Back in Bangkok

Fri, 23 May 2008 08:42:36 +0000

Leaving Vientiane Index Bangkok to Siem Reap

I had one more day in Bangkok, which I was supposed to spend preparing for the journey to Siem Reap in Cambodia. However, the more I read about the border crossing in Wikitravel, the worse it sounded.

You have to take a bus to Poipet, which apparently is a nightmare of scams and corruption. The best plan is to stay at the border overnight, because otherwise you end up racing to get to Siem Reap at a reasonable time. Then the immigration officials take advantage of your hurry to extract extra cash from you, while the bus drivers take the opportunity to try to railroad you into the guesthouses with whom they have deals on the side. It's to everyone's advantage to make you as late as possible, and since they're always in control of the situation, they inevitably succeed. It just didn't sound like much fun.

One thing which helps enormously is to use Cambodia's rather marvellous e-visa system, in which you bypass the corrupt border guards by just doing the whole thing over the Internet with a credit card. Except you need to do it three working days in advance, and I'd forgotten all about it. Damn.

My only other alternative is just to fly direct from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and as I say, the more I read, the more insane it seemed to do anything else. It turns out that it's not so expensive, about EUR 130. So I booked that.

Well, I say "I booked that". In fact that process took a stupid amount of time. The usual Internet cafe was mysteriously closed. I had to go and scavange some wifi from a coffee shop at a nearby shopping mall. Of course, Bangkok Airways wanted a credit card. But HSBC seems to have implemented some extra layer of security: on certain websites I get redirected to a "verified by visa" thing before I can complete the transaction. But it fails, without saying why. Just "We are sorry - there was an error. Please submit your information again." This kind of thing drives me insane - entering the same information again clearly isn't going to improve matters, so why the hell would a programmer create an error message that can only waste users' time? It's full of things like that, instructions that tell you to click on buttons that don't exist on the webpage, instructions that are designed for a completely different webpage, and widgets that just don't work. Layers and layers of unnecessary complexity that make it impossible to get anything done.

I tried my Lufthansa visa card, but Bangkok Airways doesn't accept that at all, again without explanation, but at least it doesn't suggest trying again. So I resorted to doing it over the phone: once I'd fought my way through the website to find an actual phone number. And it turns out that when you make a reservation over the phone, you don't even need a credit card: you just pay at the ticket counter when you turn up to the airport. The entire process took less than a minute. It never fails to amaze me how much easier life becomes if you just turn off the Internet.

I intended to do one piece of touristing with the day, which was visit the national museum. Apparently it's not all that great, but it was something to do. It's up near the temples with all the other tourist attractions. I really should have got a hostel up at the Khaosan road instead of in Sukhumvit, it would have made life a lot easier. As it is, I need to take the skytrain, change at Siam, then take the ferry, which is extremely slow, up to the old city. Bangkok was always notorious for its appalling traffic congestion, and clearly the authorities have had some success at fixing this problem by building the skytrain and the metro. But their focus has been on shuttling people around the shopping and business districts, while the tourist district seems a little neglected. It's the right way to prioritise things, but I found it pretty frustrating.

This is especially true since the national museum turned out to be closed today. Bugger. So I had no option but to turn around and do the process in reverse. It seemed to be a particularly hot and humid day, and even though the ferry is open to the air, there doesn't seem to be any circulation. So I was horribly sweaty by the time I managed to get back to the hostel and some kind of air-conditioning. All in all, not a very fun day at all.

However, one thing did go well: Jean-Michel arrived back from France today. Despite his jet-lag, we arranged to meet up for dinner at the food court at the Paragon shopping centre (which is near where I'm staying). I haven't seen Jean-Michel since leaving Amazon, so we had a lot to catch up on. It was good to hear the perspective of someone who lives in Bangkok, rather than just being a tourist. It'll be even more interesting to compare notes once I've completed my course in Beijing. We kept talking until they started closing up the shopping centre at what I consider the ludicrously early time of 10:00. But then, Jean-Michel really needed to get some rest. Some people work for a living, whereas I have nothing to do until my flight at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon.

Leaving Vientiane Index Bangkok to Siem Reap