With less than 24 hours left on our Thai visa, we knew it was time to make the dreaded overland journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We had heard multiple horror stories about this trip so it was with some trepidation that we purchased coach tickets on Khoa San Road (for about 500 baht less than the original price). The coach would take us to Poipet, where we would obtain our Cambodian visa, and then continue on to Siem Reap – or so we hoped.
We left bright and early, and with rucksacks full of 7-11 snacks. The ‘coach’ was actually a small mini van with very limited air conditioning, and while we had been assured we would be changing to a bigger bus very soon, it was actually only after we reach Cambodia about 5 hours later that we did. Nevertheless the journey through Thailand was comfortable enough, with a couple of gas station shops and plenty of scenery.
Eventually we pulled up at a ‘bus station’ near the border, which actually comprised of an office and a small restaurant. It was here that things started to get a bit weird. Everyone on the bus was called into the office individually. I was asked for my passport and told they would be processing our Cambodian visas. Having been warned about scams previously, myself and my friend firmly told the staff that we would obtain our own visas when we reached the border. The response was vaguely threatening as we were told if we did this not only would ‘the bus company not be responsible for any harm to us’ they would also only give us an hour to process our visas; if we didn’t cross the border in time, the bus would depart and we would be left behind. Despite these blatant threats, after three months of travelling, we had learnt not to take these things seriously and were not too fazed. In all honesty, we were more concerned about the fate of our free lunch – we had been promised this when we bought our ticket, but, having given our ticket to our driver in the morning, we were now told we had no proof of this lunch. Turns out there is no such thing as a free Pad Thai.
Next we were told to wait in the minibus – the fate of our fellow passengers was unknown as we were the only ones on the bus. After sitting in the unmoving bus for about twenty minutes (eating into our strict one hour curfew) we were driven about five minutes down the road to Poipet border and told to cross by foot. This experience was very different from the European borders we were used to. The signage was quite unclear but we followed various groups of other backpackers through Thailand’s exit checks and then into no-mans land, until we reached the Cambodian border office. It didn’t exactly look official, but the process was relatively easy. We handed over passport photos (which we had brought with us) and thirty US dollars and after a five minute wait received our visas. We went through another passport check and we were in!
Now it was time to discover if our bus had waited for us – at this point we were pretty skeptical that the bus even existed on the Cambodian side of the border. Luckily, after trekking a few hundred metres we were reunited with a couple of boys from our bus. We waited around for a while (it definitely took more than an hour) and then boarded a small bus which took us to a bus station. We then waited around again and boarded yet another bus to begin the journey to Siem Reap. At this point we thought the worst was over – little did we know what was to come.
The bus stopped after about an hour at a store with toilets. Unfortunately those who chose to use these toilets were then shouted at by a rather aggressive Cambodian lady that they must now buy something from the store – with a bag of crisps starting at five dollars it seemed a somewhat steep exchange. The store was also offering free SIM cards, which a few people took. We thought nothing of this until about an hour after setting off again. The people who had taken the SIMs began shouting at the bus driver. Apparently the SIM cards had wiped their phones – not ideal. Then ensued a shouting match between a passenger who insisted the driver took us all back to the shop, and the driver who adamantly refused. Suffice to say the atmosphere on the bus was not great.
Finally we arrived in Siem Reap, at another ‘bus station’ which was definitely just someone’s back yard. Another shouting match began as a couple of passengers accused the driver of keeping us on the bus to distract us from our bags being stolen. We quickly exited the bus and were relieved to find our bags present and correct.
We were then offered a free tuk tuk ride to our hostel. This felt a bit too good to be true, and we were rightly sceptical as when we got in the vehicle our driver began insisting that we hire him as a private driver for the rest of our time in Siem Reap. However we firmly told him that we did not want a private driver, and we were finally dropped at our hostel (by a somewhat moody driver).
Overall it was not the most stress free journey I’ve ever been on, to say the least. However we survived without being ripped off – although we never did receive our promised Pad Thai.