Blog #3 - Tuk Tuks Without Borders

Well our time in Thailand has come to an end.  We’ve ventured out on our own to Cambodia to explore Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and Phnom Penn. 

Earlier this week we said good-bye to Miranda and Phil in Bangkok, and booked our bus to Siem Reap.  We were so excited to see a new country and really get our feet wet on this world adventure.

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At 7:30am on the morning of January 10th, we stood eagerly at the lobby of our hotel, Sleep WithInn waiting for our bus pick up.  One hour went by, and then a second hour went by.  Finally we walked over to the tour office where we booked the trip to let them know that we were stood up.  They informed us that the slip of paper on which our order was written was lost in the wind somewhere between their office and the bus company.  Hahaha…really!?!  It was starting to feel like Bangkok had a hold on us and was not going to let us go!  So what do you do when you’re thrown a curve ball in Bangkok?  You take your hotel deposit (1000 baht) and bus ticket refund (700 baht) and go get massages, ride the river bus for a few hours, watch the sunset, and go get Indian food for dinner….duh! 

So a small hiccup on our Cambodian holiday, but we managed to book a hotel for the extra night in Bangkok, push our Siem Reap reservation by one night, and find a new travel agent  “Mr. Thai” to book a new bus ticket.  “No problem Lady, I get you there one million percent”.  That sounded like an iron clad contract to us so we were back on track.

We waited in our new lobby at 7:00am on January 11th, and nothing was going to stop us now.  The bus came on time and picked us up with five other passengers and we were on our way to the Cambodian border.  The ride was pretty uneventful but we did meet an interesting Australian Muay Thai boxer named Steve who was also going to Siem Reap to fulfill his dream of seeing Angkor Wat.  He definitely made the time fly by with his funny stories and romantic talk about his new fiancée, who he had just proposed to four days earlier, and who had to return to Australia.  It was super sweet but you could tell he was lonely.   We were OK with being his girlfriend for the day. :)

After a few hours, as we approached the border the bus turned in at a roadside “restaurant” and we all got off. 

Now, after a long journey, a lot of information was being thrown at all of us by a friendly guy who spoke excellent English.   He motioned us to take a seat, and we did, as he handed us two blank visa applications.  By the time we had written down our names, we were alone.  And everyone we arrived with on the bus had disappeared on the back of a pickup truck (Songtao).  I guess we were special.  Lucky us.  We were told they were going to the ATM. 

Some background: a Cambodian visa is obtainable at this border crossing, and we knew this.  And we knew it should only be $20 USD.  However, we weren’t at the border.  We were at a restaurant.

After several uncomfortable minutes of negotiating with Mr. Roadside Restaurant, talking about money conversion rates, line bypasses, (and Steph being her usual battle-axe self ;), we were able to get our Cambodian visas through him for a reasonable ‘service’ premium over the official price (his opening price was $45 USD: we paid $35).

Although we were still ripped off, we felt a minor sense of accomplishment in getting the price down a little and in making Mr. Bordertown a little uncomfortable.  He definitely felt the wrath of Summerhill, gloves off and elbows high and justice for all.

It would become clear to us that in order to better put on the “hard sell” they simply separated us when it came time to process Cambodian visas.  We are weaker as individuals then all together – a smart tactic on their part.  However we ended up paying less than everyone else on our bus - score one for the Luciani’s! 

After our own Songtao ride to the border, we lined up to exit Thailand, and then a few hundred feet away we lined up again to enter Cambodia. 

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The space between was like a Western movie set, full of casinos, dust, vehicles of all kinds (both motorized and human-powered), except instead of horses, there were Hondas. 

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All told it took three hours to get through, but then we were greeted on the other side by some really funny Cambodian welcome wagons a.k.a. bus drivers.  We and our newfound friends all made it through around the same time, so we were off once again on a new (to us) rickety smoky bus.  There was no way this bus was going to make a four hour trek to Siem Reap so after five minutes, with Steve swearing and tired of the journey so far, we pulled over into the Poi Pet Bus Terminal where they transferred us onto a five star bus…haha…not really…just a non-smoking bus. 

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Our day was definitely out of the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  After twelve hours, rolling into Siem Reap we were sweaty and tired and ready for bed.  But alas even this bus was not destined for our hotel, and we were dropped off in the middle of a busy intersection next to a line of “free Tuk Tuks”.  By now we knew better, so we cut straight to the chase and paid our tuk tuk driver $3 to go straight to our hotel, the Golden Butterfly Villa.

What a day and what an adventure.  To be honest, we actually found the whole ordeal tons of fun and the hotel was the prize at the end, welcoming us with complimentary drinks, snacks and a complimentary massage on arrival.  For dinner, we went to Molly Malone’s to get our Miranda-recommended Greek Salad and French Onion Soup and went quickly to bed, dreaming about Angkor Wat in the days ahead (day 1 was today!).

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