Scammy / Day 3 of 63 / May 12
We were up even before the sun could touch our faces. At 4am in the morning, we grabbed our things and boarded a Grab to Bangkok Railway Station [สถานีรถไฟกรุงเทพ, Sthani rthfi krungtheph], also known as Hua Lamphong Railway Station [สถานีหัวลำโพง, Sthani hawlaphong], for our 5.50am train to Aranyaprathet (SRT 275, buy at Bangkok Railway Station, 48 THB/2 SGD/pax). The first leg of our journey to Siem Reap.
At the station, we bought our tickets. We also bought some pastries for the ride and Ryan got some coffee which I conveniently spilt.
A gruesome six-hour ride soon ensued. Seats with 90-degree backs, tight legroom preventing any leg stretching, and the sweltering Thai countryside heat made the journey feel doubly as long. We couldn’t alight for a rest as the service to Aranyaprathet ran only twice a day. The next service in the afternoon would arrive at the border only after the border was closed for the day. Somehow, we survived the train ride and made it to Aranyaprathet in one piece.
Now, here are some of Ryan’s Life Tips 101 on how to not get scammed: Reject all tuk-tuk offers, appear shady, and approach when they least expect, so as to, in his words, “catch them off guard to change the dynamics”.
Well, either way, we boarded a relatively “cheap” tuk-tuk to get to the Thai-Cambodian border (Tuk-tuk, in front of Aranyaprathet Railway Station, 100 THB/4 SGD/pax). After passing Thai passport control, we arrived at this weird border town with casinos and recreational facilities: Poi Pet, Cambodia on one side, and Aranyaprathet, Thailand on the other, with gambling heaven right in the middle.
It was absolute chaos. Floods of people passing through the border area and tuk-tuk drivers trying to drag you into their vehicles. But the trouble was only just beginning. Immediately after we cleared Cambodian immigration, we were guided by an English speaking “government” tourist guide that led us and several other tourists to a bus stop to grab our shuttle to the Poi Pet Bus Terminal. At the bus terminal, we decided to grab a taxi to Siem Reap (Taxi, in front of Poipet Bus Terminal, 48 USD/64 SGD/pax) since the bus was only expected to leave three hours later. It was expensive, even by Singaporean standards, but as there were two of us, it came up to 24 USD per person. We wanted to share the cost with two Polish backpackers, but they had already bought their 10 USD bus tickets.
I tried to befriend the guide by asking how he was and we made general small talk. His name was John, and he began telling us about his story, and how he travelled to Poi Pet from the countryside to work to support a family of eight. He followed up with how many tourists have given him outstanding reviews, some of whom have even cried because they were so moved when he drove them around for free. All in the name of being a good Buddhist he said.
But it was hard to tell the truths from the lies when he was constantly pushing us to go to a hotel he recommended, instead of the one we’ve booked as it had been “demolished”. We got a little sceptical and started Googling what was up. Turns out, it’s a common scam for these “guides” to convince you that your hotel is “closed”, so they can redirect you to a hotel which will give them a cut of your fee. And the scams don’t end there. At the Cambodian border area, these “guides” have a transport monopoly. They’ll bring tourists to the bus terminal, and convince them to choose a bus to Siem Reap as it’s cheaper. The bus the Polish couple had tickets for. But, this bus not only departs only when it’s full, but it also includes unannounced stops along the way at various restaurants and tourist traps that pay these “guides” for bringing them customers. If your aim is to get to Siem Reap as direct as possible, choose the “Camry taxi” instead. At 48 USD, it was really expensive, but it saves you many hours compared to the bus on what should be a quick two-hour journey.
When we finally reached Siem Reap, we boarded a tuk-tuk from the Siem Reap Bus Station, which is where the taxis usually stop. The tuk-tuk brought us to our hotel, the Owl Inn (20 SGD/night), and we checked into our room.
After checking in, we were famished, having not eaten since we left Bangkok. We decided to head out for a much-deserved dinner. We took a short walk through Pub Street and we settled for some authentic Khmer food. One of the things I learnt from our sneaky little “tourist guide” was what local cuisines we should try. So we got some Amok fish, chicken curry, and Khmer style soup. It was a pretty good meal overall. Khmer food tastes like a fusion between the savouriness of Thai food and the “minty-ness” of Vietnamese cuisine. Makes sense, since Cambodia is in between these two countries.
We decided to rest early tonight and we watched half a season of End of the F***ing World before crashing for the night.