When I booked the flight to Bangkok about seven months prior to the date of departure, I intended to go to Thailand’s neighboring countries as well, which makes Cambodia and Vietnam as perfect choices. However, that time when I booked the flight, I thought a week would be enough to go to all those countries. To make things more exciting, I thought of traveling overland from Thailand to Cambodia and Cambodia to Vietnam. That very moment has defined which way of travel that I like the most.
From Bangkok, I took the bus from Mo Chit station very early at dawn. From the hostel near Khao San Road I took a taxi whose driver speaks no English at all, which makes communication can only be done by gestures and some mumblings. As soon as I arrived at the bus station, dozens of ticket counters are scattered before my eyes. Be mindful that most of the ticket counters has no Latin writing at all which tells the direction of the buses. But luckily, counters of buses which go to popular places for travelers or tourists usually have Latin writing on it, such as Pattaya and Aranyaprathet (the destination which I went for). The counter staff to Aranyaprathet was an old lady who speaks enough English. The ticket to Aranyaprathet costs 207 bahts, but I suggest you to pay 5 more bahts so that you can get off directly at the border, not the town. Aranyaprathet is a small Thai town near the Thai-Cambodian border which can be reached within 6 hours bus ride from Bangkok. That is why I decided to take the earliest bus from the station (I got the 4.30 a.m. bus) so that I could arrive in Siem Reap (a Cambodian city where I was heading to) before afternoon in order to be able to enjoy the temples of Angkor as soon as possible.
Getting to Aranyaprathet was an easy ride. The bus came to Mo Chit pretty on time (only 5 minutes late if I am not mistaken) so we could depart as early as possible. On the road, the bus stopped at the gas station for about 20 minutes to fill up the tank and give the passengers time to go to the toilet at the gas station. Normally, the bus stops at some small cities, but you don’t need to worry whether you miss your bus stop or not since the border is the furthest point where the bus goes. During my trip, at some cities/town which are not too far from the border, some military officers checked the bus and the passengers’ ID.
After getting off the bus at the border, walk directly to the border and resist anyone who offer you a Cambodian visa arrangement. Remember number one rule in Thailand? Ignore the scams and touts! After getting your passport stamped at the Thai checkpoint, walk about 50 meters to the Cambodian immigration office if you don’t have a Cambodian visa yet. It costs you USD 20 (and sometimes additional 50 bahts) to get a Cambodian visa at the Poipet checkpoint. From the immigration office, you can take a government bus which transports all the tourists/travelers to a ‘tourist terminal’ where you can continue your trip by taxi from there. Typically, taxi costs you USD 12 per person to go to Siem Reap which is two hours away from Poipet. Note that payments in Cambodia can be made by US dollar or local currency (Cambodian riel) or even both currencies at the same time.
I waited for half an hour and asked some officers why the taxi company has not picked me up yet. At that time I was just informed that the taxi would not go unless there are at least 3 people in the taxi. Unfortunately, when I got to the terminal, everybody else has someone picked them up. I was almost desperate at that time since I didn’t know how much longer I should wait for other travelers to share taxi with me.
When I was still waiting for another bus to come, two men from the taxi company and the government office came to me and ask about things. I was very cautious at first, since the scams and touts of Bangkok were still fresh in my memory. However, it turned out that those Cambodian people (especially one man) sincerely wanted to talk to a stranger and practice their English and also broaden their knowledge about other countries.
Another half-an-hour had gone by when suddenly another government bus came to the terminal to drop some travelers. I instantly went to a couple of foreigners which I saw first and asked them whether they want to share a taxi with me or not, and they agreed! Phew, I was saved from boredom and desperation. Beside the couple, I also asked another solo traveler to share the taxi with me, and he also agreed. Before we hopped on the taxi, we made sure that the driver would take us to our guest houses, instead of just dropping us somewhere in Siem Reap, and he agreed.
So, there we were, 4 of us shared the same taxi. During the trip to Siem Reap (which was a nice ride since the road was in very good condition, with only minor works on some areas), I got the chance to know those people better. The couple are Germans, while the solo traveler is an Australian. The German man and woman was so friendly and nice to talk to. What surprised me was the fact that they came from a German city called Nuremberg where I spent the most of my time when I was in Germany 4 years ago. For me, Nuremberg is a very nice city with so many nice people.
After the 2 hours ride, we finally arrived in Siem Reap. However, we were not relieved yet, since the taxi driver stopped at a place which says anything but a guest house and suddenly a young man who wore the taxi company’s uniform (or other kind of uniform) told us that we had to get off there and continue the ride to our guest houses by tuk-tuk. The Germans and the Australian were mad at him and told him that the driver had earlier agreed to drop us at the guest houses. That moment I learned another cultural lesson: (most) Europeans (and westerners) know what they want and demand it (especially if it is something that has been agreed earlier), while I (as an Asian) just accepted the condition without much debate although with the same level of discontent feeling (when I had returned to Jakarta, I asked about this to my Asian friends and they said that if they were in such situation, they would probably also do nothing and just take the tuk-tuk even though they hate it). From this experience, I learn to be more stern in some (appropriate) situations and be less submissive. That kind of attitude might be the right thing to do in the right situation. Back to the taxi driver, after long debate and some silly arguments from the man in uniform, the taxi driver finally took us to our guest houses.
And that was the beginning of my Cambodian experience. Expect more stories and pictures of Cambodia soon!