This video shows our departure from the Hualamphong Train Station in Bangkok, Thailand. The train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet in Eastern Thailand at the Cambodian border leaves early in the morning (before the sun rises–at 05:55). It’s a very basic train, with no air conditioning (which is probably why it leaves so early in the morning…we arrived just before it got “intolerably” hot on the train), and hard-ish chairs. But overall, we liked our train experience in Thailand and would do it again. We arrived from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet at 11:20 AM. The total cost of the trip for all three of us was something like $12 USD.
There is no train service in Cambodia, so you can take a train from Bangkok to the border town of Aranyaprathet, but then from there, you have to cross the border on foot, get on a shuttle bus that will take you to a taxi station, and then you can take a taxi the rest of the way to Siem Reap, Cambodia from there. The process is relatively simple in theory: Train-Foot-Shuttle Bus-Taxi…in practice, walking through the dusty, sign-less streets in the heat and humidity, it seems much more confusing.
For us, the most difficult part of the border crossing in Cambodia was the combination of oppressive heat and humidity, heavy bags, and red tape. On account of the Cambodian holocaust that systematically killed off all the most intelligent people in the country back in the mid to late 1970’s, it’s hard to find talented border crossing agents behind the counters who can or will give a straight answer about what you need to do to get a Cambodian visa. There’s a lot of chaos when the train arrives at Aranyaprathet and everyone disembarks and makes their way toward the buildings that seem like the most likely place where one might get a visa (it’s anybody’s guess though–there are no signs and no one willing to give directions). Things aren’t well-marked and the Cambodians at the border aren’t that friendly.
When we finally stumbled into the hot and stuffy little room where visas were being granted, several long lines snaked back into the streets outside. We made it to the little window with a Cambodian agent and he told us that we needed PHOTO COPIES OF OUR PASSPORTS in order to get a Cambodian visa. We’d read and studied the forums and government information about getting a visa in Cambodia and had either neglected to see the photocopy requirement, or it was something “made-up” by this particular border agent just-for-us. So Lydian and I shuffled over to the side with our pile of backpacks while John headed out into the borderlands to find either a photocopier or a place with an Internet connection and a printer.
Our in the wild, John first found a Cambodian man who offered to take him on his moped to a “friend’s house” to photocopy our passports. He declined the offer and kept looking. In time, he found an Internet cafe. Inside he fired up his computer and sent himself an email with digital images of our passports attached. Luckily, the Internet cafe had a printer too. This whole process took at least half an hour and Lydian and I were starting to get pretty worried by the time he finally arrived back at the visa office, his pants dusty, his hair matted with sweat. We got back in line. Another 30 minutes later, we had our Cambodian visas and we were ready to move on to the next step of the border crossing routine.
Luckily, there were some expats making a border run from Thailand (they have to leave the country every 90 days to renew their visas) who helped us find the shuttle bus. It was just a regular bus, which confused us initially because our plan was to shuttle and then take a taxi to Siem Reap. The shuttle bus itself, once we got seated way in the back, was hot, stuffy, and downright claustrophobic without air conditioning and with all the people packed into it in that hot climate. And by the time we got to the shuttle, we weren’t in good humor anymore. We were at that emotional place where we were beginning to wonder if Siem Reap really existed or if it was even remotely possible for us to make it there. It was a kind of a “f*ck this place” sort of moment.
But we did make it to Siem Reap. Within the hour, we’d made it to the taxi station and then we were in a taxi listening to crappy techno music from the 80’s, Lydian doing a finger dance as we watched the mostly barren landscape pass by outside the window. The taxi was air conditioned, thankfully, though I would guess that that’s not something you can always count on in Cambodia.