From our last stop in Cambodia, Battambang, we took a bus with Capitol Tours Bus to Bangkok (USD 13 per person). It was an epic 8h journey. We were picked up at our hotel at 7:45 am and by 8:20am we were already on our third bus. We switched from the pick up bus to the bus that drove us to the actual bus. It was quite confusing, but it all worked in its own way. The ride from Battambang to Saophoan was Khmer style, bumpy with a lot of honking and Khmer karaoke on the bus (this one even had the words in latin alphabet for foreigners).
Upon arrival in Saophoan, we got out of the bus and were directed to wait until our next bus arrived. Now, on the fourth bus of the journey (more of a minivan style) we took off to the Poipet border with Thailand. On the bus there were two other couples, one from Switzerland and another one from England. It was a short ride until the border, when our driver stopped the bus, handed us our luggage and wished us good luck. All of us looked at each other, shrugged, and walked towards the border (we’ve all been on the road long enough that we weren’t fazed). On the Cambodian side of the border, we stamped out and headed towards the Thailand side. One interesting thing we noticed was that after the Cambodian border and before the Thai border, there were a bunch of hotels and a lot of people around – are they considered to be in no particular country?
We filled out the arrival card and joined the line at the immigration counter, as we observed this Khmer guy being yelled at by the immigration officer and sent back to Cambodia. I didn’t know what he said, but it wasn’t pretty. Fortunately, everybody on our bus got through without problems and we were on Thai soil – no visas or fees required, woohoo! Here was where we needed luck. We had to find our next bus to Bangkok, and all we had were ID tags on our shirts so the staff from the bus company could find us. The problem was that there were a ton of people, minivans, buses around and our ID tags were only in Khmer/Thai.
I went around asking people and showing the ID tag in hopes of finding some information that could be useful. After wandering around for at least 20 minutes, somebody called us and told us to wait at the corner of the street. I wasn’t very convinced and went to the tourist police station nearby, who confirmed the guy’s instructions. After another 20 minutes of waiting, we were finally directed to our next bus, that would depart in an hour. We took that opportunity to have lunch at the nearby 7-Eleven (they’re back! and with a vengeance) to have lunch and cool down in the AC.
When the hour was up, we boarded the bus (our fifth bus of the day) for Bangkok. I haven’t been on a bus that drove above 60 km/h in a while – it has been so long that it felt kind of dangerous, but it was also amazing because we will get to Bangkok so much faster. Both Julie and I slept for most of that ride and we woke up already in the outskirts of Bangkok. We got dropped off near Khao San Road in the city center. It was a long day but we made it!
Our first impressions of Thailand:
The infrastructure was way better than Cambodia or Vietnam. We actually drove on the paved, multi-lane highways. This will make traveling between cities so much easier and shorten trip durations drastically.
Accommodations were not as cheap as we had expected or were used to previously. Maybe it was just Bangkok which is a big tourist hub. Maybe it was the beginning of peak season in SE Asia (mid-November). It was a struggle to find a decent place that didn’t break the bank.
7-Elevens were even more ubiquitous than in Taiwan. I foresee many, many, many visits to 7-Eleven, because you can find, buy, and do absolutely everything there.
The King of Thailand was omnipresent. Posters, banners, billboards, bills… you name it, Bhumibol (King Rama IX) was on it. Vietnam heavily featured Ho Chi Minh, Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk / Norodom Sihamoni, but Thailand took it to another level. Vietnam and Cambodia had the same photo everywhere. We saw Bhumibol in a variety of settings throughout his life.
Food was amazing. It was super easy to find food. Every side street and street corner were packed with street food vendors, especially near Khao San Road. And for unbeatable prices! After the mediocre food in Cambodia, Thailand is going to fill our stomachs in the likes of Vietnam and Taiwan.
We plan on visiting Thailand quite a few times during this year because it’s a major hub in SE Asia and neither of us need visas. For this first visit, we will focus on northern Thailand, beginning with Bangkok and heading up into the historical regions of early Thai kingdoms.