15 April 2003 - Siem Reap
How not to travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap

There are three ways to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap. The most obvious, and the most comfortable, is to fly. Flights are not cheap, though, costing USD100 upwards. The other way is to make it on your own, by taking a train to the border and then hiring a taxi from the Cambodian side onwards. The third way is to take a bus. The bus seemed the most convenient, all-in package, so that's the one I went for.

Firstly, note tht it's less than 500km between Bangkok and Siem Reap. Driving non-stop, you should be able to make it in about half a day. The advertisements say that you should make Siem Reap by 6-7pm, when it is still daylight enough for you to find a place to stay.

But, it doesn't quite work that way. Let's say that there is a chain that stretches from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and that the chain begins when you pay for your bus ticket and ends somewhere in Siem Reap. The people who operate the buses try to maximise the number of opportunities along the chain that they can can extract money from.

The most obvious point to do so, at the beginning, is where they don't take any money at all. The tickets are advertised cheap, and they are the lure to reel in the unsuspecting. Everything is well until just before the border. You then stop, while they arrange your visa for you. Firstly, they stop for two hours, which seems to be an uncomfortably long time to get a visa. Secondly, they charge 1200THB for a visa, which should cost around USD20 (about 800THB). If a van takes ten people, then that's ten times USD10, which is a sweet USD100, just like that.

Of course, because you're stopping for a few hours, you buy food to eat. I bet any amount of money that the rest stop pays the bus company a cut.

OK, after that you cross the border, and everything is done in immigration, and all is hunky dory. Except that the bus journey from the border is a slow one, where many, many rest and toilet stops are made. We had three, but I'm sure they could have made up a few more. Each place has food to eat and drinks to drink, of course.

The whole point of this is that you don't reach Siem Reap until 8 or 9pm, when it's dark. And the bus conveniently stops in front of a guest house down a dark lane. If even a few decide, "well, enough's enough, I catching some sleep", then that guesthouse makes money from you for the place you stay, and for the food you eat. And they'll probably get something for arranging your tours, and for the bus ride back to Bangkok. The chain just keeps getting longer.

Of course, I didn't stay at the guest house it stopped at, and it took me maybe another hour to find a place to stay, but at USD3 per night, I ain't complaining!


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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