Saturday, April 30, 2016

"What now?"

Our days at Koh Kood were unfortunately over, but we were also looking forward to our next destinations. And the most immediate one would be Cambodia and Siem Reap. After some research online and by reading our guide, we saw that it would be quite difficult to do that transition in only one day due to transportation links and how the borders work. The most widely used border-crossing is the one that goes through Poipet, but it is also the one with the worst reputation. Adding to frequent long hours of waiting in line to exit Thailand and enter Cambodia, there are numerous recounts of schams that, apparently, are now the norm.

So our plan when we left the island was to get to Chanthaburi (still in Thailand) and sleep there, get the early morning bus to Battambang in Cambodia and cross the border at Pailin saving us the stress of the scham-driven Poipet. That would make us stay in Battambang another night (which seemed a nice place to visit, anyway) and this would mean use two full days to reach Siem Reap. But that was the plan and we had made our peace with it!

When we get to mainland to the pier of Liem Sok, we border the transfer truck that would take us to Trat's bus station where we could buy the ticket to Chanthaburi. On that same truck borders a French couple that, we realise, has exactly the same plan (go to Siem Reap through Pailin), and they told us that there was a way that we could get to Battambang that day! That was great! We had both found nice travel companions and, probably, saved one day!

When we arrived to Trat we went to the Bus counter and apparently there was a way to reach Cambodia through our desired route that same day! We were so happy! We get the details of the costs and the stops in a few minutes (stop at a city after Chanthaburi and switch to another bus that will go to the border; buy the other ticket later!). Fair enough! And the bus left in 15 minutes which gave us just enough time to get some take-away lunch. In no time we were showing the ticket to the first bus to the driver. This was where we started to think that maybe we should have payed more attention to the details. And the detail (little!) was that neither of the 4 of us remembered the name of the stop! "Bo something?, It's the one after Chanthaburi!". That was our best description. We told the driver it was the one that would connect us to the bus to Pailin. But his English was as good as our Thai! "Oh well, this is going to be fun!" I thought as we boarded the bus with still no clear answer.

On the whole trip that took roughly more than two hours, I kept looking at the road signs. Before we stopped at Chanthaburi, everything was okay as our stop was after that one. Afterwards, my eyes became glued to the side of the road hoping to see a name (written in English!) that would remind me of the other one. Eventually one did (I actually don't remember this name either, now - the nights had been quite short in the previous nights and my memory was/is suffering!) and as the kms decreased I felt increasingly nervous. Around the time when we must have reached the possible stop, the driver comes to us and signals us that we should leave the bus. "Is this our stop? Stop to Pailin?" we asked, but still no understanding signs from him. We got out, as our bags were removed from the bus. In two seconds the bus is back on the move and we are on the side of the road with no idea where we are. Not in a bus station, for sure. We turn back and we were in a gas station! With no buses! We stare at each other with a "What now?" look in all our faces!

We start to ask everyone around where we could go but it was even difficult to explain that we wanted a bus to get to Pailin border. Understand what they were telling us in Thai was borderline impossible. What we understood is that no one had a clue of a bus nearby. Oh no!

Eventually the guys tried asking a lady that had a stall at the side of the road "Bus, Pailin?", "Pailin? Cambodia?". And she did look like she knew about something that could help us!! A small miracle. When the four of us are with her she is talking to us non-stop but we can't understand a word. She makes the universal sign to wait and she calls someone (maybe she wasn't even calling anyone because of us, I don't know). After a few minutes a military-type truck comes by and stops in front of us and two guys that were sitting nearby get up and go in! We start to get our things to go and ask the driver if he is going to Pailin (maybe this was the scheme!). But the lady tells us to stand still (again, with gestures). So we wait. We had no idea how long we had to wait. But that was our only option at that point so we waited! After 10 minutes (maybe) another truck comes by and our savior lady (as I like to call her) waves to it and tells us to go inside. We confirm again with the lady and the passengers "Pailin?", they consent so we go inside. We are so stunned by everything (and still a bit in shock) that we realise only when we are moving again that no one had thank the lady that had helped us (so, savior lady from the unknown place after Chanthaburi, a big thank you from the 4 of us!).

At the end, the truck drive was slightly more expensive than what was told us in Trat, and I wouldn't call this a bus (it was actually a similar truck to the ones that did the transfer from the Pier earlier that day), but we ended up getting to the border that had absolutely no lines and no-one tried to scham us and after crossing the Cambodian border we got a taxi that took us directly to 2 minutes away from the place we were going to stay.

So, in practice, everything happened as told back in Trat and was way better than what we had planned early that morning. Apart from the small panic attack we all felt for about 20 minutes! But if it wasn't for these stories, this blog wouldn't be this fun! ;)

In our way to the border

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