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Archive for June, 2011

Thailand Long Road Taxi

Getting from Koh Chang Island in Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia is no easy task. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s not easy. There are many ways to do it. The trick is to pick the way that fits your preferred style of travel AND results in the least amount of $ leaving your pocket unwillingly along the way. Your options include any and all of the following individually or in combination with each other:

  • Minivan
  • Bus
  • Private Taxi
  • Plane

Minivan and bus options can include lots of scams along the way. Most of these involve trying to get the foreign tourists to pay hefty visa fees at the border or sell them things they don’t need. Given all that we had heard and how far we had to travel (around 280 km total), we opted for the private taxi option. We also had very good help per navigating the border in Aranyaprathet (Thailand)/Poipet (Cambodia) and a driver meeting us there. So, all we had to do was to safely navigate the 150ish kilometers from our bungalow in Koh Chang to the Thai border.

I knew we were in for a time when we walked out of our lodge and our taxi was there with its hood up. Record disconcerting item #1. But, we felt (no choice really) that we were in good hands so proceeded to the car. The driver’s door opened and out spilled a spiky-haired, earphone trailing kid of about 20 (or less) that did not speak a word of English. Record disconcerting item #2. Luckily, our lodge host spoke Thai and could facilitate the placement of our bags in the back and our butts in the seats of the small car. Close the hood, close the doors, and we were off.

Our driver (never did get his name) drove very carefully down the 1-mile off-road section from Baan Rim Nam Guesthouse to the main road. Our first task was to stop at an ATM and procure the requisite payment for our trip as we had run out of Baht (Thai cash) the day before. Don’t let the commercials fool you…Visa is NOT everywhere you want it to be…at least not in Thailand! But, I digress. Back to the drive. Given that our driver did not speak English and I was not convinced he understood we needed to stop and I could not simply say to him, “please pull over at the nearest teller machine”, I resorted to shouting over and over the letters “ATM, ATM” and gesticulating wildly at every one that we passed. He did get the message, we stopped, withdrew, and proceeded onward.

As we made our way around the island, I noticed that our driver (ok, I’ll call him Thim which is kind of Thai for Tim since I don’t know his name) was driving very slowly. Koh Chang has a lot of steep hills and I was wondering if we would make it up some of them. Near the top of the first hill and as he made a slight left, a decent amount of water disgorged itself onto my feet in the front seat of the car. “Ohhh”, I heard from Thim. “It’s ok!” I replied shaking off my shoes. “No problem”.

Thim had picked us up early to make the earlier ferry but I knew at this speed we would not make it. Sure enough, as we pulled into the ferry station, the boat was just leaving. Thim pulled the car into line and we waited for the next boat.

It was about this time that I really began to look at the car. I could not see the odometer, but I could see that every single indicator was on…the check engine light, the gas light, the oil light…everything. The dashboard was a veritable control panel of bright and flashing lights none of which seemed to phase Thim in the least. As we sat there with our engine running and the gas gauge moving closer to empty, I mistakenly tried to initiate a conversation. “It’s ok to turn off the car and save gas”, I said. He looked at me and I repeated myself. He looked at me again and said, “Where you go?” Thinking he was asking where we would end up, I said, “Siem Reap”. Oh, I had said wayyy too much and now had called into question not just my sanity but the location of our destination with him. He quickly pulled out his phone, dialed a number, and handed to me.

I proceeded to engage in a conversation, even though it was in English,  in which neither I nor the person on the other end knew why we were talking to each other. After returning the phone to Thim, he called someone else and again handed me the phone. This time, the person asked if we were going to Aranyaprathet to which I responded yes. He laughed and I gave the phone back to Thim.

Now that our destination was understood by all parties, I stopped trying to talk to Thim and we waited patiently for the ferry. I might mention that during this whole exchange my wing-man, Sian, was happily ensconced in the back seat listening to her book on tape…oblivious to the scene that had unfolded before her.

The ferry ride proceeded without a hitch. We disembarked and headed on our way…BUT, we made a quick stop just on the mainland to interact with an English speaking guy who instructed me to pay our driver the arranged amount. Hesitant to pay before arrival, I reluctantly withdrew the 2800 Baht from my pocket. We had paid a 700 Baht deposit already in advance for a total of 3500 Baht.

Money in hand, I thought that Thim would proceed directly to the first gas station. Alas, this was not the case. As we headed out onto the road I realized we were headed for Chantiburi (the next town) and would probably not stop for gas until we got there (30 Km). Seemed like a “fur piece” as we used to say in Arkansas as I was sure our gas would be gone way before then.

Once on the two lane road, Thim’s Indy 500 driving ambitions came roaring to front and center. Gone was the gentle boy that drove carefully up and down hills and around corners on Koh Chang. In his place…some Thai version of Mario Andretti headed toward the finish line. As his speed zoomed up toward 140 kilometers per hour, I could only hang on for dear life as my body swayed back and forth and the air conditioner spewed water all over my feet at every turn. I was actually afraid to go to sleep but I might mention that my wing-man, Sian, slept soundly through the entire race and when she wasn’t laying down snoring she was up looking around sleepily and listening to her book on tape.

I must say that given an average speed of nearly 100 kph, the distance we had to cover passed very quickly. We made a few stops…gas (thank goodness) …toilet …coffee…and one vendor selling little flower wreaths to hang on the rearview mirror. Thim bought one of these in a town we passed through then proceeded to fold his hands in front of his chest and say a little chant and prayer. Hopefully he was praying for long life and no traffic accidents given his driving behavior.

At one point, I recognized that Thim was falling asleep. Even if you don’t speak the same language, the signs of sleepy driving are impossible to miss. Funny…here I was afraid to sleep and the crazy driver was falling asleep! Not a good thing when you are traveling at break neck speeds, tailgating, and passing on blind corners.

We eventually made it to the Thai border. Unfortunately, Thim felt obligated to drop us at an office of his friends that sold those fake, expensive Visas we were warned about. They met us at the car and tried to explain that we had to go inside this office and buy special visas. Luckily, we were aware of this scam and proceeded to ignore them and be on our way. No tip for a driver that delivers us into the hands of visa fakers!!

At any rate, we made it and hooked up with our connection on the Cambodia side with no trouble. A nice, pleasant, slow taxi ride from Poipet (the Cambodia side of the border) to Siem Reap was followed by a long nap at the hotel. Glad to make it in one piece, we began to plan our time in Siem Reap.

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