You have survived the muggy heat and the crush of tourists at the UNESCO-listed world heritage site Angkor Wat, and can’t wait to get back on the banana pancake trail…and what better place than to seek refuge in the City of Sin, where cheap pad thai stalls line the streets, smartly dressed office workers stride alongside downtrodden backpackers weighed down by their packs, where the good kids are seen praying sans shoes at the temples and the bad ones living’ it up in Patpong.
It’s time to dust off your passport and head on a long journey again… I know you are tempted to do it the cheapest way possible but we were so annoyed by the nonsensical struggles of doing it the “cheap way” (and in the end it didn’t seem to be worth all that effort, really, unless you are planning to stretch that cash a loooooong way) that we just gave in and got a direct coach from Siem Reap to Bangkok for US$10. DON’T DO THIS! In fact, many lessons were learnt, but that’s just how it goes when you are striking out on your own.
1. Hunt around the vicinity for similar buses heading to Bangkok.
Don’t purchase from the first one you see, unless they charge less than US$8. I found out that a fellow traveller on the same bus only paid US$6.50 for the same crappy ride.
2. Don’t trust the tour agency when they promise a tuk-tuk will pick you up from your guesthouse.
No partying the night before unless you want to miss that bus. Get up early, if it’s the 8am bus (trust me you want to leave at this time to reach Bangkok just around sunset), at least 45 minutes early, make sure you get to the bus 10-15 minutes before departure time. Our promised tuk-tuk didn’t arrive; we hired one ourselves and the driver hunted for our bus for 40 minutes. We only managed finally to catch it at a random place much later, after our driver borrowed a cellphone (his cell ran out of credits) from a friend, contacted his “people” and hunted it down. We were the last people to board. Needless to say, this time, we were LUCKY.
3. The ride is going to be shit. Yes, even though you paid good money for it.
They made us wait not once but thrice, for no apparent good reason given to us. Most of the travellers on the bus were Western travellers/tourists with a few East Asians, all going to different places like Ko Samui, Bangkok etc. So their ingenious idea was, at the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border, to split everyone from the original bus up into different mini vans heading to different directions. We crossed the immigration, walked nearly 1km in the blazing afternoon heat across to the Thai side, and waited in the hot sun, and waited.
4. When they say the ride is going to be 7 hours, they meant 10 hours. Or 12 hours. You can never be sure.
Be as flexible as you can when it comes to time….and your limbs. After all, we didn’t expect to be on the bus for nearly 11 hours when they claimed the journey would take a maximum of 7 hours. And it wasn’t particularly comfortable when eight people were forced to squash up against one another in the last row of a coach, converted into a long couch like seat… Pity it ain’t a limo…
5. Bring some food, water, charge up your mp3 player but leave that book in your pack.
On second thought, don’t bother much with the water. You won’t want to drink much since there won’t be many toilet breaks for you to take a leak…especially with the notoriously fierce air-conditioning in such buses.
So, yeah, we wanted to avoid the nonsensical struggles, but ended up with a bunch of misfortunes along the way anyway… In this part of the world, anything could happen, and frankly, this is considered a pretty drama-free experience! On the bright side, the bus stopped once in the middle of nowhere for us to have a quick lunch…where you could pick up an ice-cold can of Coke for US$1.
Your bus will most likely drop you in Khao San Road. Go ahead and glower at the taxi drivers who go “Sir, where you going?” and keep walking. After such a physically draining journey, with that crick in the neck and pins and needles in your calves, you won’t be in the frame of mind to deal with the annoying touts and can’t wait to land in Khao San. To hell with the snooty “true travellers” who condemned Khao San Road. You are SO staying here tonight.
You will be so grateful for the lovely aroma of freshly stir-fried pad thai wafting into your nostrils, so just grab one, and maybe throw in a 30-min Thai massage and a couple of Singha beers , then drop into a dorm (pick one, anyone!) before waking up bright and early to explore the amazing Thai capital. :)