We flew back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, another short 50 minute flight. We arranged a flight directly from there to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Having heard so much about the ruins we were very excited see them. We were also very nervous, after all this was Cambodia. Or Rambo land as my brother referred to it!
It’s a quick flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap, it took us only 40 minutes. We were actually served a meal on this short flight. We had just started into the food when the pilot announced we would soon be descending for Siem Reap airport. We barely got to touch it before it got collected. It was quite hot and humid when we arrived. The mosquitoes we were warned about were already present in the airport. The sad thing about this short flight is the price. It costs $300 for a return ticket from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Our 50 minute flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai only cost $100 return. Apparently there is only one airline that flies into Siem Reap so they can charge whatever they want.
THE SCAM BUS
The other option of getting to Siem Reap is the bus. The bus is well known to people and even referred to in Lonely Planet as the scam bus. The scamming starts as you get near the border. The bus employees tell you that 1200 baht needs to be paid now for your Cambodia visa fee. It is of course a scam and you will have to pay a fee again when you get to the border. Even if you got your visa in advance they will tell you it is not valid and you need to pay again. If you refuse they say fine, you can sit and wait for hours at the border for your paperwork to be processed. We have heard stories of people having to spend the whole day there. We have also heard of the bus dumping people off before getting to the border. They have been kicked off the nice bus they payed for and reloaded onto a bus hardly road worthy.
There is debate whether another part of the scam is the bus driver going as slowly as possible from the border to Siem Reap. This assures you arrive in the dark, sometimes even in the middle of the night. Then they take you to the guest house of their choice where they get a commission for bringing you. Of course you are not going to want to search for another place in the middle of the night. If you do try and leave the guest house it will cause a great commotion. In defense of the driver, the road is so bad that they would have to drive pretty slow on it. It does seem strange that some people have made it in half the time of others though.
The road up to the border of Thailand and Cambodia is okay, but once you cross over it turns ugly. We have been told you will need a back massage to try and help alleviate your aches once you arrive. The story is that there is some kind of arrangement between the airline and the government or whoever owns the road. They are paid to “not” fix it so that more people will fly at the ridiculous price the airline charges for the short flight.
Just to confirm how bad this bus trip experience is…….we had travelers go ahead of us on the bus to Siem Reap. They were very budget conscious and did not want to pay the ridiculous airfare. After contacting them and asking how bad the bus really was, they said if they had it to do over again, they would pay the airfare in a heartbeat!
We had also been warned about the hotel touts waiting outside the airport exit. Even having a hotel pre-booked will not guarantee you will be taken to it. Some places tell you if you find the driver that is supposed to be taking you to your hotel, call the manager of the hotel to ensure it is the correct driver.
We didn’t have any accommodation booked in advance, we rarely have the entire trip. We like to look at places first. As well we don’t really plan ahead as to when we are leaving or even where we are going for that matter. This isn’t the best situation for arriving at Siem Reap airport. There are no phones at the airport. We were trapped, we would have to go outside and be prey to the dozens of taxi drivers waiting there. We approached the open doorway to take a look. They were like vultures just waiting for you to step outside. They weren’t allowed to cross into the airport. So it was like we had immunity as long as we remained inside.
I approached a lady in the small souvenir stall in the airport to ask if there was a phone anywhere we could use. She said no, but I could use her cell phone. I have done this before and then been asked to pay a ridiculous price afterward. She said no she didn’t want any money, it was okay. Maybe Cambodia won’t be so bad after all.
I called a guest house we had spotted in the Lonely Planet. The guy said he would have someone pick us up at the airport, but it would be about half an hour. I then spelled out my name several times for him when the phone cut off. We didn’t know if we should call back or not. We decided to wait. We sat over on one of the 4 chairs that were provided in the entire airport!!! The vultures glared in at us, wondering why we were not coming outside. I think it was driving them crazy! Jack had to keep going near them to see if a driver was coming for us. If we went outside we would not be allowed back in.
After a half hour with no one showing up we called the guest house again. I asked if someone was coming for us. Oh you want someone to come get you at the airport, he said. Obviously something got lost in translation the first time. We found out lost in translation would be a common issue here. He promised someone would come this time within half an hour.
After about 20 minutes we decided we better go outside so we could see the driver coming for us. The vultures began their attack immediately. Where are you going? What place are you staying? Why don’t you tell me? We just kept smiling and saying we had someone coming for us. We hoped! Finally a young man with a sign that said Tarnell appeared. Tarnell, close enough to Parnell, I guess that must be us, lol! We were a bit surprised as he led us to our transport. Everyone else was being picked up in cars or minivans. We were getting a ride in Cambodia’s form of a tuk tuk! They are a motorcycle with a 2 wheeled covered wagon attached to the back. Our bags and ourselves barely fit in. Going down the highways was a bit nerve racking to say the least, but hey travel is all about the adventure!