This is the part of the journey I have been blocking out of my mind because there are so many things which could go wrong. My motto is to plan well but have a back up plan if things go badly wrong!
Our plan was to travel by train from Bangkok to Arunyapatta, cross the border to Poipet and then take a bus to Siem Reap. What is the problem you say? Well the train leaves at 5:55 am and take 6 hours and if we miss it there is not another until 1pm which means we would miss the border opening times and have to stay in Arunyapatta. or we would have to battle across Bangkok to get a bus which also takes about 5-6 hours. Then once across the border it is another 2 hours to Siem Reap. Altogrther a lot of connections I have no control over.
Our morning started at 4:30am trying to drag ourselves and the children out of bed so we could get a taxi to the Station. We whizzed through the streets of Bangkok in the dark. The traffic was light and we arrived at the station with time to spare. After buying our tickets (£3 for all of us!) we made our way down the train looking for seats together……..we walked the entire length of the train before we found any seats where we could sit together. Every set of seats had one person sitting or lying down asleep! I have no ideas when they arrive but we were the first to buy our tickets and they were all there in place.
I am so glad we got there ealry because as the train pulled out every seat was taken. This train is third class (hence price) with no air-con just open windows and ceiling fans.
As we pulled out of the station the sun was just coming up over the high rise buildings of Bangkok. We passed through rows of blocks of flats with washing hanging out on the balconies and out of the windows. Sometimes the buildings were so close you could reach out and touch them. The slum houses croweded up towards the trains with their mismatch tin roofs, patched walls and occasionally the bright red flash of a satallite dish. We could look right down onto the early morning lives as people we getting up and starting the day. Flashes of peoples lifes went by as the train gathered speed….a man washing pineapple in red liqiud (red food colouring to make it more vibrant to sell), mangey dogs picking over rubbish piles, smoke from charcoal fires, clothes fluttering in the rush of passing train, sellers with baskets of food balanced on their heads, families eating breakfast of rice soup on split bamboo platforms under the tin roof with just packed mud floor underneath, children in their uniforms walking to school, the saffron robes of the monks as they walk around recieving offerings of food and money. This is a snapshot of the “other” Bangkok far removed from the glittering, pristine shopping malls, and designer living which was where we were yesterday. One thing I found interesting was the number of “parking”lots at the edge of the slum where nice cars were parked. In Thailand what you look like and have is important and often you will see very smartly dressed people who come walking out of a slum area get in their nice car and drive to work!
The train stopped at every station and each time more people got on. We had thought about getting on the train a few stops from the main station so we didint have to get up so early….so glad we didnt because by the time it got to that station it looked like this……
Every time the train stopped there would be a big shuffle round the door where people scrabbled to get off and on and as soon as there was a small crack of space on a seat it was pounced on by someone who had been eyeing it up for the last hour. The amazing thing was people were very unfazed by it and just accepted this was how it was so as the journey went on we had to adopt this attitude and squish up and rearrange out seating. At one point there were five people sitting on the one seat opposite me!
One tired boy!
The city gradually gave way to countryside of vibrant green rice fields. The flat endless plains were a change from the mountains of Kanchanaburi. Everytime we stopped at a main station there would be a scrum of passengers and food sellers on the platform while in contrast the country stations were quiet with only a few passengers getting on and off.
Lucia as always made friends with someone on the train. This couple helped us off with our bags and took us to get a tuktuk. I was a bit worried because sometime people will be friend you and then offer to help you, only to take your bags or lead you to some scam. I was trying to keep sight of Lucia and Ewan who had run ahead in the crowd of people , keep my eyes on the two people who had the bags and try to locate Colin who had not got off the train! When we got out to the “carpark” more like a patch of dusty ground lined with tuk tuks we had to beat our way through the drivers all trying to get you onto their tuktuk. Finally we all squished onto the tuk tuk (thai ones are smaller than Cambodian ones) and off we went. after awhile we pulled off the main road onto a side road….mmmmmm a bit suspicious….and pulled up to a parking lot. This is the Cambodian Consulate (pointing at a big house) you get your visa here! No! we have visa already take us to border now!!!! Off we go finally make it to the border entrance past a group who were touting for buisness and a helpful person comes and tells us the real visa (which we alrady have) can be got at the border crossing!
As we are walking a man approachesand says he is here to meet us from our hotel….as you can imagine by this time we were getting a bit fed up of bogus people but it turned out he was genuine as we had ordered a taxi to pick us up from the Cambodian side of the border. (thank goodness) He was really helpful and showed us where to go and what to do.
The border crossing was slow as we kept getting stuck behind a big tour party…the smaller kids had lost it by then and were running up and down, hanging from rails and generally annoying each other. I know all the other passengers probably thought our kids were badly behaved but I was so tired I thought I can either get cross or I can ignore most of it and intervene if it got to out of hand…that worked. Finally after 1 and half hours of queuing and filling out 6 lots of forms each time…we made….then ran the guantlet of taxi drivers to a taxi waiting just for us! It was funny the fare for us on the bus was £8 each and a taxi was £30…do the maths,so we decided a taxi would be better and ran the hotel we were going to stayin to see if he could arrange it and he could. It saved us so much hassle the Cambodian siad as we would have had to walk a little way then haggle, explain where we wanted to go…or get a tuk tuk to the bus station. I had thought we would be tired by then and I was right.
The taxi was only a normal size car but we all squashed in (five in the back including me) and sped off the two hours to Siem Reap.
Our driver was very friendly but a bit of a hairy driver. He is a typical Cambodian driver who drives very fast up to someone and then has to overtake even if there is something coming the other way or it is a blind overtake. On time he overtook someone else overtaking and something was coming the other way. Another time he was transfering a phone number from one mobile phone to the other talking to the person on the phone….and neither was hands free. I was praying a lot!
Finally after nearly 12 hours we made it to Siem Reap and our hotel. We went straight in the pool and Colin collapsed on the bed and went to sleep!