Saturday, August 16, 2014

July 2014 Travel Adventure: Part 2 (Our Thai-Cambodia Crossing)

So I hope you have read Part 1 on how we missed our earlier flight so that you know what this is all about.  We ain't gonna commit the same mistake again and this time we ensured that we checked, and double-checked our departure time as well as the gate number for our later flight to Bangkok in the evening.  That was the longest time we ever stayed at the airport and we can’t wait to get out of it!

This time round, we were the FIRST to board the plane.  Taking no chances!
While waiting for out flight out, a friend (Daddy blogger at Stranger in Bangkok) read about our predicament on Facebook and offered help in booking our coach tickets to Siem Reap for us.  Unfortunately the only tickets available from the trusty agencies he recommended were only available 2 days later but we had WANTED to get to Siem Reap ASAP.  Thus we had to decline his kind offer and left everything to luck. 

I had googled earlier and there were in fact, quite a few options available to us from Bangkok to Siem Reap. One can take train, coach and even taxi.  Although I did not have a confirmed plan in mind, I was just thinking of relaxing on the flight out and think about what to do after we reach Bangkok.  It was a really short flight and we reached Bangkok at around 9pm.  It was our instinct to walk directly to the taxi stand and we had to decide between staying at a hotel near the airport, or back to our favourite haunt in Khaosan within that short walk.  There and then we decided jointly that the night is still young and Khaosan it shall be!

We were really happy to check into our small room in Khaosan and get ready to go makan!
I decided to try my luck and asked the taxi driver if he knew of any buses or coach to Siem Reap but it was tough deciphering what he replied in his limited English.  But from his gesturing, it did seem like he was saying that he CAN indeed drive us to Siem Reap!  I clarified with him on the cost and he mentioned it will be 2,500baht (around Sgd$100) which was really a steal to us (compared to a flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap at least)!  Oh wait, he will not be able to drive us all the way to Siem Reap, but rather only to the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet but that is already near enough for us!  So we confirmed our trip with the driver immediately and he didn’t even ask for any deposit.  I just needed to find my way from Cambodia border of Poipet to Siem Reap and I am set!

We had wonderful Thai food for dinner on our first and only night in Bangkok.
That's after dinner and our massage, and we still needed dessert!
We had mango glutinous rice back at hotel, before going to bed!
With our transport to Cambodia taken care of right after arriving Bangkok, it took the huge load off my mind and we decided to make the best out of our “misadventure”.   First thing first, we had to find our accommodation for the night and we got ourselves a room for only Sgd$30 with breakfast some more! It’s a no-frills small room, with a queen-sized bed and attached bathroom but that’s really fine for us.  We wasted no time and got down to get some great Thai food for our late dinner, followed by a nice walk along Khaosan Street and even had time for some awesome Thai full body massages after that!   But that’s not all, we also had banana pancake, red ruby and mango glutinous rice desserts before we ended the night too, yummy! 

All the kiddos were roaring to go, but this is only the first leg!  The start of a 5-hour taxi journey!
Shortly after the start... all the kids begin to start dozing off...
I went to the designated pick-up point the next morning after my hotel breakfast, and was already thinking of what alternatives while walking there, because I wasn't sure if the driver would turn up.  Luckily he did, and we proceeded to our hotel to pick up my wife and the kids.  The driver was a really friendly driver, who helped us with our luggage and pram, but his only problem was his English proficiency, otherwise it would have been an awesome!  We meet up around 10am and by the time we reached Aranyaprathet, it was already nearing 3pm.  There were nothing much to see along the way, only rice fields and old towns along the long dusty road.  But it was a comfortable air-conditioned ride and the kids slept through a great part of it without a care.

This is how we manage to bring 3 kids and a huge luggage across the border with just the 2 of us.
The customs is located at level 2, and I had to go up first with the pram before coming down for the luggage and kids!
The moment the driver dropped us off near the Thai customs, there were 2 Thai porters who walked over to us and asked if we wanted help with our huge luggage which we declined. We simply placed all 3 kids into our trusty $10 secondhand pram which I pushed, while my wife handled our luggage. From there on, it was just a matter of following the crowd and looking out for signs.  I was approached by a tout who spoke impeccable English as we neared the customs.  He offered us a ride into Siem Reap, to our hotel direct from right after the Cambodian customs for Usd$50.  That was really quite an alright figure considering we have 5 persons, and a personal car direct to our hotel sounded really nice.  In the end, I managed to bargain it down to Usd$30USD + $100Baht and saved quite a bit.  I probably wouldn't have taken the offer on normal circumstances, but I had totally no idea what to expect after crossing the Cambodia borders, so this sounded attractive to me.

We are right in the middle between the Thai and Cambodia customs.  The crossing is pretty much like our Sin-Malaysia causeway actually.
Cambodia (Poipet) is just on the other side.
It was pretty straightforward walking to the Cambodia side by following the signs and the large numbers of "Ang Mohs".  There were also a few casinos in the hotels situation in-between the two borders which I thought of checking out but my wife gave me the death stare, plus it wouldn't be really safe for her to wait anywhere else with 3 kids and a huge luggage.  The walk to the Cambodian customs was smooth (except for the potholes here and there), but I cannot say the same about queuing up for our turns there.  There were four counters opened but the queue was slow-moving and the counters were manned by stern-looking immigration officers.  Right after leaving the land of smiles, the contrast in the attitude between the custom officers of two countries was stark.

The girls having a rest while I waited in line for our clearance at the Cambodian customs.
Stacci was getting grumpy and increasingly annoyed in the queue as it was rather stuffy and the kind aunty (in brown attire, behind my head) gave her a jelly-lolly that lifted her spirits.
The Thai driver whom we negotiated with earlier was waiting for us outside the Cambodian customs and brought us to our car.  It was then we realized that he was merely a middleman while our actual driver was a Cambodian uncle.  Little difference, so long we get to our destination safe and sound. There were some arguments between the Cambodian touts operating after the customs and the Thai middleman.  It seemed like they were arguing about the sharing of profits, for the Thai middleman had requested that I mention how much I am paying him, in front of the others. 

Another wefie before we start our second leg in a private car.
This second leg from Poipet to Siem Reap took us around 3 hours if I could recall correctly and the driver never spoke a single word to us.  Once we reach the town, the driver pulled over near to two tuk tuks and gestured for us to get out.  I thought to myself "shit" as our resort was nowhere in sight.  This is when one of the tuk tuk driver walked over and explained that he would send us to the hotel for free (alarm bells)!  We were kind of “forced” into accepting his offer as we really wanted to get to our resort ASAP, but I knew better, that there's no free lunch.  As expected, once on board, he started his sales talk and mentioned that this trip will be free, only if we took his service for the next few days. He mentioned something like Usd$60 for 3 days of temple tour which I reckoned was the usual tourist rate but too bad he met me, as I managed to shave Usd$15 off in the end.  So that's our transport for the next 3 days taken care off, just purely by the "feel". 

This is our unique experience with the Thai-Cambodia border crossing adventure of the family and I will touch on the WONDERFUL resort we stayed in Siem Reap, as well as some of my tips when visiting the temples in Part 3!

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