Friday 23rd August: Bangkok to Siem Reap
Train Ticket: Train TB48 bought at the ticket office at Bangkok Hua Lamphong on the day.
Train Scheduled Actual departure/arrival: 05:55 to 11:55
Train Actual departure/arrival: 05:57 to 11:57
Taxi took the scheduled 2 hours and cost US$48
An early start mixed with a couple too many beers watching cricket the night before meant a frantic and hung over rush to the station. However I clambered aboard clutching my cold bottles of water on time. I noticed later the train was made up of a mix of carriages, all offering slightly different seating, from reclining armchair to hard benches. I got the hard chairs but big open windows.
Today I would be crossing over into Cambodia, the only country without a functioning railway system on my trip. So I would be relying on automobiles to get me across to Saigon. An Australian company Toll Holdings has been given the contract to rebuild or rehabilitate the railway lines which fell into disrepair after the c.ivil war. This will complete the Trans Asian Railway network, meaning direct rail travel between China and Singapore.
The train departed Bangkok, slowing crawling out of the city, in the shadow of an expressway overhead. Stopping regularly to pick up commuters and school kids starting their days. As with most commuter trains it was pretty quiet on board with people engrossed in a newspaper or catching a couple more minutes shut-eye. The train was soon full and I realised my mistake of picking a seat which wouldn’t have offered much leg room to 9-year-old Thai school boy.
After about 90 minutes we had got out of the Bangkok suburbs to rural Thailand. Everything was so green whether it be a paddy field or jungle, there was every-shade of green on offer. The train continued to stop regularly, sometimes just slowing to let people hop off or on at the tiny stations. These just consisted of a sign and a bus stop like shelter.
The train stopped at Kabin Buri and picked up 100+ Thai women with their remaining produce after spending the morning at the market. One of the older ladies surprised me as I was gazing out of the window. “Excuse me, can you help with my baskets? Oh and if that seat is free save it for me.” I was not expecting a request delivered in perfect English.
She had lived in England for about 7 years and ” left on the day Windsor castle was burning”. With her husband she had lived in counties all round the world, but when he passed away she moved back to where she grew up. She joins the other women on a daily commute from their homes in the villages to the morning market in Kabin Buri ,with a lot of the ladies going back again for the evening market.
We continued our stop and start journey to end of the line at Aranyapratyet, about 4 miles from the border. As you as you step off the train you are accosted by Tuk Tuk drivers to help you with the trip down the dusty road.
Poipet is the border town and has a very negative reputation. Quite rightly too, it’s a strange and unusual place without any redeeming features. The whole setup is to extract as much cash out of tourists crossing the border as possible. A bit of prior research explains the scams that happen with military organisation.
First up, before you leave the Thai side your tuk tuk driver will take you to an official looking building say Cambodian Visa where tourists are ushered in, with the touts telling people “visa on arrival not possible” then charging 3 to 4 times the correct rate. Ignore them.
Once out of Thailand, you move across a bridge and get to the office where the visas are issued, at US$20 a pop. However, the real immigration officers have their own scam going, with a sign saying 100 baht processing fee. Say no and you face a long wait as your passport will not leave the bottom of the pile. Pay them.
Then after passing numerous huge casino’s, you get through to Cambodia proper to face the transport monopoly. Tourists are herded on to a free bus by people “volunteering for the government” driven to an out-of-town bus depot where the inflated prices are fixed with no way back to any competition. Accept it.
Still on the plus side the road from the border to Siem Reap has been improved massively. I did the same route about 10 years ago and still have nightmares about the torturous 8 hours sitting in a tin oven on a sack of rice. So this time I treated myself to a taxi and an American couple jumped in to share the cost. After a quite pleasant 2 hours we arrived at the massively developed Siem Reap.