Thailand has some stupid rules. For example there is no shop in Thailand where you can buy a beer between 1pm and 5pm. Yet you can go and get one from 8am. Or if you fly to Thailand you can stay for 30 days yet if you turn up via land you can stay for only 15. I wonder if anyone around the table that day had a brain cell and said “those who arrive by air will usually be holidaymakers staying for only 14 days anyway, yet those who arrive by land will be backpackers looking for some ‘love you long time’ Thai paradise”
Thailand is built on tourism and yet is the most expensive country in SE Asia and is perhaps the most awkward for the traveller though at least for now the Visa for UK residents is still free.
Due to that mindboggling 15 day visa we are close to getting booted out of the country and so had to decide where to go from Samui.
We could have done a Visa run which is a quick jolly to another country and then stamped back into Thailand for another 15 days. But the closest country is Myanmar and the border crossings are about as reliable as my mum’s gossip. They are only for the hardcore, and hefty, expensive detours are usually inevitable. So we decided we would return to Cambodia.
The 2 week countdown is almost on for our return to Blighty and so we got up first thing to get a taxi to Na Thon Pier in Ko Samui. The boat left at 7am and a run up the jetty with all our gear meant we somehow made it.
A French family on the boat took pity on us eating our way through sweets for breakfast and so fed the five thousand and handed out cakes and fruit. The kids were soon munching on fruit and cake as we sailed off into the sunrise and toward Donsak pier. From Donsak it was an hour long bus ride to Surat Thani, where conveniently there was a tuk tuk waiting to take us the further 14km to the train station.
The train left at 10.45 and was the only one of the day, the remainder left late in the evening. Basically if you want to get to Bangkok that day you have to get that train. Of course it was sold out and so we had to get tickets to a different station, I knew Hua Hin was only a couple of hours from Bangkok and so we got them there. Once at Hua Hin we would then hopefully find a vacant seat or even stand.
The train took all day and we pulled into Bangkok about 9pm. It wasn’t so bad, there was at seat service on the train which meant we got our meals and drinks served up by some gorgeous Thai hostess. That along with Roy Chubby Browns Biography which id stumbled across whilst in Samui and the journey was a fairly tame one (great book by the way)
Once at Bangkok we had the MRT to Suttishan and then a 20 minute walk; Ko Samui to Bangkok in a day – Sorted.
We had the next day in Bangkok where we just went shopping at the awesome MBK in Siam Square and then at 4am the following morning we jumped out of bed for our taxi to the train station. It took about 45 minutes and once at the station we got our tickets to Aranyprathet which is the Thai border town with Cambodia. It left at 0555 and cost 48 Baht for an adult and half for kids (less than a quid) and the journey took five and a half hours.
The crossing into Cambodia is notorious throughout the backpacker fraternity for being one that is fraught with scam after scam. And it was.
I knew the tuk tuk to the border is a fixed fare of 80 baht and so when I was told 60 baht I instantly knew the first scam was imminent. The journey to the border is 6km and after about 5km the driver will turn right and take you to an official looking Cambodian visa building where you think you need to get your visa from and pay an extortionate fee. The guys are all dressed in official looking uniforms and so it’s easy to see why this scam usually works. I was aware of it and so when the tuk tuk got in the lane to turn right I told him “No chance, go straight ahead” and pointed forward, he instantly changed course.
When Scam 1 fails you will be dropped off at another official looking place right inside the barrier and so this just adds to the ‘officialness’ of the scam. I had barely got out of the tuk tuk and some slick looking guy was all over us. He was saying how we needed to fill in the Visa forms there. No you don’t. I told him he was on the scam and he got really offensive telling me I was “bull shit” and ought to have respect for officials. I just smiled and told him “Nice try” and walked away. It actually pissed me off and was not the first time I have had someone try and scam me and then get offended when I don’t get scammed. I mean it is really obvious, why would someone from Cambodian immigration be sat at a tuk tuk stop in Thailand? Come on.
Anyway, walk straight ahead and ignore everyone who will carry your bags, polish your shoes, arrange your visa etc and there are many believe me and enter the Thailand Exit – A quick photo and a stamp and then walk across the bridge between Thailand and Cambodia.
The visa costs $20. Nothing more, nothing less. Fill in the form and then as you hand the form over expect to be told “100 Baht fee” There is no fee. I refused and pushed my passports through the window and sat down. 10 minutes later we had a visa in our books. I think the key here is not to let the immigration staff help you fill out the forms. You really don’t need them, but I suppose if you let them help you then arguably you will be liable to pay some kind of fee. To be fair though, who is more likely to be able to fill my details into a form written in English? Not some Cambodian guy who barely speaks English that is for sure. When processing your visa the officials don’t even read the form and so knowing this I filled it in pretty half arsed. It didn’t cause any problems.
When you enter Cambodia you need to get to Siem Reap (I did anyway) It’s about 180km away and takes 2 hours in a car. The scam here is the free bus to the transportation centre. You get there and then get the bus to Siem Reap. The problem is when you get to the transportation centre which is in the middle of nowhere you are forced to take a monopolised bus service to Siem Reap. I have heard some right horror stories about that bus and it taking 12 hours, breaking down, getting robbed etc. Once at the centre your only other alternative is to take a taxi. Of course expect to pay a fortune as the only ones there are taxi’s run by the same company as the bus.
I have a mate in Siem Reap who has lived here for years and runs a hotel. I emailed him prior to leaving and he told me not to get the bus but to consult a tout and get a price for a taxi which should not be any more than $35 for the car. If you look on Lonely Planet, Tales of Asia and Travel Fish you will see that they say the average fare is about $50/$60. Anyway, we got hassled straight away and got told there was only a ‘free bus’ I said “look, I have been to Cambodia and I know the score, can you get me taxi or not” I was told no and so started to walk away. Amazingly suddenly he found a taxi, he asked how much I would pay and I said “you tell me” he said $35 and so I didn’t bother to haggle and jumped in the taxi and we set off, a few police bribes and someone dead in the road and away we went.
I know Siem Reap and my way around it and so when the taxi took a detour I knew something was fishy. We pulled up outside a ‘taxi office’ I was told the journey ended here. It is a well practised scam and the idea is I say “oh, ok” get out and then pay an extortionate fee to my hotel. I refused to get out of the car and told the guy that if he didn’t take me to my hotel I wouldn’t pay him. He set off and I directed him to my hotel.
I suppose it was easier for us because all the while I had my mates number and so if shit had really hit the fan a quick call and he would have sent someone to get us. The pressure was on at times and when walking through the border crossing we saw Westerners handing over cash and obviously being creamed.
When we got to the hotel I was telling Phil how what a mission it had been and he said “at least you managed to get to the hotel, most don’t” And I knew this was true. Reading some of the stories on Tales of Asia and comparing them to our experiences showed that we had it damn easy compared to most.
Anyway it wasn’t long before we were sat in Johnny Walkers on Pub Street having our first proper meal of the day at 4pm and a few fifty cent beers to wash it down with.
The final hefty journey of the holiday completed and now to a few days of rest at the foot of one of the world’s most amazing religious complexes – Back to the Temples of Angkor at 9.30 tomorrow 🙂
Ko Samui – Bangkok – Siem Reap, Cambodia