So after an overnight bus from Chiang Rai and a mega-long line at the Bangkok bus station, we left the city on another bus at 215pm to ride 5 hrs in an attempt to cross into Cambodia before the border closed at 8. As the bus chundered along, I lost hope of getting in the same day. I figured we’d just get a guesthouse on the Thai side and go in tomorrow.
Eventually, the bus pulled into the station at, Aryanprathet, the end of the line. Or was it the end? It’s always a little hard to tell. I got off to check and was immediately met by a woman with an orange vest, more or less, shouting, “Bus finish! You go here for border crossing!”, pointing to a taxi. I have this rule about not doing the first thing that presents itself, especially if it’s presented in a super, urgent, “This has to be done RIGHT NOW!” way. There were about 40 people getting off the bus, some sitting in it, some standing collecting their luggage on the side where I was. Rob was still inside. So I got back on and conferred with him. What so you think? Is this the end of the line? If so, why are these people still sitting in here? There were a bunch of Cambodian people in the bus, sitting quietly-only about 15 left. We agreed we’d wait it out and ride it to the end.
So the bus starts off and winds back onto the main road, still heading in the direction of the border, which was another 6km according to my calculations. Rob and I looked at each other and the clock. 730. So you think we could actually make it across tonight?
See, these crossings have lines, forms, and fees. You have to go through the Thai exit process where there’s a line and then walk about 1/4 mile across the border and apply for the Cambodian visa, which would take time too. Then after that, it’s the line to get into Cambodia. To get that all done in less than 30 minutes seemed virtually impossible. But, what the heck? Worse case scenario, we get a Tuk Tuk back to a guest house in Aryanprathet and cross first thing in the morning.
So the bus pulls into another place with guards and police. They board the bus with intensity demanding to see passports. The officer goes one by one telling every Cambodian to get off the bus and herds them into a small building, leaving Rob and I alone. Rob looks at me and says, “Who knows how long this will take.” I just said, “There’s no way I’m giving these guys any money.” We each had the $20 in US cash ready for the Cambodian visa, but things aren’t what they seem. Just because there is a policeman shouting that you must give him $20 or $40 or 1000 Baht or whatever for an “official Cambodian visa fee” doesn’t mean he has anything to do with immigration or your visa. You have to just politely say, “no thank you” and keep pressing forward.
All of a sudden, the Cambodian people started coming back onto the bus and down the road we went. Now it’s about 740pm. I had to go to the bathroom really bad. I thought, “I AM hitting a toilet before we start battling through this process even if it’s in the bushes on the dark side of the bus.” Turns out, the last stop was near a bathroom, so in I went. 745pm. The feeling gets more and more stressful as time passes. It’s like you’re in trouble for something, knowing full well that you could be shut down at any time, but why not just keep going? We could actually make it in tonight. I’ve been through this crossing before at high noon where it’s over 100 degrees with people everywhere-a total nightmare. Here we were almost running along in the dark without the people or the hot sun. It felt like there was a force pushing us along. We shot through Thai immigration in about 2 minutes, walked the distance between, and had our passports on the rail filling out the Cambodian visa applications about 2 minutes after that.
The guards were in such a hurry to close, I was only half-way through filling out my paper and an officer grabbed it from me demanding the $20 plus 100Baht for who knows what. We knew these were the right guys, so we complied. It was a total frenzy in there-about 12 guards working on just our 2 passports. Another 2 minutes went by and we were almost sprinting to get the stamp and get in. The clock said 801pm. Needless to say, we were standing on Cambodian soil by 805pm. What a miracle.. Sometimes it’s easier not to know what’s coming… or exactly when I guess. Either way, I know we’re supposed to be here. Thank God for doing all the work.