing

Originally we were going to take a train from Bangkok to the border. There are two trains a day. We knew we didn't want to be trapped at the border over night, so it would have to be the 5:55 am. The plan was to do a test run using the subway to get to the train station to buy our tickets the day before. This would serve several purposes.

1. Using the subway would allow us to avoid the areas of Red Shirt activity.
2. A test run would let us figure out how long it would take to get there and let us figure out how early to set out the next morning.
3. It would make sure we had seats of the train.

However, all of this was thrown out the window when we discovered that the subway doesn't start running until 6 am. So now to catch the train we would have to take a taxi through the Red Shirt area. On a whim Cale decided to catch a bus now and skip the whole train thing. In our haste, I forgot Cale's french press at the couchsurfer's place we were staying.

The bus to the border was about five hours and we were the only farang on the bus. When we finally arrived we asked a tuk-tuk to take us to the border. First he took us the a tourism agency to get a visa. We said no. He insisted. We insisted. Next he took us to the "Cambodian Consulate." Granted, it sort of looked like an official building, but I was having a hard time believing it. Does everyone at the Consulate sit around in an empty room, eating lunch and playing checkers? Probably not. The Lonely Planet and all the internets insist you can get the visa at the actual border. However, the guy at the "consulate" was only charging $30USD each (though I thought it was supposed to be $20) so we decided to go along with it. Riding away in the tuk-tuk, I told Cale it felt like a one-two-punch scam. First he takes us to the travel agencies and we are too savvy of tourists to fall for that, but then he takes us to the "consulate" and now we are thinking, well, maybe this is where you get the visa an not at the border. We pretty much determined that was what happened, because you can indeed get $20USD visas at the border. Whatever. We had our visas, we can go into Cambodia.

Crossing the border and on the other side we were still the only farang around. Immediately we were asked about taxis to Siem Reap. We saw a sign offering a free shuttle to the bus station a short distance away (I don't remember the distance, something like one or two kilometers). The guy that really, really wanted to be our taxi to Siem Reap then insisted we get on this bus, that it was the shuttle that would take us to the bus station. However, the bus was completely empty, there was no driver and no indication where it was going to go. Instead, we decided to walk, 1-2k didn't seem very far. For most of our walk we were shadowed by a taxi with the guy at first asking us repeatedly if we wanted to go to Siem Reap and then just settling on shadowing us as we walked. I guess hoping we would get tired.

After the one sign at the border about the bus station, we so no more indications of where this bus station might be. We walked and walked and walked. We felt like we had walked more than necessary and still, no sign of a bus station. We we came on a tourism police headquarters Cale went in and asked after the bus station. The guy inside directed us back the road one intersection and down the street. Low and behold, there was a bus station there. It was completely empty except for employees. We bought tickets for a bus that was supposed to leave at 5 pm, which was less than an hour away. The longer we sat there, the more confused we became to the purpose of this bus station. We were literally the only customers. All the signage led us to believe this was simply the headquarters for a bus company that ran group tours of international tourists. Cale said that might explain why when he tried to buy the tickets the guy had said they are usually for a group. Whatever, they sold us tickets and told us that the bus would leave at 5 pm and that they would get us when it was time. However, then we started to feel guilty about an entire bus running to Siem Reap if we were the only passengers. Luckily, things were going to work out for the surreal.

Come 5 pm we are loaded into a large van with all the employees of the bus station. There were 11 guys in the van with us. Apparently, they all live in Siem Reap and work for this tour company and are on their way home now. We are going with them! Talk about weird. On the other hand, not so weird. Very Samoan in fact. The ride took about 3 hours.

When we arrive in Siem Reap the one guy who has been taking to us the entire time says that he will take us to their tour headquarters first and show us this guesthouse he works for first. If we don't like it, then he will take us to the one we want to go to. So we go to his guesthouse. We tell him we don't like it. He sends us off in a tuk-tuk (driven by one of the guys from the van ride, with another guy from the van ride in the tuk-tuk with us) and we are taken to our guesthouse. When we try to pay we are told that they don't want to charge for the ride, they just us to book them for a tour of the temples. After insisting repeatedly that we don't know when we want to go to the temples, they agree to leave a business card.

Finally, we get a room and about 10 hours after leaving Bangkok we crash.

More on Siem Reap soon.

— Sara

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