Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Bus/Taxi from Bangkok to Siem Reap
I've finally got around to writing about my trip back from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I had gone to Bangkok with my mother and we carried Bloom bags over to meet with a customer from LA, actually from Hollywood. My customer is associated with the movie "Shanghai" which stars John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yuen Fatt and Ken Watanabe. The movie moved location to Thailand after the Chinese government refused to give permit to film in China because of concerns over the script.
In Bangkok we stayed in Pannee Lodge guesthouse on Khao San Road for 1350 baht (USD40) for a double room. It was expensive--you can get much better deals if you shop online before your visit. If you don't, you'd be like me--I was exhausted and just wanted a clean place to lie down after a nine-hour trip from Siem Reap. (See "Taxi/Bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok" on this blog.)
Anyway, we stayed in Bangkok for five days and I almost booked a bus from one of the travel agents in Khao San Road, despite everything I had read about dodgy agents in Bangkok. This guy offered us 500baht (USD14.50) per person for a direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I was tempted because I had paid 300 baht (the right price is 200baht) for the bus from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok and another USD35 for a taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap, and all I was thinking was how much money I would save!
Fortunately common sense prevailed and I said no, we'd make the trip without an agent. I found out from the Internet that the bus to Siem Reap leaves Morchit Bus Terminal, which is near the Chatuchak Weekend Market. We left the guesthouse about 8am after breakfast and flagged down a taxi. The taxi driver was quite reckless and I was convinced we would get into an accident--we did. Fortunately the accident took place just outside the bus station so mom and I paid the driver, hopped off with our bags, and left the two men arguing as to who was in the wrong (it was our guy).
There are ticket booths all over the station, outside and inside. We made the mistake of approaching one on the outside, but the nice lady told us to look for booth number 25 inside the terminal.
We went in and found number 25. I actually stood in line while trying to confirm with the other people in the queue if it was the right bus. As usual, nobody could speak English and I did not get very far. Fortunately, my anxiety led a Thai woman in uniform (she was some sort of usher who helps people in the station) to approach me. She told me we were in the wrong queue and to move to the next one. It was only later when I approached the window that I could see a handwritten sign saying "Bangkok-Ongkharak-Aranyaprathet: 9:30".
The ticket cost 236 baht (USD6.86) and said "premium" on it. It also showed the bay number, 116 (see pic1) . The bus bays are just behind the rows of ticket booths and it was not difficult to find ours. The bus looks exactly like the one in the photo (pic2). It does not look like much, but the seats were clean and spacious. In fact we were very happy with our seats. We were also given a snack box, which contained a thick slice of bread with some kind of butter-like spread and a small sealed cup of distilled water. There was also a wet tissue and a packet of instant coffee and sugar, but no hot water. Is the coffee supposed to go with the lukewarm water? I didn't want to try out.
There was a telly on the bus playing a Thai-dubbed Japanese show which thankfully they turned off before we started moving. I also took a photo of the bus times which were displayed on the bus.
Soon after we left the bus terminal, the bus started picking up Thai passengers who stood all the way. Obviously this is no express bus, but I've read that this is typical of the buses going to Aranyaprathet. They fill up the bus seats and then pick up and drop off more passengers from various points. There is no bell, so the passengers simply call out to the driver. It was not much of a bother except like bus passengers everywhere, people tend to crowd in the front instead of moving towards the back. As a result, me and mom, seated up front, had some unpleasant whiffs of body odour.
As with the bus ride up, the bus stopped for uniformed policemen who boarded the bus to check our passports. A couple of men got off the bus at this point--I am not sure why though. Perhaps they were illegals?
The bus did not stop for a toilet break but there is a toilet on board. After 5 hours, we finally arrived at Aranyaprathet. From the bus station, you will have to take a tuk tuk--the border is simply too far away (6km). We hopped on one and another group of Europeans we met at the station hopped on another. The drivers agreed to USD1 per tuk tuk (but I eventually paid USD 2, because it was quite a distance he took us).
The tuk tuks then took us to a building with the sign "Immigration Department" or some such thing. The drivers insisted we had to get visas here before arriving at the border. I told our driver that Singaporeans do not need visas and that was when both drivers turned their attention to the Europeans, trying to convince them they had to get their visas here.
We kept saying "no need, no need" and after about 5-10mins, they finally gave up and continued on to the border. They then dropped up off about 1km away from the checkpoint, where another scam laid in wait.
This time the tuk tuk drivers dropped us in front of a little shack with a round stone table and stone seats. We were told by men who were wearing tags in an effort to look officious to fill up departure and arrival forms there. Because the men were Cambodian, I easily started a conversation with them and they let me sit and fill up the forms. By now, the Europeans were savvy, and said no thanks and proceeded to the checkpoint.
As for me, while filling in the forms, the men told me they could help me get a taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap. One of them insisted the price was USD60. I said, how can that be? I paid only USD35 from Siem Reap to Poipet. He said it is because of the police, who demand tax from the taxi drivers. I said no, the taxi is only USD40 (a French customer had told me this was the amount she had paid) . This guy then said, yes, before it was USD40, but now, it is USD60 "because of the fucking police," he spat. He said it with such conviction I almost believed him.
There was another younger man, a boy, really, who was listening to all this and who kept saying, "It is ok bong-srei (elder sister), you can take a taxi from the other side" (once you get across from the checkpoint is what he means). When I said I would take the taxi if it is USD40, the first guy told me to hold on while he calls his boss. While waiting for his boss to decide, this guy proudly showed off his gold bracelet, worth USD200. I decided he must make good money scamming tourists.
In any case, his boss said no go. When I had walked away, the guy actually drove his motorcycle up to me and tried to bargain one last time. "50 dollars ok, bong-srei?"
Of course I said no and continued walking. I was just amazed--they must make such good money from the scam they would even turn away a fair price for one of their taxis.
While walking towards the checkpoint many other taxi touts came up to us. I was so annoyed by then I said loudly in Khmer, "I always thought Cambodians were honest (smao trong), but you're not. I live in Cambodia, helping Khmers and yet you still try to cheat me." I was really quite pissed off. Anyway, two of the men seemed shocked and one said in Khmer, no, no, we will charge you a fair price, USD40 for the whole taxi. It was the price I was willing to pay all along so I agreed and they helped mom and I with our bags.
When you get to immigration, another scam--we were asked to show our passports to two men in uniform sitting at a table on the side of the queue to the immigration counter. They flipped open our passports and said we needed departure and arrival cards and that they would fill it in for us for 100 baht (USD2.90) each. I said no and they didn't pursue the matter. You get the feeling everyone is just trying their luck and if it doesn't work off, they shrug it off.
At the immigration counter where we get the passports stamped, another officer tried to scam my mother. As she was on a tourist visa which was expiring soon, the officer told her she needed to pay for a new one. My mom told him she would be leaving Cambodia before the visa expires so don't worry about it.
Finally, we were able to walk out of the whole nightmare towards the taxi (which is really a private car, a Toyota Camry). The drive back was uneventful except for two things:
1. The driver's cellphone kept ringing and a couple of times he impatiently told his caller in Cambodian that he has a customer ("p'new") who understands Cambodian ("cheh Khmer") so could not talk now. He was referring to me, obviously. I kept wondering what he had to hide; have I been scammed?
2. The driver stopped at a little provision store for us to use the toilet. Just 10 minutes before stopping at this little shop there was a large stop with toilet signs. I think that was a free toilet but the driver insisted on stopping at the shop where they charged 500riels (12.5 cents US) or 5baht (14 cents US) for the use of the toilet. We noticed other taxis had also stopped and some customers bought drinks and potato crisps. For their cooperation, the taxi drivers received a free car wash--at least that was all I saw.
After 3.5 hours we arrived safely home. I hope this has been useful for those of you planning the trip. Just keep your wits about you and know that practically everyone on route will be involved in trying to milk gullible tourists and first time travellers.