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Toto, we're not in Thailand anymore...

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B-B-B-B-Bangkok!

After spending 12 hours on a boat/bus combination, we were thrilled to arrive in Bangkok at the wee hour of 1:30 a.m. All I can say is THANK GOD I have been to Bangkok before…or I may have had a stress induced heart attack upon arrival.

We were told our bus was going to Khao San road. Well, we’d been there before, and it didn’t look like Khao San at all. But at least it looked familiar. The bus driver was not one ounce of help as he was busy unloading luggage…so off we went. I was pretty sure I knew where I was. If you just go up this street…turn right a bit, and around the corner it should be right there…and wham. There we were on Khao San. Funny how your brain can remember directions 3.5 years after being in a place for only a few days previously.

This is where I think I would have died: Khao San at 1:45 a.m is like Whyte Avenue after the Stanley Cup playoffs: people selling deep fried bugs, strange men trying to lure you into underground strip clubs, drunk farangs everywhere…buckets and plastic stools lined all about and even people enjoying foot massages. But for us, it was like going home again. Ahhh Bangkok. How we’ve missed you too.

We had a great experience at D&D Inn last time around and so we figured why mess with a good thing? Unfortunately, they were full. This is where I have heard the best use of “same-same” this entire trip. Scott says “can you recommend a place? A good hotel? Somewhere else good to stay?” The receptionist says “All good. Many hotel. Same-same.” HAHA!

Anyway, we ventured off and finally found one on our fifth try. Apparently the Red Shirt march one block away from us was not deterring tourists in the slightest. We finally hunkered down at 2:15 at “Budget House” and man, was it budget. Our room backed right onto the Irish Bar next to us and it was LOUD. So, we decided to take a stroll and find a beer and some water and enjoy the best that Bangkok has to offer. At around 3 a.m., we decided it was time to sleep. We were toying with the idea of heading to Siem Reap in the morning, but we decided that waking up early and braving the gong show that awaited us was better done on a full night of sleep, so we decided to stay another day in Bangkok. Sleep did not come easy, however: the bed was rock hard, the pillows were massive and rock hard, and our air-con only had one setting. As an aside, Scott and I usually sleep with the air-con (if we are generous enough to splurge for it) at around 28 degrees. Yes, we are slightly insane…but when you acclimatize to this heat, you get REALLY effing cold when it’s 25 degrees or less. We’re pretty much going to die back home, even though it will be summer.

Anyway, so sleep. We could not get it. I started feeling nauseous and managed to lose my dinner (which was obtained at a very sketchy buffet for $1 near Hua Hin) and overall, it was a very unpleasant time. We figured we finally fell asleep at around 4:30 a.m. Yep, definitely not heading to Cambodia like this.

We spent our day in Bangkok doing not much. We were pretty tired and weren’t up for sight-seeing (and we had seen a lot of the highlights in 2006), so we opted to shop around. Scott finally found an Apple store and managed to fix some of our computer woes. We spent a lot of time hanging around the roof-top pool, and we finally bought some pirated DVDs. We can finally watch Avatar. Yesss….

Scott went a couple of streets over to see the red-shirt protests, what he called “history in the making”; not too exciting though, he said it wasn’t much different than a weekend-long outdoor concert. Lots of people living in tents, lining the streets, with people serving food, sitting around, some watching the proceedings on small TV’s. But it was all very peaceful, minus the continual voice booming on the loud-speaker. And the Red Shirts’ shirts were hilarious – most were official-looking shirts with a “justice today” slogan or something, but any old red shirt would do; he even saw a red “Linkin Park” shirt.

We ate our last meal in Thailand, fetched ourselves our last cheap freshly squeezed juice and roti pancake and hit the hay. We needed to be in top form for our Cambodia venture.

Crossing the Thai-Cambodian border

Now, we did a TON of research on crossing the border to Cambodia (namely from TalesofAisa.com – mad props to this website, it was a lifesaver). The Lonely Planet recommends doing the border crossing on your own and not through a bus organized by travel agencies on Khao San. Apparently there is a giant scam where they delay the bus for hours, yielding to 12-hour days, arriving in Siem Reap VERY late and them taking you to a guesthouse that pays the bus a commission. Because it is late, you’ve been beaten down by the bus (which has been delayed for numerous reasons, including mechanical failure, waiting for someone, extra long lunches, etc…), so you just stay where they take you. It seems as though there is a serious over abundance of guest houses in Siem Reap (to accommodate the Angkor temples), so this is why this happens.

So we were going to do it on our own. We spent hours researching every last detail, of which there were MANY to remember to avoid getting ripped off.

Step 1: (not from the website, but from our own learnings in 2006): DO NOT get into a cab directly off of Khao San. They won’t use a meter, they will overcharge. So we walked out to the main road and flagged one down. He agreed to meter us. So far so good. We tell our taxi driver “Morchit bus station please.” He says “sure, no problem.” Two seconds later “where are you going?” Us: “Cambodia.” The wheels start to turn. “Cambodia…Cambodia…” pause. “I take you there. 2,500 baht.” Us: “peng pie!” [this means too expensive in Thai]. He starts to laugh – I don’t think many foreigners usually pick up enough of the language to communicate this sentiment. He says “Ok, 2,000 baht.” Us: “phaeng pie! Bus is 400 baht!” He still tries to keep going…but we’re set on our bus. It will save us loads. Then, he forces us to take the toll road (whoops) and tries to convince us to take a mini bus with his friend. NO, we want BIG BUS. Finally, he takes us to where we want to go.

Step 2: Find the right bus. There were about 8 counters we could buy our bus ticket from. We needed to buy it from one with BLUE lettering, because those are first class buses, not from one with red lettering (second class buses). We were supposed to buy it from counter 23 or 25, not 30 or 31, because these buses are newer and faster. And apparently make less stops. Mission accomplished…we made it onto the 9:30 fist-class bus.

Step 3: Stay on the Bus. Now, most bus rides we’ve had stop every hour or two for at least 30 minutes…allowing you to refuel with food, pee, etc. We figured this would be no different. And at first, it seemed like it wasn’t…the bus kept stopping to let passengers on and off…and it got so full that people were standing in the aisle. This got really uncomfortable…especially when one woman with two small babies got on. Do you offer her your seat? You paid a first class fare for this, whereas she is paying a third class fare (or just freeloading)…what is the right thing to do? It was very stressful. Fortunately, a Thai person gave up their seat for her and we didn’t haven’t to worry anymore. But then, the people were blocking the path to the bathroom. Now, Scott and I do not have the largest bladders on earth, so this created a bit of drama. Although I had made it 6 hours on our last bus ride without the need to pee, I had unhealthily dehydrated myself. After two hours, the bus came to a station and we both had to pee – but we didn’t want to give up our seats for fear of people standing in the aisles taking them (or our backpacks). So Scott went first. No one else got off the bus. The bus started to pull away without him. I yelled. The bus stopped. Then it started to pull away again. I yelled again. Finally Scott emerged and ran back onto the bus as it was pulling away. Very stressful. I still had to pee. Fortunately, 1.5 hours later, the bus stops at a station again. I decide to try my luck. Unfortunately they were charging 3 baht and I only had 100. It took the dude forever to make me change…I rushed into the toilet and out again…and…there was no bus. I had been left behind…somewhere in lord-knows-where Thailand. The bus helper guy sees me and shakes his head and tells me to follow him. I follow. He takes me to the bus, which is driving away down a road. I hop on while it is still moving. Scott is mid-heart attack. I guess he had yelled at the driver 10 times, who ignored his pleas. Scott looks at me, takes a big breath and says “no more getting off the bus.”

Step 4: Navigate tuk-tuk driver from Arayaprathet to border. We had read that tuk-tuks will try to take you to a visa office and overcharge you for a visa that you can get at the border. Well, we were no exception and the tuk-tuk driver took us there. We finally managed to tell him to take us to the border, and we lied and told him we already had a visa. This seemed to do the trick, although he was quite grumpy about the whole situation. Anyway, disaster averted.

Step 5: Navigate Thai and Cambodian border without “help” from locals, no matter how official they look. We read that locals will do everything from trying to shield you from the sun with an umbrella, to telling you you need a certain stamp, to carrying your passports in exchange for money. Just say no and do it yourself. Scott almost fell for the stamp one, but I just marched on by…and it saved us once more from the scam.

Our little camry cab

Our little camry cab

Step 6: Secure a taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap. We read that there were only two ways to get to Siem Reap: taxi and bus. Bus is horrible because they wait until the whole thing fills up, so it’s better to take a taxi (in a Camry…the only car the seem to have here). One guy told us to come with him – only 450 Baht per person. We were expecting to pay US dollars so we were a bit confused. We get to the bus station, and they say that it’s only 450 baht if we have TWO other people to go with us. We don’t. So they want 1,800 baht. This is exorbitant. Our research told us not to pay any more than $40 US (about 1200 baht). We sit and bargain. And bargain and bargain. After many run-arounds (oh, more people are coming, oh, I give you a good deal, etc., etc….) a guy finally agreed to take us for 1400 baht. Fine. Let’s get the heck outta dodge. But they wanted payment in Thai baht…all up front. We say no, half now, half later. But then I don’t have the correct change. And we asked about US dollars – can’t we pay with that? We went to hell and back to try to get $100 US for this whole ordeal. Oh no, Cambodia doesn’t use US, they say. Only Riel. So they force me to change more money into Riel, some into smaller Thai baht, and off we go. At least the loss was minimal on this one.

Stopped at the car repair shop

Stopped at the car repair shop

Step 7: Control your taxi driver. First, we stopped for gas. Then, we stopped to repair a flat tire…which included jacking the car up with me still in it. Then, we stopped to pick other people up. I’m sorry, what? We paid 1400 baht for this damn private taxi! No, apparently not. We only paid for the back seat. So, into the front seat goes not only a Cambodian woman and her toddler, but her husband as well. They squish in, as I was reeling to determine if they were serious. Oh yes, they were. And now I looked like a giant asshole for not inviting them to share the backseat with us. It was definitely a frustrating situation. We were paying this guy a substantial amount of money for a “private” taxi and then they do this to us. I kept asking Scott if I should ask the taxi driver to pull over so we could invite the guy into the back, but he said no – I’d already been a jerk and it was too late. Fortunately, they only stayed in the car for about 30 minutes so the awkwardness was cut short.

Step 8: Control your taxi driver even more. Do not get out of the taxi for a tuk-tuk, especially if you still have to pay the driver half of the negotiated fare. After driving through some of the most desolate and bizarre landscapes I’ve ever seen (dry, cracked earth…shanties with naked kids…motorcycles with live pigs strapped to the backs…wild cows crossing the street…) we get to the outskirts of Siem Reap and our taxi driver says “get out, go with tuk-tuk.” Oh no. We’ve read about this too. That’s why we negotiated to pay half the fare upon drop-off. And I asked our driver 10 times to drive us off at our guesthouse – to which he replied no problem. So our driver says “get out.” we say “no, you take us to our guesthouse.” He says “tuk-tuk free” which I took to mean that the tuk-tuk was negotiated as part of our fare. Scott claims he knew better, but he said “ok” and gave the dude our cash and into a tuk-tuk we went.

BIG MISTAKE. First, they want us to stay at one of their guesthouses – one they have a commission deal with. Nope, we tell them, we have a reservation at Shadows of Angkor (which we didn’t, but since there are such an abundance of places to stay, we weren’t worried at all). The guys says “are you sure? It’s expensive.” we say “we have reservation and we paid already. Take us there.” He obliges. We think we are in the clear…until…

This dude gets in and says “we need to make a deal for this free ride.” We are like, buddy, what deal…we paid our cab driver to take us to our hotel and you all told us this was free. Free is free. Well, apparently not in Cambodia. Big lesson learned: NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE! He says “if this ride is free, you have to give me job tomorrow. I take you around Angkor.” Well, we don’t want to go to Angkor tomorrow – we’ve had a crazy few days and want to take a cooking class and have some down time. Maybe the next day. We tell him we’ll call him. Apparently this isn’t good enough. (the driver is driving REALLY slow at this point). He says that people ALWAYS say that and then never call. He says he’ll pick us up the next day. But, we don’t want a tuk-tuk tour of Angkor….as avid cyclists, we want to rent bikes. This starts to really piss the guy off and they stop the tuk-tuk and tell us they need 200 baht ($6 US) to take us to our hotel now. We refuse and get out. So, now we’re stranded on a dirty street approximately 5 kms from our hotel. Awesome.

Fortunately, another tuk-tuk driver came by and said he’d take us for $2 US. Done. It was a shitty situation and we really should have known better, but alas. We were in this boat and had to sail it home. He was a very lovely guy and took us to our hotel…and upon arrival, it was full…but their older building a few blocks away had plenty of room. So our tuk-tuk took us there. We gave him 50 cents for being so nice. He asked us if he could take us to Angkor the next day…and we explained our situation. He was very nice…and we said “can we have your phone number? We’ll call you if we need tuk-tuk.” He said, every so sadly, “no one ever calls when they say that.” We promised him we’d call when we needed a tuk-tuk (although it looks like we might never need one since we are so central) and left it at that.

The final step: Enjoy Cambodia.

Journey completed. We made it, alive, with our limbs and only $10 less in our wallet than there should have been. Not so bad.

Finally arrived!

Finally arrived!

So far, the people (aside from the border rip-offs) of Cambodia are lovely. They have such a tragic and horrific past, but they are so welcoming and smiling. I feel like these are the first people we’ve met on our journey that are truly happy to have us here. They all want to talk, speak amazing English and are ever so polite. People have even brought their children up to us to say “hello” and “bonjour” and have them touch us. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. I can’t wipe the smile off my own face at the sheer amazingness of how they can be so happy. Scott likens it to us when we first come out of our long dreary winter back home: we are so happy and excited that it is spring that there is this awesome energy everywhere that you just can’t escape. This is how it feels for me to be in Cambodia – it’s now their spring, and things are finally looking up for these people who have been treated so inhumanely for so long. I hope their spring lasts a good, long time.

4 comments to Toto, we’re not in Thailand anymore…

  • Mer

    Oh my goodness! What an experience, good job guys!! Overall, I’d say you did fantastic! Cambodia is going to be incredible. HAVE FUN! xo

  • Cheryl

    I hope South America is not this bad with the constant ripoff attempts. Darryl would end up losing it on someone. ;)

  • maureen fisk

    Hi Kenna: I have been reading your blog. Sounds like so much fun. Are there senior tours in Thailand?? We are thinking of going next year and yours sounds like too much adventure for us. Seen lots of your mom lately such a good person. Be safe!!! Maureen Fisk

  • oh wow, I love your website….great stories but i am a bit worried now for two reasons 1) we are in vietnam and heading for the cambodian border and then back to thailand and 2) i can’t go much more than 2 hours without peeing….oh good god!!!

    but i have to mention as well that we have been traveling since august and have gone almost the same route as you two: cook islands, nz, oz, indonesia, malaysia, thailand, laos, and now vietnam….i’m surprised we haven’t crossed paths.

    well, enjoy your travels, christine and paul

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