Saturday, 16 March 2013

My worst border crossing to date!

A couple of days ago we did the much criticized trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I had read a lot about this particular border crossing about how they will try to rip you off at every corner so we went prepared. Luckily we met up with my two friends from college Noel and Kate the day before. It was so great seeing them both! I hadn't seen Noel since he visited me in Korea 3 years previous and Kate since we travelled together in New Zealand nearly 4 years ago. Their friend Jayne was also with them and the 5 of us had great craic catching up.

We were all going to Siem Reap together the next day so we decided to book our tickets and travel together (safety in numbers!) We found a travel agents near our guesthouse and booked our minibus from Bangkok straight to Siem Reap for 300 baht each. The minibus would collect us the following morning at 7:20 from our reception. With an early morning ahead of us we did what only a group of Irish would do...went out and got drunk! We met Kates friend who lives in Bangkok and he brought us to a couple of great places that we would have never known about before. It was so nice to get out of the Khao San area and see some of Bangkok.

But before we could meet her friend we had to get a taxi to the spot. Of course the taxi dropped us miles away from the pub and randomly dropped us at Koreatown. It was so strange seeing hangul written everywhere and we were considering eating at one of the places until I saw that a soup that normally costs 2,000w in Korea cost the equilivent of 10,000w here. We swiftly moved on and waited for Kates friend to collect us and show us the way. He brought us to a pub that does the best fish and chips! Myself and Jason got a large portion to share and couldn't even nearly finish it. It cost about $12/$13 for the large portion.  There was also a great jazz band playing which was so nice because living in Gimhae we don't get the chance to see live music very often. This pub's name was fat gutz, a fitting name I thought!

After that pub he brought us to another great place. It was called Wongs place (I think) and is a great tiny spot that apparently is absolutely packed out the door every weekend, we went during the week so it was nice and quiet. It was such a fun night catching up with everyone.

After 4 hours sleep (worst decision ever!) we rose from bed and got ready for our day ahead of us. The travel agent told us that the journey would take about 8 hours total. Our minibus arrived and luckily only 2 others were on it with us, one from America and a Londoner. We had the craziest bus driver who would  keep sniffing something from two suspect little bottles. Every time he would sniff he would suddenly start crazy dancing to the songs (while driving) He also just made strange noises for the whole journey...his favourite being "eh eh ehhhh" quite similar to Anne from Little Britain.

When we finally arrived at the border town I was looking out the window and saw an arrow pointing left for the border. We went right. He brought us to this restaurant where they were so "nice" and offered to get our visas for us there while we wait, for only 1,200 baht. When we politely declined he told us that we would be queueing up for 6/7 hours at the border and will miss our connecting buses at the other side. Again we declined, knowing that this is exactly what we were warned about. He also took our bus tickets from us and told us he would give us new ones (I still don't know why we gave them to him)

After 20 minutes or so we were off again. We were just pulling away when we realized that we never got our bus tickets back, we asked our driver who asked the man at the restaurant, but he said not to worry we would get them. Of course this made us worry and by the time we got to the border we held a sit in until someone gave us a ticket or some kind of proof of onward travel out of Poipet (the border town) After another 20 minutes we still didn't have any proof but we did have a man from a travel company promise to bring us over the border and personally make sure we get on a bus. At this stage we didn't have much of an option and we were getting really hot so we went with him.

Once at the border we had to get our visas, I was looking around and a man told me to go to the building on our right, when our agent saw this he started giving out to the man who had helped me and tried to make us follow him past the building (so that we would get visas from him for 1,200 baht) We went into the building and got our visas for 800 baht. The process took about 10 minutes (not the 6/7 hours that the guy at the restaurant had told us) I think at this stage we were all angry because the person that was supposed to be helping us had just tried to scam us so we presumed we'd never see him again. To our surprise he was still waiting for us afterwards and came with us to the immigration line. We queued for what seemed like an eternity there in the horrible heat and all that was left to do afterwards was wait for a bus that we were hoping would come. Everyone else around us had stickers which are your bus tickets and we had nothing. Apparently, this happens if you refuse to buy your visa from the people. Luckily we were a big group and had the amazing Jayne with us who would take no shit from anyone. Miraculously the bus came and we were allowed on it without our tickets (I think they were just so sick of us at that stage)

While on the bus we found out that some people had paid 1,600 baht for the same journey that we were doing for 300 baht. In fact the American that was on our minibus to the border with us paid 2,000 baht and then they wanted him to pay another 400 baht at the border cause he "missed" his bus to Phnom Penh...he was still there when we were leaving. Overall this journey ended up taking over 12 hours but we finally arrived in Siem Reap. I think the hardest part of this journey is that people are lying and cheating you with a smile on their faces, in fact a girl had just found out that her bank card was stolen during her bus trip from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and they had accessed her account and taken nearly $4,000 canadian dollars. Obviously she was very upset and one of the tour guides was comforting her, he then proceeded to get her to pay him 1,200 baht for the visa (ripping her off a bit more).

If you are ever planning on doing this route I would definitely recommend you to do some research. I had read all about it on and the more you know beforehand the less likely you are to get ripped off. I would also recommend not getting a minibus (even though this is the easier option) Apparently there are plenty of government busses that leave from Bangkok bus station that are much cheaper and drop you to the border town, you can then just get a short taxi to the border and then pay for an onward bus to Siem Reap. Also, make sure you stand your ground! Another thing that I would recommend is to apply for your visa online. That way you will be guaranteed to not get ripped off with the visa. The online visa is only allowed on certain border crossings so make sure to check beforehand.

We have been in Siem Reap for two days now and have been pretty lazy, but more on that next time :)

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