Heading to Cambodia. Easier said than done.
Ban Bang Boet Lang, Thailand
Leaving Mem's Place was sad indeed, as she confirmed upon leaving that she considered all her tenants her sons and daughters, and gave us a big hug before we left. The only picture I have of her is pouring rum into our buckets before the party, but I will always remember that woman fondly.
Anyway, as we would come to realize over the next two months, it would always be time to move on once you met a good group of people, became accustomed in any way to the country's language, currency, or lifestyle. It was wise to learn early on that nothing stayed familiar for long. We hopped into a taxi, which was part of the 33 dollar combo that would combine with a ferry, bus, and overnight train, totaling about 20 hours of travel back to Bangkok. This was only the start of our journey, however, as we would arrive in the country's capital and immediately start our journey to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Beginning with the ferry, though, we joined another group of budget travelers on the side of the boat, which measured about a foot wide, with nothing but a one bar railing about even with our chests holding us from sleepily tumbling into the ocean below. Ah well, tis the life of a backpacker, I guess.
We dozed off during the surprisingly smooth ride to Surat Thani, which took about 2 hours. Here, we caught a bus which took us into the city, where we'd catch our first experience with sleeper transportation - the 14 hour train ride back to Bangkok. We could have taken the plane directly there, which would have taken us an hour, but also wouldve cost us about 120-140 dollars more. And where's the fun in that? So train it was. Despite the almost 5 hour delay, causing us to leave not at 4 but 9:30, we eventually made it onto the train, and immediately passed out in our bunk beds. With fans that most likely hadn't been changed since 1950 screwed on the ceiling, and curtains that looked about as ancient, we settled down for a long journey, with no real idea of when and how we'd exit the train on time. Despite a few panic attacks of mine throughout the middle of the night, (which weren't unwarranted - vendors and conductors were constantly yelling out in Thai about various stops and food for sale) - we did eventually get off on time. The train was unlike any experience I'd ever had though. We were kicked out of our 'beds' at promptly 8:30, which then folded up and out into chairs, where we sat for the remainder. The windows actually folded down, as the train traveled at maaaaaaaaaaybe 40 mph through the countryside of Thailand. A toddler boy next to me leaned halfway out the window of a moving train, while his mom watched him amused nearby. This is another thing we hadn't realized quite yet - the stark contrast between American parenting, and SE Asia parenting. I'll hit more on this when we get to Cambodia and....motorcycles.
Arriving in Bangkok, we managed to find the subway. One thing I remember on the subway was hearing one of the subway stops, called "Nana." I kind of laughed, listening to the mechanical voice say, "NA NA." ... (I was exhausted, alright?) But these two Asian girls near me laughed at the exact same thing, repeating "NA NA" to each other. I just thought it was awesome how sometimes, a weird sense of humor translates.
So, we thought we had managed to arrive at what we thought was the bus station, but turned out to.... not be. Somehow, as we stumbled through conversation with workers at the bus stop we were at, another English couple standing nearby had been listening intently to our struggles. We finally turned to them and asked if they spoke English, which they did. They were, in fact, looking for the same bus we were. In short, we had to make it to the border city of Arranyaprathet of Thailand, to then cross over to Cambodia at Poi Pet, in order to make it to the border crossing before 8pm. It was already about 12:30. Finally, through some grace of God and a chance understanding, a city bus arrived that supposedly took us to the bus station. Costing us 8 baht (about 37 cents) we miraculously got off at the right stop, and walked over to the bus station, where we bought our tickets on the last bus that left for Arranyaprathet for the day, a half hour after we arrived. I'll sum up the rest of the day by saying we sped through Thailand and arrived in town at around 7:30 - 30 minutes before the border closed and we were still about 7km away. A tuk tuk fit all 4 of us in (the English couple, Jimmy and Mali, and Carlee and I) and got us there with about 15 minutes to spare. We sprinted through, and with only one scare of an official telling us Cambodia was closed for the night, we made it through. We got charged a little extra on our visa, but who were we to question it? We didn't want to be stuck in limbo, so we reluctantly parted with the questionable extra 100 baht charge, and jumped into the first illegal and unlicensed taxi we could find, once we agreed upon a flat rate of 50 dollars to take us the remainder of the way to Siem Reap. Carlee and I had now been traveling for 36 hrs straight (28 hours of that on some sort of public transit,) without a break, and split between the 4 of us, 12 dollars to travel almost 2.5 hours did not seem like a bad deal. We rolled into the Green Town Guesthouse at about 10:30 pm that night, and for 5 dollars a night, who could argue with that? The following two days we had sights to see, and we were eager to get to bed. Not before, however, we had our first Angkor beer to celebrate most likely being the last foreigners to stumble into the beautiful country of Cambodia.