Border Crossing

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The difficulty in crossing from Thailand to Cambodia overland is no secret in the travel community. A quick online search will reveal horror stories about border scams, buses that deliver people to the wrong place, and offices that produce fake or overpriced entry visas.

The online travel pros recommended we leave on the 5:55am train bound eastward towards the border at Poipet. The idea sounded terrible to us- we’d cashed in hard earned credit card points for our Bangkok hotel and had no interest in leaving the comfort of our spacious room in the early hours of the morning. We opted for a slightly more risky 9:30am government bus, and were prepared to pay a little extra to take a cab to the bus station. The plan failed. Always trust the travel pros.

We set off to the bus station with 40 minutes to spare. The first taxi driver agreed to take us to the northern bus terminal for a price more than 6 times the going rate. Then he refused to turn on the taxi meter. We tried the same negotiation at the next taxi, and then the next. Failure. We walked to the main road and gave the whole scene another try. I think we talked to 12 different taxis, not one would turn on their meter for us. Never underestimate Bangkok, it always has the upper hand.

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We took the sky train to the northernmost stop, and then transferred to a taxi who delivered us to the bus station by way of Siberia. What was supposed to be a 1km cab ride took 20 minutes. We missed our bus.

The next bus available was through a private company- known for making stops constantly throughout the route. We would be arriving late at the border, but there was no choice in this matter. With time to spare in the bus station, we took turns buying sweet Thai style tea from the station’s 7-Eleven…an activity that surprisingly offered quite a lot of entertainment.

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It was after 4 when we got to the border. The touts and scammers were in full force and the whole area was accessorized by a thick storm of perpetual pouring rain. The bus dropped us off in front of a glass door that read ‘Cambodia Visa’. 15 men surrounded us–suffocating and insistent, telling us we could walk no further without a visa. Scam. Dave and I faked interest in a nearby market and narrowly escaped their clutches.

Drenched and lost, the border finally presented itself to us. An hour later, we were stamped out of Thailand and were awaiting visas in an office that seemed anything but genuine. We kept looking at each other with a questioning gaze. We were appropriately border-crazed: trusting no one, questioning every decision, and wondering what was next.

The remaining hours of daylight brought with it some final blows. A scammer dressed as a government authority tried to trick us into his transport service. The encounter ended in an aggressive conversation, and I am pretty sure I was called a few very inappropriate names in Cambodian. We held our own, finding trust in our instincts even when we felt lost.

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Calm always follows chaos. As dusk set in, we were safely riding in the back of a Toyota Camry bound for Siem Reap. The green fields blanketed the entire horizon, water buffalo wandered rice fields, and thatched huts dotted the landscape. The afternoon’s stresses started to fade as we navigated the long bumpy road. Ahead of us was the much anticipated Kingdom of Cambodia– a country that would soon reenergize our souls and take a firm grasp on our hearts.

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