Overland from Siem Reap to Bangkok could’ve been worse. I’d read all kinds of disturbing stories about how bad the roads were and what sort of scum lurk around Poipet, a filthy Cambodian border town regarded by many to be the armpit of Asia. I don’t like spending time in armpits so I planned carefully. Not wanting to deal with a six-hour nightmare in a crammed minibus, I splurged and hired a taxi for the 3-4 hour drive to Poipet. The driver (I think he called himself Mr. P) showed up at the guesthouse promptly at 7:30 in one of those ubiquitous white Camry. Having traveled from Siem Reap to Sisophon a couple months ago I had an idea of what I was in for.
The rutted dirt road was so comically bad and Mr. P so completely wild that it was actually a thrilling experience. He was determined to get to Poipet in under 3 hours and wasn’t about to let giant trucks and some epic road construction slow him down. When we hit bottlenecks he’d constantly probe the smallest gaps in traffic. Mr. P’s favorite (and most effective) tactic was to lurch the Camry into oncoming traffic, then onto the left shoulder and fly past the slower traffic, scattering road workers and motos. We made good time. The road became saner after Sisophon, but things slowed down about 25km outside Poipet.
Heavy rains the night before turned Route 6 into a churning mud soup. Mr. P was much more careful dealing with this stretch of highway.
Poipet was a weird and confusing and awful place, and thankfully I spent all of ten minutes there. I wish I had more photos from there, but it wasn’t the kind of place one should wave a camera about. Our arrival was delayed briefly when a naked man meandered down the main drag and stepped in front of the Camry. I asked Mr. P about this but he seemed as perplexed as I was. The locals didn’t seem to care at all, and the man resumed his naked wandering.
Mr. P dropped me off in a traffic circle near the border where I paid and thanked him. I spotted the Cambodian passport control booth and took a spot in line behind some German backpackers. Touts worked the line trying to get people to pay some ridiculous amount for a so-called VIP bus to Bangkok, but we knew their game and ignored them. I got my stamp and walked down a wide boulevard towards the Thai border. Passport control here took about 20 minutes and then I was in Thailand. As soon as I stepped outside a dozen street kids with umbrellas swarmed around me trying to shield me from a light drizzle. I waved all but one tenacious girl away who insisted I needed protection from the rain. I relented. I also had no idea where to go next. I knew I needed to take a tuk tuk to the Aranyaprathet government bus depot, but directions were unclear and I didn’t see any tuk tuks around. I let the girl lead me in what I hoped was the right direction. My obvious indecision was like blood in the water for the VIP bus touts who bombarded me with “special offers” and “great deals” on transport to Bangkok. I paid the girl whatever token riels I had in my pocket and ducked into a bank to change money. It was pouring when I emerged. When I asked a tout how to get to the bus depot he (very reluctantly and with much head-shaking) pointed me in the direction of the tuk tuks. 80 baht and 2km later I was sitting in a small terminal waiting for the 1:30 bus to Bangkok.
The 5-hour trip was mostly smooth and uneventful, with one exception. About a half hour after departing Aranyaprathet the bus stopped and a Thai soldier boarded. He inspected the IDs of all Asian passengers and asked the driver some questions. Apparently satisfied, he left and we resumed our journey. As soon as the bus was underway the door to the toilet burst open and a family of six Cambodians tumbled out. As with the naked man, this didn’t seem to faze anyone. I, on the other hand, was very much fazed. I wasn’t so much shocked at the presence of illegal immigrant stowaways but the fact that six people could pack into a lavatory of that size. They spent the rest of the trip sitting quietly in the back as I pondered this feat of contortionism.
Door-to-door the trip took just over 11 hours. Not bad.