Mr ‘Why Not?’, our host with the most for our stay in Siem Reap, assured us that the bus company he recommended for transfers was the bee’s knees – he worked in the transport industry before getting into hospitality. Having enjoyed our time there it felt almost as golden a recommendation as one from Mr Robbie K. We took it without question. This proved a mistake though one we were always bound to make.
The first sign that something was amiss was the shed on wheels that pulled up outside the guesthouse. As they loaded the bags through the back-side window murmurs around the bus suggested that this was surely just transport to a main Siem Reap hub where we’d board the – haha –‘VIP’ bus. We settled onto our broken seats and patiently waited.
After rambling around side-streets for longer than we would’ve liked we exited Siem Reap and realised this was the bus for the long haul. Oh well, at least if it’s a reputable company the border crossing will be smooth.
Dumped at the border and pointed in the general direction of a queue – a large queue I might add. We shuffled over like packhorses in the blistering heat. What followed was four hours across the midday sun with scant occasional shelter waiting in queues with no information or organisation. Colin was unwell with Delhi Belly, Fi had a swollen ankle, and we were collectively bewildered at how badly something so simple could be done.
When we eventually made it through the gauntlet for our ‘big VIP bus’ we found it had shrunk to a classic ‘minibus for people without luggage. I love these because never in the history of border transfers has anybody using this service ever, ever travelled without luggage. Oh, wait, no, I don’t love these at all…
In less than five minutes we were dumped on the sidewalk again for a ‘break’. At no point were we given any information beyond ‘wait here’ and we had to painstakingly attempt to retain the non-stick sticker with a marker pen number scrawled on it as this was, as it always is, our only connection to the service we’re supposed to be on. Stricken with the heat we consumed over-priced drinks & ice creams much to the delight of our latest hosts before being bundled into another minibus for the long journey to Bangkok.
In fairness the minibus was reasonably comfortable, the a/c worked and it dropped us close to Khao San Road, leaving us only a 5 minute walk from the digs we’d booked.
While they weren’t up to the usual high standards of Rob’s recommendations [we had a couple of roaches for company] they were serviceable for our needs. We reckon Rob & Gilly had a refurbished room on a higher floor but it had A/C and flushing lav which we’ve not always been blessed with.
After the hellish day it was beer o’clock with a vengeance. We wandered local, ate average and drank plenty. Col & I stayed up for the footy while the ladies crashed and Col introduced me to a card game of reflexes and quick thinking which I inevitably lost every time. It was a very nice way to end a very long day.
Day broke and we trotted out for more Bhat and familiarisation with the local area. We found a Boots – I’m ashamed to say I felt a mix of unexpected joy and nostalgia within its air-conditioned aisles of familiar goods. The simplicity of acquiring all the bits and bats we needed was nice – it wore off after 5 minutes though.
We’d already had our included breakfast so it was straight over to the Grand Palace. On our way there a kind old university lecturer regaled us with the delights that Bangkok had to offer and was on hand to helpfully inform us that the Grand Palace was closed until 2pm but not to worry as there was plenty more to see! Why, here’s a Tuk-Tuk right now – how convenient! – ready to take us all over Bangkok.
Well I’m sorry you charlatan sod but we’ve got the measure of you and I think we’ll continue to the Grand Palace anyway [it was more of a kind ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ to his face but we were all thinking the former].
As we trotted off his protestations turned nasty, reprimanding us for our stupidity. 5 minutes later we arrived at a distinctly open Grand Palace – the legendary Russ Wicks has a favoured moniker for people like that old fella – he deserved it tattooed to his forehead.
I loved the Grand Palace. The word ostentatious was invented to describe it [not strictly true]. Everywhere you looked was colour, pattern, intricacy, symmetry, vibrancy and madness.
We put a fair few hours in wandering through the place. Colin’s illness took its toll by the end and he opted for a return to bed while we moved on to the next place. We traversed a street market of trinkets and I advanced my bartering skills for a couple of pieces.
Next up – Wat Pho. Well, because we wanted to really [terrible I know; someone ought to give me Wat Pho – OH! AGAIN! INSCRUTABLE! Too long around Rob…]. This place was similarly grand with a huge indoor reclining Buddha as its highlight. Think Fi got a snap of it that does it justice.
With the beautiful heat once gain beating down on us we meandered back to the pad via a poor attempt at acquiring sustenance at 7-eleven [I gave my food to a homeless chap]. My MP3 Player had died – a disaster of biblical proportions – so while the ladies looked into tours to Ayutthaya I hit the electronics mall at the other side of town. Flagrant disregard for finances saw me acquire an Ipod Touch – for a good price – which has since proved very useful on the web too.
Fi & V sorted not only Ayutthaya but also onward travel immediately afterward to Kanchanaburi, our next destination.
In the late evening we ventured to the infamous Khao San Road in search of food and a potential crossover with Jas and Ang. For the uninitiated, Khao San Road is Bangkok’s attempt at eeking out every last Bhat and offering everything a tourist / backpacker could want in one place. Naturally it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I appreciated the craziness of it. I’m sure it would get old quickly though.
With Colin still suffering we went for simple Western fare and ended up in a strange hybrid of steakhouse / nightclub / bar / burger bar. The food was good enough but the venue was a bit of a disaster.
I struggled in vain to find free Wi-Fi traversing the whole length of Khao San Road as I tried to get in touch with Jas and Ang to arrange a meeting spot. By the time we actually made contact we’d crashed back at the hotel – I’m sure we’ll cross paths again in the future though.