Well, the price was right. Nobody showed up to get me at eight o'clock, so the hotel manager made a call. Twenty minutes later a tuk-tuk showed up to get me to the bus, and a harried-looking young Cambodian woman in business casual took my name and money and helped me stick my luggage in the cargo compartment. The seat I'd reserved was taken, so I sat in the very back of the bus near the lavatory, which suited me just fine. We pulled out of Siem Reap at 8:20 (twenty minutes late). "Looks like this company couldn't find its ass with two hands and a flashlight," I wrote in my journal.
Matters improved by 10:45, when we hit Poipet. The Thai-Cambodian border was one of the few things about the trip I'd been dreading. I'd heard that Poipet was about as seedy as Cambodia gets, with scammers and four-flushers and pickpockets on every street and around every corner. Worse yet were the rumored passport scams and false visa sellers. Our faithful bus crew spared us that hassle. They steered us dauntlessly through the milling crowd of Thais, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Laotians, Indians, and Chinese at the border, lined us all up in neat rows in front of the actual, factual visa office, and then led us down a kilometer of dusty road, through a series of impressive gates, and over a bridge (which the Brits had paid for and the Thais had built) and into Thailand proper. I was one of the first of the bus passengers through, so I had to wait around in the hot, breezy, overcast day on the much cleaner Thai side for everyone else to pass through. I remember having to pee very badly as I watched heavy trucks loaded with manufactured goods and timber lumber to and fro along the unpaved road and across the border.
After a microwave lunch aboard the bus, I began to nod off. We breezed through eastern Thailand, which was far cleaner, better kept, and spacier than Cambodia had been. Landscaped medians lined the highways and there wasn't a single piece of garbage in sight. The skinny Brahman cows had disappeared, as had the hammocks; now we saw neat condominiums and farmhouses with green and well-tended rice fields beside them. The only evidence of the coup was the occasional roadblock, where a uniformed military policeman with a crisp camouflage uniform and a pistol at his hip would clamber aboard, give us all a hard look, and then wave the bus onward. I have no idea what the purpose of these roadblocks was. Security? Searching for fugitive insurgents? Keeping tabs on the movements of people around the countryside? I suppose I'll never know, because I was soon distracted by our arrival in Bangkok.
The place was huge. It took us 30-40 minutes to get from the city's eastern limits to the northern bus terminal. On a highway. The skyline was quite impressive, too: whereas most cities are just a cluster of skyscrapers surrounded by squatter suburbs, Bangkok seemed to be an unending sea of four- and five-story buildings with the occasional impressive spire of a high-rise thrusting up out of it, some of them so far away from the center of town that they were barely visible in the thin blue haze.
At the northern terminal I leaped off the bus, grabbed my pack out of the storage compartment, and tried to get ahead of the press for taxicabs. Fortunately there were enough hot pink cabs outside the station gates to ferry a convention downtown. One brown, skinny, middle-aged gent with a baseball cap and a polo shirt, whose license card proclaimed him to be a Mr. Senkham, snatched me up and led me to his car. I could barely understand his friendly questions ("You from Rob Angelit?"). I dumped my stuff in the back seat and climbed into the front. With his crooked teeth showing, Senkham handed me his rate card. Yep, Thailand was definitely a richer country than Vietnam or Cambodia: a simple ride into town would be 1200 baht, or nearly $40 American. My jaw hit the floor. Even the Skyliner from Narita Airport to Ueno Station in Tokyo didn't cost that much. My hand clamped down on the door handle and I was about to bail out when Mr. Senkham said "No better rate, boss. All standard."
It didn't even occur to me to argue or haggle. Tired and bedraggled and just wanting to get to Bangkok already, I closed the door and nodded my head in defeat. Off we went. Forty minutes and forty dollars later, I was standing outside of my hostel, Boxpackers. Mr. Senkham happily took my money and rocketed off. I didn't have enough Thai baht, so I gave him forty U.S. dollars. I didn't tip him, but since 1200 baht was $38.72 in July of 2014, he got a tip and he knew it.
I had to fill out some silly questionnaire and a thousand other forms at the front desk, but then I got my key and headed upstairs.
I climbed into my surprisingly spacious cubicle, closed the curtain, updated my journals, remembered that I was thirsty and hungry and went back downstairs and around the corner to the 7-11 for some water and snacks, and then came back upstairs and went to bed.
The next day would prove to be a very aggravating day...with an unexpected reward at the end. Stay tuned.