Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Bus Ride From Hell, aka Siem Reap to Bangkok

Cows along the drive.
I would like begin with a summary of my bus ride from Siem Reap to Bangkok, using a quote by Leslie Knope: "I don't mean to be overdramatic, but today was like a hundred years in hell and the absolute worst day of my life."

I learned on this trip that if a bus trip is $20 and a plane is $150, always always always travel by plane.

I've been looking forward to writing this blog, so here we go!

I grabbed my stuff and checked out of my hostel. The bus was to pick us up at 7 AM at the Backpackers Hostel down the road from my hostel. I got dropped off at about 6:50. There was a large group of us waiting for the bus.

We waited for the bus.

And waited.

Finally, at about 7:40 someone came to us and said, "Come with me!"

He then had us walk around the corner for about 4 blocks, without once telling us if we were headed to the bus for Bangkok or not. He left us in front of a house and then wandered off.

We waited around some more until a bus finally came. At no point did they ever say, "Bus to Bangkok!" We had to ask when someone started wandering off with our bags and putting them on the bus. It was very strange.

We finally left about an hour later than we were supposed to leave.

On the bus from Siem Reap to the Cambodian border, we were on a nice, full-sized bus with no toilet. I was sitting with a Russian family.

The Russian father was continuously sniffing. But each time he sniffed, he sniffed three times.

Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause. Sniff-Sniff-Sniff. Pause.

For two hours.

I think you can sense that I might have been annoyed.

After 40 minutes on the bus, we made a 20 minute stop at a market nobody needed to go to since we had JUST left Siem Reap. I learned later that the markets and restaurants pay this specific bus company to stop the buses at their locations so tourists will buy things.

We drove a bit more and reached the Cambodia-Thailand Border. At this point, it should have been about 8:30 AM, but we didn't reach the border until almost 11am.

We filed off the bus. The bus company gave us stickers depending on where we were going when we got off the bus. While in line, I noticed the Russian man yelling at a man who'd grabbed his suitcases. The man was asking for money for moving his suitcase and the Russian man was yelling, "NO! YOU DID NOT EVEN MOVE MY SUITCASE!"

As I got my sticker, the company worker said to the rest of the people on the bus, "I am out of stickers. Wait 30 minutes so I can go buy more stickers." I was the last person to get my sticker before he announced this. I got off the bus, remembering the screaming man, so that when the same person tried to grab my suitcase and I grabbed it from him and continued to walking to the border control.

We had to walk a pretty considerable distance to get to the Cambodia border. You smash yourself into this tiny room and have to be really aggressive in order to move forward at all. You go through this giant line in order to exit Cambodia. They stamp you out of the country.

We then had to walk another mile to the Thai border in order to enter Thailand. We had to wait in the longest line ever to get to the three counters stamping billions of people into the country. The room was mildly air conditioned, meaning that occasionally there was a slight cool breeze.

I met a nice Swedish lady in line who had been on a visa run. She and her husband taught English in Chiang Mai. She and I chatted as the three people stamped hundreds and hundreds of peoples passports. She kept talking about how inefficient the system was at getting people through the border.

At least I wasn't waiting on the bus for 30 minutes, hoping the guy would come back to bring me a sticker.

We finally made it through passport control, walked through security which didn't even look at us as we entered the country. We then had to walk another mile to the pick up point. The company loaded us into, I kid you not, a very small covered pickup truck with 2 small benches in the back. It looked exactly like this:

I am absolutely and 100% not joking.

They smashed us into the truck with all our luggage. As we drove, I counted 14 people in the truck with all of our luggage. There were 5 of us squished onto each bench, with 4 people perched precariously at the back of the completely open to the air truck.

My immediate thought was, "And this is how I die. I get smashed into a tiny, benched truck, kidnapped and murdered. This is it."

We arrived at a small restaurant where we were told another bus would come pick us up in about 30 minutes. They said we should eat and use the bathroom because the next bus would not stop between the border and the 4 hour bus ride to Bangkok.

The bathroom was a shack with no running water, toilet paper or toilets. Just buckets.

I did not use it.

At this point, it was about 12:30 and they had initially told us we would arrive in Bangkok at 2PM. Clearly, that was not happening.

I sat at the restaurant with a couple from Regina, Saskatchewan. We ate pad thai, which ended up being delicious considering the squalor the restaurant was in. I had not intended to eat there, but we were trapped.

After our 30 minute wait for the bus, which was actually more than 2 hours, a mini bus arrived to take us to Bangkok.

By mini bus, I mean it was a 13 person van. They smashed 16 of us plus a driver into a van, with all of our luggage piled around us. There were about 40 people who had been on the bus, so I fought my way on to that van. I was NOT going to be left waiting even longer for the next van to come along.

This was my view in the van:

The luggage was surrounding me so fully in the second row of the van that my feet couldn't touch the ground. I was sitting next to the Swedish woman who was also completely surrounded by luggage. My knees were touching my chest until we reached Bangkok several hours later.

My suitcase was in the doorway and had to be held inside the van in order to close the door.



A different Russian couple was sharing a single seat in the front of the bus.

I found this picture online taken by someone who had used the same bus company I did:

That is a pretty accurate depiction of our bus situation, except I couldn't take a picture.

In case you are curious, the bus company is called Hang Tep Travel. Never, under any circumstances which include life or death situations that require bus travel, use this bus company. DO NOT DO IT!

And we were off to Bangkok. It was approximately 2:45 at this point, which was now officially after the time we were supposed to arrive in Bangkok.

The 4 hour non-stop drive stopped one hour into the van ride. We had to stop for gas. The gas station had a 7/11, It took more than 30 minutes to fill up the tank.

We then got back in the van. If someone who had been with me and seen this clip, I would have yelled, "We're back in the van!!!!"

People were in the back of the van yelling, "THIS IS INSANE!"

And the air conditioning wasn't working. AND MY FEET WERE STILL TOUCHING MY CHEST HOURS LATER. And I was sitting on the metal bar of the seat. It was horrific.

Hours and hours later, they finally dropped us off at "Khao San Road," which is a popular district. They told us it was Khao San Road.

It was not Khao San Road. Everyone who had been to or were living in Bangkok said we were very far away from that road. We all decided to share tuktuks to be safe. At almost 8PM, I finally made it to my hostel, when I should have been there at 2PM. I had estimated about 4PM, just in case there was a 2 hour delay... -_-. My 7 hour bus ride had turned into an almost 13 hour ordeal.

Dustin, who I was meeting in Bangkok, was sure that I had been kidnapped and murdered. I changed out of my not so nice smelling clothes, since I had been trapped in a van without air conditioning for 5 hours in a tropical country. We then headed to dinner, but I will continue that in another blog.

After my horrific experience, I decided to google the Hang Tep Travel company to see if I was alone in my experience. I was not. I should have been a lot more careful when researching travel between Siem Reap and Bangkok. Alas, I did not and suffered. But, I have definitely learned my lesson.

Some reviews about Hang Tep Travel include, but are not limited to:

"Overall, this was the worst journey we had in Southeast Asia."

I recommend this review

"Avoid Hong Tep company. I made this journey less than a week ago. We were eleven people for a 10 seat mini van. The driver promised it would only be 5 km and then we could transfer to a bigger bus, but we got on our way and then he just said we were going straight to the border in the mini van anyway. He added that there were many, many more tourists in Siem Reap and it was not his problem."

"I would strongly advise to stay away from Hong Tep bus company. My sister and I booked with them for the Siem Reap to Bangkok trip (leaving at 6:30am) and had a terrible experience. They overbooked, and did not have enough space in the minivan for all the passengers on the second leg from Aran to Bangkok. We were told to get out of the van and wait for the next van that was supposedly coming in 10 min (which was then changed to 20 min). Needless to say, we did not believe another van was coming for us. When we persisted and started asking why we were the only ones left to wait, the guy helping with the transfer pretended not to understand us and stopped speaking (although he seemed to understand English fine before this happened). After insisting that we needed to get on the first mini-van, they made another lady (a local) get out and managed to free half a seat by rearranging the luggage--which we had to hold back the entire trip as it was stacked so high. The ride was extremely uncomfortable for everyone--extremely tight with no leg room."

And, that my friends, is the end of that.

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