Friday, November 12, 2010

Cambodia/Thailand - Oct 17

The bus trip from Siem Reap was an interesting one. When I purchased my $11 ticket for the 8 hour journey I was diligent in my question asking because as I've discovered, and as I continuously read about, bus trips are easy scams for agencies. Foreigners buying one way tickets who are usually on a schedule to catch a connection or move onto another country are very unlikely to come back and complain. Plus, you don't have to impress them for repeat business. And at $11, you get what you pay for.

Anyhow, I asked a bunch of questions and made sure I knew the kind of bus I would be getting on was one of the cleaner, newer, less likely to breakdown on the road in rural Cambodia types. I was assured it was just like the one in the shiny new red one in the photo and went ahead with my booking. Sure enough when the tuk tuk dropped me off, there was a group of foreigners looking just as unimpressed with the heap of junk parked in front of the pick up spot with a Cambodia/Thailand boarder sign in its window as I was. Oh well, at least this time there are people that speak English with me on the bus. I'm just hoping it has air con.

When we finally pulled away at 8:25 for our 8:00 departure, with no apparent reason for the delay, we spent the next 45 minutes driving around Siem Reap picking up and dropping off people that were probably someones friend or cousin that just needed a ride to work, then we stopped roadside for a good 10 minutes waiting for someone who later turned out to have just needed a lift to the next town, we were on our way. After 35 minutes of finally being on the road, we stopped at our first pit stop to use the toilet and get a snack. This was a shack on the road and obviously run by friends of the driver. All of us on the bus just rolled our eyes, no one really got off the bus and 10 minutes later we were FINALLY on the road to the boarder.

The scenery though rural Cambodia is breathtaking. The rice paddies were as far as the eye can see and the population exists in small shacks on stilts with only dirt as a front yard. I've learned that to grow rice the terrace needs to be flooded (although the frequency or level of flooding I never sorted out) so it was normal to see water levels in the fields reaching up to and sometimes over the roadway. People working in the fields were often wading through at waist height and I'm certain many of them spent the majority of their day like this.

What I couldn't figure out was if the flooding around their homes was intentional because of the surrounding rice terraces, or if living in devastation like conditions was in part contributed by the wet season. Homes were flooded to the door fronts and beyond. Children stood barefoot in front of homes looking around with no where dry to walk. Those that had homes on stilts often hung hammocks below the house and an entire family would swing there keeping dry. After hours of the same thing, it was difficult to keep looking out the window.

When we finally arrived at the boarder after two additional unnecessary pit stops, we were told that we'd be changing buses on the other side (small detail skipped by my tour agent, and an overlooked question on my part). We were all given small pieces of tape - either red or yellow - to stick to our shirts, some had initials on them, others were blank, but none of us new what any of it meant. We unloaded, grabbed our bags and headed to the line up of people leaving Cambodia.

Not knowing what to expect, just the surroundings of the boarder gave me the willy's. With no questions asked, actually not even a glance up at me, he stamped by passport and waived me through. After a long walk through no mans land I stood in line at the Thai immigration office with my fingers crossed they would not ask anything about me leaving Thailand. Technically, Canadians do not require a Visa to enter Thailand, they only need proof of onward travel. I got caught in Miami with this, they wouldn't issue us a boarding pass until we showed proof of leaving Thailand. Thankfully I had a printed itinerary of our flight to Vietnam on me, otherwise it would have been a much bigger hassle. It seems though that the lady at the US Airways information counter was more concerned with following the Thai customs regulations than the Thai officials were. There were no questions asked, not even a glance up at me. This was what I was told was going to happen (when I asked around before planning my trip), but I was just hoping that I wasn't standing in the line of the officer going for the "Customs Agent of the year award" and would throw the book at me. Phew. I kept $50 US on me just in case...

On the other side, a guy making sense of all our red, yellow and encrypted stickers was corralling us into groups. I was hoping it wasn't the "looks vulnerable", "looks rich" and "looks gullible" groups and more the "Bangkok", "Pattaya" and "Surat Thani" groups. Thankfully it was the later.

We followed our new "guide" to our next mode of transport which ended up being a mini-bus. We jammed our bags in this thing to the gills and crammed our bodies in the 12 pax van. I made the unfortunate mistake of getting in first and put myself in a window seat near the back. Being claustrophobic, this was a worse idea than "chancing it" at the Thai/Cambodia boarder without meeting entry requirements. As soon as the doors closed I had uncontrollable flashes of vomiting, being trapped, crawling viciously over the unsuspecting and innocent people in front of me and all of a sudden I couldn't breath and I was shaking. I yelled "stop! I have to get out!" Followed by "OUT OUT OUT OUT" repeatedly until the confused guy at the door opened it and I leaped out (I'm sure) kicking people along the way. Apologizing profusely, the kind soul sitting in the front changed seats with me. He was probably 6 foot 4 and sat like a pretzel while I stretched out in the front with a nice view and the A/C directly on me. I did feel bad, but like I explained later at a pit stop, he would have probably chosen sitting like a pretzel over the smell of sweat and vomit for the 3:30 hour trip. He agreed.

We finally arrived in Bangkok without further incident and I killed time on Kao Sun road before getting to the airport to catch my flight to Chiang Mai. That trip was uneventful and I arrived at my Guesthouse ready for a nights rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment