Friday, 19 April 2013

... Indochina: Hindsight is 20/20

You know that saying "if I knew then what I know now I would......"? Well I think I can safely say I would apply it to the Cambodian-Thai land crossing at Poipet-Aranya Prathet. This is apparently the busiest land border crossing between the two countries. This is primarily because it is the most direct route to Siem Reap/Angkor Wat but also a bunch of Casinos have popped up in Poipet and Thai's apparently flock to them in droves. It took me almost 3 hours to reach Poipet but thankfully the Cambodian border formalities were swift and hassle-free.

"Sweet!" I foolishly believed the hard part was over.

Then came the Thai border. I walked over the Friendship bridge already feeling the sweat pouring down my back. It had to get better. Right?

Yeah no. This was where it all unraveled. My first duty, once I figured it out no thanks to the lack of signage, was to grab an arrival/departure card with a number stamped on it and begin the queuing process. Outside. In the searing heat. The queue didn't actually seem all that long and consisted of 3 lines for various types of passport. Yet it took me a good half an hour to actually get under some shade which was less than 10 steps away from where I began queuing. Once under the shade, which appeared to be made from old large green rice bags, I may have been out of the sun but I most certainly wasn't out of the heat. Yet I didn't dare drink a drop of water. Needing the bathroom at any point during this ordeal was not something I wanted to give up my spot for. I didn't even dare look at the 1.5L bottle I had let alone drink from it, certainly not with my thimble-sized bladder. I wasn't even in the building that was so near & yet so far and presumably where immigration was actually housed.

About every 15 minutes or so the doors ahead opened and about 10-15 people were let in. This was not from each line at once however but from one at a time. I couldn't believe it. I hope you have an idea of how painstakingly time consuming it was. The clock moved painfully slow and I took my rucksacks off my back and front to ease up the weight on my body. My back, much to the disgust of the person behind me, had the sweaty imprint of my larger backpack through my tshirt. Lovely.

I'm not sure what the stamped number signified whatsoever. Previously as the queue would progress you were chosen to go into the Immigration hall based on that stamped number. Today however it appeared to be a free-for-all. Specifically if you are British the lack of queuing etiquette will make your blood boil, although that of course could be due to the heat. So with this seemingly obsolete number I was incredibly perplexed to see people who had stood in the queue for 2+ hrs get sent back to the end of the line because it wasn't stamped. I reckon that when I finally got into the Immigration hall that the queue behind me was at least 5+ hours long!

Once you actually get to enter the hall you queue yet again. Oh joy! Thankfully this process was a darn sight quicker and I was through that portion in about 30 minutes. Why the heck this process takes so long your guess is as good as mine. But finally, the worst part was over. Despite the signage every where advising you, in the Harry Potter font no less, of the death penalty for any drug paraphernalia Customs was pretty much non-existent. A woman, who looked like she would rather be getting a manicure or something, waved me through without batting an eyelid. That is when she could be bothered to look up from her phone. That entire ordeal took around 3 hours to move a couple of 100 metres at most. I then had the joy of traveling for another 4+ hours including through peak hour Bangkok traffic... in what, perhaps rather appropriately, appeared to be the "PMS-mobile"! I had been on the road for over 10 hours.

Ironically I had been looking at Siem Reap - Bangkok flights the night before for $150USD.....

If I knew then what I know now......

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