I am beat. Defeated. Vanquished. Scubbed. Hooped.
Yesterday afternoon we left Chiang Mai (posts on that to follow), taking the early sleeper train down to Bangkok to catch a bus to Cambodia. We were a little apprehensive as there was only a two hour window between train arrival and bus departure and Thai trains are far from punctual – taking the estimated journey time and adding 20% is usually a safe bet. However we were in luck, arriving a mere 30 minutes late on a 15 hour journey so our flagging spirits were somewhat buoyed when we trudged into the station at 6am.
Good start, can it keep up like this? Can it fuck.
Things took a nosedive when our guide collected us and a few fellow travellers to our vehicle – luxury coach we’d been promised, “big, big bus, very nice” – a standard fucking minivan of the type we usually catch to Khanom. Hmm, okay. At least they’re not cramming people in like sardines, we have a whole seat each.
Then we arrived at the ‘border’. Alarm bells should have started going off when they took us instead to a little food stand a few km shy of Cambodia. Em told me not to accept this. The internet told me not to accept this. But we had tickets from a professional tour organisation, what could go wrong? Fucking everything and a half.
It started with the charges. 1,000 baht for the visa we’d been told before but no, it’s now 1,300 with a 200 baht ‘photo surcharge’. Cunts. Okay, we paid it though, just wanted to get to our destination. We’d specifically asked where the bus would drop us off in our target town of Siem Reap and were told it would be downtown.
Oh no, say these jokers. Can’t go downtown any more, too many tourists now, have to go to the bus station out of town then take a long tuk-tuk ride. It’s been that way for months apparently. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
And there’s more. There have been lots of floods the past few days, the roads are covered with water so the bus is taking ages. 8 or 9 hours as opposed to the mere 2 or 3 a taxi would take. Well there was certainly a lot of flooding in the border town and none of us could even contemplate another 9 hours travelling at this point.
How much for a taxi then? Oh, well you’ve paid for the bus already so we’ll give you a special rate, 400 baht each, it’s normally 700. Fuck it, we’ll do it. Cue a conversation between another random traveller and a taxi driver 30 mins later revealing the standard price to be 400 baht and open to negotiation. They’ve already got our money. Cunts.
And you know what? One small flooded piece of road and the bus could easily have made it in 3 hours. TO take 9 it would have to average 32kph on clear open roads.
Lying. Fucking. Cunts.
But hey, we were on the road and now we know better for the way back. We swing into a taxi place in Siem Reap. Woah, wait – a taxi place? They said the taxi would take us right to our hostel! So I started telling the driver no, we’re not getting out here and not paying any more money, sick to death of all their bullshit. No sooner did I wind up the rant than a smiling fellow popped his head in to allay my fears – just get in a tuk-tuk and we’ll take you where you’re going, no charge, you’ve paid already.
Phew, finally a break. Smiley’s guesthouse please.
“Smiley’s? Which, there are two.”
“Erm, I don’t know, I only have the name.”
“Well there’s the cheap one or the other one which is a big hotel, very expensive and far from town.”
“Ahh, okay, it’s the cheap one then.”
And off we rode. To some completely random guesthouse called Angkor West which had fuck all to do with Smiley’s. Obviously the staff had plenty derogatory to say about our real destination – it’s no good, it’s far away, it used to be nice but now it’s bad – but we stuck our ground. No more to be huckled I grabbed their computer, loaded up Smiley’s website and said “There. Now.” Disgruntled, the owner instructed our driver to take us where we were meant to be going in the first place.
Or so we fucking thought.
Not, we were headed for Smiling Hotel, a 4-star job on the outskirts of town. Thankfully the staff there were exceedingly friendly and helpful as I’d demanded that our driver wait while we get directions. Five minutes later we pulled up outside the real Smiley’s, saw the more-than-adequate rooms and I picked up the laptop to write this.
I’m annoyed. I thought I was better than that, too jaded and suspicious to be taken in by this kind of bullshit but no – hook, line and fucking sinker. To be fair they got us at aa weak ebb – tired, travel-weary after Surat -> Bangkok -> Ayutthaya -> Chiang Mai -> Bangkok and desperate for rest. Still, it rankles me that I’m now one of the stories I read about online before setting off on this trip. Although, as those stories will attest, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.
Bit of advice before signing off. If you’re in Thailand avoid using SK Tours for anything. Their accommodation is fine and dandy but their tour services use all kinds of rip-off merchants. Also stay away from the Angkor West hostel in Siem Reap seeing as they resort to these dirty tricks to get customers.
Time for a stiff drink, ciao for now 🙂