June 16, 2013

how to do (and screw up) a border run to Cambodia (but still have a good time)

In the past few weeks I have traveled by foot, train, taxi, songteaw, motorbike, boat, airplane, tuk tuk, Skytrain, minivan, bus, river taxi, long tail boat, bicycle... basically every way there is to transport yourself from one place to another, I have done it. I have been on the road in Thailand and America  since November and I will be honest, I am exhausted and excited about my new teaching job, with a nice stable paycheck and daily routine. Yah, what can I say, all play and no work makes for a lazy girl. That's why I am such a terrible 'travel blogger' when I am traveling, I don't want to do anything but have fun and relax, just like anyone on vacation, but sometimes that line tends to blur over here...

My preferred mode of travel! (Photo credit: Courtney Funk)
When I returned home from an amazing 2 weeks in the south of Thailand with my two best friends where I never strayed too far from the beach, the last thing I wanted to do was get on a bus and head out of the country. But that is exactly what I had to do, to use my second entry tourist visa (or so I naively thought.)  After only one night in my comfy bed, eating cheap Thai street food again, I had to truck on over to Khao San road to (after weeks at the full moon and on Tao mind you, I have never felt like such a travelers cliche here, since I usually travel with a full time job,  it was kinda funny) book an early (cheap) bus out of the country the next day.  Not one to make a transit travel go to waste, we decided to finally explore Angkor, a dream of mine since we missed it the last time we were in Siem Reap and while I was not looking forward to the border crossing itself, I was jittery with excitement for temple explorations.  After a 180 baht (~6 dollar) stay at Peachy Guesthouse and a hearty American breakfast off Rambutturi, we set out nice and early, with a thousand stops along the way, for the Kingdom of Cambodia.

How many farangs does it take to change a flat tire (when you have no spare tire)

This was a budget trip to say the least, after traveling in so many tourist islands, I am pretty much broke and we had about 6,000 baht for the entire trip, four days, 2 people.  We are getting pretty good at living on very little and while that does seem like a lot of money (maybe just to me? I don't know anymore...) it seems to go real damn quick.  Even after living in SE Asia for almost 2 years, we still get swindled sometimes and it seems there is nothing we can do about it, though sometimes it is just giving a dollar to a kid or buying an overpriced water, it can be difficult managing in major tourist spots.  We made that small budget work but only while staying a a guesthouse that was primarily occupied by paying johns and women of the night, eating street foods, enjoying only a few .50 beers, and not buying anything from the thousands of stalls around, which is obviously difficult for this girl but... I am getting much better...

It was very weird using US dollars in Cambodia and while everything felt super cheap compared to how far my dollars went in America, the popular spots, such as Siem Reap stuffed in low season with tons of Asian tour buses, always overcharge in comparison to our Thai neighborhood. We are obviously very lucky to be able to travel the way we do

Here is a break down in baht and dollars of our trip and the {lite} version of how we got hustled. 

350 baht bus from KSR to Siem Reap (Ended up having to pay for a bus from the border to Siem Reap, 200 baht each but when we got back to KSR we went back to the guy that booked the tickets and got some money back)
20 USD or 800 Thai Baht - Cambodian Visa at the border. (We got stuck in the classic, buy your visa here for 1200 baht and got hassled when we didn't, even though our booking company specifically told us to only buy from immigration officials at the border. We had a small group that stuck together and wouldn't buy the visa from this guy yelling at us and we walked to the border in the rain with all our stuff, bought our Cambodian visa at the border, with no problems. ...but then we had to pay 5 USD or 200 baht to get a bus from Poipet to Siem Reap, even though we had been told the bus was all the way to Siem Reap. Basically they screwed us when screwed up their scam.  We still spent 200 baht less than just going with the guys and therefore I still have my independent travelers dignity. I have read and heard of this happening a lot, if possible, just don't do a border run at Poipet!)
6 USD a night, in a dingy but acceptable room near the Old Market in Siem Reap.  (There are so many cheap (and super expensive!) places around the area, we just walked around, ignoring the tuk tuk's trying to take us to their kickback place and found something that would do, though we could have gotten better if we had tried a little more, to be honest, but we were just over it. )
20 USD a day for food, water and other necessities. (i really do mean necessity, most food was between 1 dollar and 3 and beer was 50 cents a mug, a bottle of water for the same price. Sounds easy but 20 dollars for two people was tricky and we ate a hearty breakfast and street food most of the time, which was really yummy anyway! )
20 USD each for one day ticket to Angkor. The most expensive thing on the trip but the one thing that made it totally worth it!

A few lessons I have learned...

  • DON'T got to KSR to book a ticket, while the guy did have a shop we could go back to, it being a tourist area, they just charge ambiguous prices and your treated like just another colored sticker. I would try either Sukhumvit for a visa run next time or taking a plane and doing it on my own.
  • For that matter, DON'T go to Cambodia, maybe Laos or Singapore instead, though this time we did not have that option. There are stories all over the internet of people having trouble at this border crossing both ways, and my story is no different. On our way back to Thailand, the immigration official said we couldn't use the 2nd entry on our tourist visa that was payed for and perfectly fine, saying some incorrect reasoning, but there was no arguing or convincing him. We did everything 'by the rules' and still only got a 15 day stamp on our visa at the border and lost out on about 80 USD each. Sometimes in life, ya gotta just remember to breathe....
  • Don't let anyone pressure you into something you don't want to do. We didn't buy the visa where the bus stopped and kicked us out and even though it was a bit of a headache to figure it out, in the end I felt better about my day of traveling. In Cambodia there are lots of people trying to get you to buy something, from a tuk tuk ride to clothes to formula for their baby (if you haven't heard of this scam, read this ) and as hard as it is, just say no thank you and walk away!
  • Traveling can sometimes be frustrating, but you have to just try and relax, go with the flow and laugh when things become seriously ridiculous, as they often do. This is something I admittedly have a hard time doing, but on this trip, with all it's frustrations, I had to take it for the adventure it was, tried to keep my cool and accepted what I could not change. What a difference it made, even though we had a lot of bad luck on this trip, you just gotta take a step back and remember how awesomely crazy life is (and how much worse off I could be!)

So yah, maybe we got scammed at the border, had a flat tire, it rained a lot, had a seriously strict budget, accidentally stayed in a whore hotel, and got our visas taken by a government official, it was a pretty fun trip all around. I ate like 10 baguettes on the street, got to explore ancient ruins by bicycle, met some nice travelers along the way and got to appreciate coming home to Bangkok (a place you need to leave to really appreciate I think.)

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