From Kathmandu, I arrived late in the afternoon at Bangkok to start my Indochina adventure. There is nothing particularly special about my plan, I believe there are tons of people who did the same years ago, but in case you asked, my intention is to visit Cambodia-Vietnam-Laos mostly by border crossing and overnight bus ride.
As a Philippines passport holder, a member of Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN), I can enter these three countries visa-free for a stay of 14 days to 1 month, so time will not be an issue. Having said that, I feel guilty somehow for failing to do this trip back when I was younger (during my gap years maybe?), but anyways, I have a valid excuse like the rest of us- money, work, life.
I took the closest hotel nearby Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station. I only needed a few hours sleep in the city and by the following day, I will be catching the first train out towards the bordering town of Aranyaprathet.
Across Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok are food stalls after food stalls, something that is expected when you travel in this region or this city in particular. For a price of 40 Baht (~ 1 USD), I had one of the most satisfying meals in a long time.
I decided to spend the rest of the evening with a quick visit to the famous Khaosan Road. So what change compare to my previous Bangkok trip? They replaced the old second-hand book shops with McDonalds though there are still bunch of shirtless dude roaming the street with a Changi beer in hand.
Almost 6 hours local train journey with 38 station stops, finally arrived at the bordering town of Aranyaprathet. Outside the train station, I was greeted by Tuktuk (motorcycle) drivers eager to take me to the border for a price of 80 Baht. From this point, despite the lack of sleep, I knew that I have to be on alert and be aware of scammers waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.
Instead of bringing me to the border to officially exit Thailand, the tuktuk driver seems to have an arrangement with the so called “Cambodia Visa” side of the border. Like the other tourists, I was bought to a small office with everyone working at that false office confidently showing identification and claiming that it was indeed the official starting point for Cambodia Border. The thing is they will not gain anything from me, I can enter Cambodia visa-free but I can’t say the same thing for other visitors coming from other countries, so in case you came across this blog, I will strongly advise for you to apply for visa in advance.
After few hours queuing on both side of the border, I officially entered Cambodia and took the free shuttle ride going to the government appointed hub with transportation choices bound to Siem Reap. An air-conditioned bus is the one I took for a price of 9 USD while many families opted for a private taxi for a price of 48 USD.
You think you escaped the scammers with “official ID” at the borders? Here comes act number two.
The people with “ID” will tell you a lot of confusing things. They will inform you that in Siem Reap it is hard to find money changers and only local currency (Cambodia Riel) is accepted, thus it is better to exchange money now at the bus hub for a charge of 20% commission. In contrary, everything in Cambodia is paid in USD, even if you pay in Riel your change will be in USD.
After spending a whole day travelling and border crossing, at around seven in the evening, I am happy to finally be in Siem Reap and found an 8 USD per day guesthouse.
Siem Reap is a lovely city. It is a perfect combination of greenery, temples, expensive and bargain hotels and central tourist area which normally comes alive at night. But what makes it more appealing is the fact that you feel safe and comfortable on the street, the people are friendly but tough in terms of bargaining.
Tomorrow I will be visiting one of the places I been dreaming about- the Kingdom of Angkor.