A Journey Across the Cambodian Border
Well, the good news is, we made it to Cambodia. The bad news is that the hostel we are staying in has no indoor plumbing, there is dried blood on my sheets and a drunk man passed out on the floor of the lobby. There is an additional character parading around in underwear in the dorms and trying to pass it off as normal behavior. It’s not. He’s over 40.
How did we find ourselves in this situation exactly? Allow me to elaborate. I’ve been traveling around Thailand with my friend Ailish for the past two weeks after finishing up a semester abroad. We had 5 days left on the itinerary before heading our separate ways and decided to venture into Cambodia by land.
Our story begins with an overnight bus from Chiang Mai, bound for Bangkok. We left the station at 8:30 p.m. and were feeling pretty good about embarking on the next leg of our adventure. The bus company graciously provided us with a generous four inches of legroom for the nine hour ride and the sassy couple in front of us collectively decided that they would be reclining their seats to full capacity, regardless of whether they broke our knee caps in the process. No bother- we went into the evening with low expectations. “We’re seasoned travelers,” we thought, “We’ve got this.”
Then, at 5:30 a.m., a solid four hours before our anticipated arrival time in Bangkok, we heard our bus attendant calling out “Last stop Bangkok! Last stop Bangkok!” I am no morning person, so needless to say I did not handle this surprise very gracefully. I believe my exact response was something along the lines of a low growl and a brief, but firm belief that I would not be getting off the bus.
But alas, I did, just in time to see my backpack being forcefully catapulted out of the back onto the dirty Bangkok pavement. This was the first time the question, “Where the hell are we?!” came to mind.
Knowing that I did not know anything about my surroundings or how to procure another bus to Siem Reap, I attempted to politely ask the attendant for some information. However, my attempt was foiled by the fact that it was 5:30 in the morning. What came out instead was a stream of desperate and nonsensical words and phrases that I magically hoped she would piece together and perfectly understand.
“Siem Reap! Bus Station! Cambodia! Airport! Tickets! Why did we stop here?! Uhhh…Angkor Wat!”
She paused briefly to consider my eloquent delivery before deciding on her final response: “This is final stop, Bangkok!” Damn it. We were screwed.
Or so we thought, before another heroic figure emerged from a nearby tuk tuk. “Where do you go?” he inquired. We explained our final destination of Siem Reap. “Cambodia?” he replied, “Ah yes, you take a train. Station, 1 k.m. No time! Quick! Only 20 minutes! Quick! I take you! 100 baht.”
“80 baht,” countered my more awake and level-headed travel companion, Ailish. And with that, we were off! Approximately two minutes later, we pulled up to a hobo-esque establishment somewhere beneath a bridge. “Where the hell are we?!” I asked, while simultaneously checking the surrounding brush for lurking murderers. “Train station!” He replied cheerily. I peered through the overgrown fence and blue tarps and sure enough caught glimpse of a small, but official looking sign that read “Station.”
Turns out that small cluster of carts, boxes, tables and stands was our breakfast establishment for the morning. I briefly poked around before deciding on thai coffees, some mini weiner sausages and some pork panaang curry, all procured for a grand total of $1.80.
We paid another $1.40 for our train tickets and boarded the next train leaving for Aranyaparhet, the last train station in Thailand before the border. I had the pleasure of spending the seven-hour ride next to an elderly woman who may or may not have had whooping cough and appeared to have a slightly over active sweat glands. She was nice enough, but was very territorial over the small seat we happened to be sharing.
After arriving, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a small food stall. Parched, I ordered a coke and was surprised to learn that it had been aged to perfection due to 2001 date on the label. Regardless, I still drank it and it still tasted excellent.
Feeling revived, we procured another tuk tuk to take us to the border for an additional 80 baht together. Turns out, our driver’s idea of the “Cambodian border” was slightly different from what we had in mind.
To be continued…