November, 2009 browsing by month


Khmertrip – Stage 1: Pathum to Poipet

Monday, November 30th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind



The idea for this trip was born on Muang Ake Vista golf course in Pathum Thani, Thailand. Where Stefan and I were battling it out in immense heat. The game was tied after day 6. Seeking shelter from a monsoon storm on day 7, we got rained out and the course closed for the day. We both were a little tired of golfing (happens rarely!) and were drinking a bit in a watering hole, waiting for the course service with an electric cart to pick us up. I told Stefan about my recent trips to Cambodia and he grinned back widely.

It was always a dream for him to go there and experience that mystic, war torn country!

At that point in time, we didn’t exactly expect ourself to be sitting in a long haul government bus that same afternoon to the Cambodian border. We grabbed 2 old oversized black duffelbags and hit the road just after lunch at my house in Pathum Thani. The 4 o’clock afternoon bus did arrive there in Aranyaprathet just after 9 P.M. hours due to some heavy traffic and a punctured tire. We knew chances to cross were slim as can be, but we tried it and rented the services of a TukTuk at Aranyaprathet bus terminal to the border.

We arrived at the border post just after 22:00 hours, and they had just closed. The immigration dudes were already gone and “Black Sherrifs of the Special Border Police” made it no secret with their wielded machine guns, that trespassing might be hazardous to our heath and well being.

A nicer officer didn’t mind to pose for us crazy guys at all, right at the border we weren’t to cross before early morning tomorrow.

We slept that night in Aranyaprathet for 300 Baht air-conditioned at a local low budget hotel, which doubled as a “Shorttime-Hotel” for the many girls across the street from a noisy karaoke-parlor and their male sponsors.

We grabbed a good nights sleep, the last night in Thailand for a while, but by the first daylight, we were again hauling ourselves to the border. This time, we choose the local version of a stretched limo and we invited a Khmer girl to join us for the ride, she was working in Thailand somewhere and returning home for a family visit.

The ride was not too far, but definitively too far to walk. A good estimate would be around 5 KM distance.

The stretched limo owner was a bit hard to haggle with, but our Khmerlady was a natural born haggler. Real Khmers do beat even Jewish bankers or Armenian carpet dealers in this trade!

We arrived at the famed border market, which is called “Thalaad Rom Klau” here, Stefan decided to “upgrade” his garments with a set of Khmer headscarves and an old camouflaged BDU pants from an army-surplus dealer. My own fatigues proved so practical, he wanted to try it also.

In Cambodia, it is almost imperative to look like a “have-not-backpacker”, it saves you 50 % of the beggars and gets you the local’s prices in eateries and such. Stefan’s designer-label pants made it from here without any further usage back home again! What good white colored shirts are for in a dusty country, well he found that out too pretty quick.

Absolutely unreal, what kind of vehicles the traders use here! The even use them as public transport for people within the huge market.

My generous offer to Stefan to haul him the last half mile to Cambodia for a few six-packs of Diet Coke (and a bottle of booze) couldn’t really entice him. Khmer (that means Cambodian citizens) use these pushcarts to haul up to 12 people plus their cargoes!

Heavy pushcart traffic with immense loads between these countries are seen frequently.

We made it! Due to limited space in my passport, a 10 $ bakschisch convinced the officer to stick the new Visa over an older stamped Laos one to preserve my last free page in it.

Holy smokes, but besides the ever present pushcarts, this country appeared at first glimpse even more advanced than Thailand! This is untrue, but the casino owners love me for having said that

But that’s a common mistake. Just the casinos for wealthy gamblers in the zone between the actual borders were of some style and designed decently, the real Cambodia starts at the roundabout right after this.

Loads in your duffles need to be secured well from here, they were known to slice backpacks with razorblades here to steal some things of you and worse.

Myself with that infamous roundabout behind me. Here you need to repel touts of the worst variety for any further transport needs. Needless to say, nobody really wants to stay in sleaze-city Cambodia; and the mafia-style gouge every transport provider with hefty surcharges to use “their” roads and territory. Doubling the fares seemed a normality here for years, because of that. Other tricks and scams are well known here, lots of tourists come through here per day.

Getting out of Poipet is everyones top priority here, the smell, the dust, the beggars and those touts make a mix that makes one feeling uncomfortable. Stefan and I got finally rid of the notorious touts and that alone gave us the breath and courage to go on. If the Cambodian Government is serious about their tourism, they need to control these gangsters here in a much more efficient way! One rightfully can speak of Poipet as the a..hole of the country.

The loads hauled into Cambodia are plenty of food items, pushcarts must hold above half a metric ton or the equivalent of a pickup-truck.

Stay tuned for Stage 2 of this report (Poipet to Battambang), to follow soon here in SIAMPEDIA.

SRT – Thailand’s State Railway – 3rd class seater

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind


Thailand’s rail system offers with the cheap 3rd class a ticket to all, which is very economical. Roughly 300 Baht will get you to any place the rails are laid out to. The ride is as quick or slow as in any “better” class. But third does have some other features too, which may interest the filming or photographing tourists and passengers. We’ll go through this step by step to explain this issue in detail.

Firstly, third class isn’t as uncomfortable as some think it may be, the seats on the routes north and south are of the upholstered variety. 2 people can easily travel for a 100 Baht bill from Bangkok to Pattaya or even to the Cambodian border in Aranyaprathet.

This type of train is typical for Thailand and your contacts with locals and other travellers are not subdued ba any walls or distances. Seats are numbered and can be booked well in advance (recommended). The only exception are trains into the isaan (northeast), where SRT still uses even more basic waggons with wooden benches and less space per passenger.

Each seat is often numbered multiple times in true Thai style, engraved numbering, the marker pen numbers on the wall or the sratched numbers into the steel bar on top of the seats do not correspond and makes seat assignments a bit of a guesswork. Windows are usually much wider then in the 2nd class seat waggon and there is no lack of ventilation with the train in motion, some fans on the ceiling can be manually turned on, if the train stops longer or windows have to be raised during a rain shower. Louvered blinds compliment the windows for those sitting in the direct sun if the sun’s intensity is too strong.

Officials include ticket checkers and armed uniformed personnel, they aren’t unfriendly but very strict. Their Rambo-looks and guns scare youngsters from harassing others or disregard the smoke-ban in the waggons of the train, the trains are constantly patroled by them.

Services offered on all routes are snacks from the dining-cart’s kitchen in styrofoam containers for marginal amounts of money, drinks are served ice cold also for a small surcharge. Everything is being delivered to the seat for you.

A habit of the citizens, which I personally dislike, is the chronical dumping of all waste out of the windows without any care for the nature outside or second thoughts about this. You can watch the trash flying out every waggon, when you lean out the window and look alongside the moving train. Garbage receptacles are provided at every end of the waggon, but hardly anyone cares to walk there to dump his empty styrofoam, water bottle, plastic bag or paper trash.

This is very annoying right after large stations (Surat Thani, Korat, Ratchaburi, Ayutthaya etc.), when the trash lines the track for several miles, after some local cheap food has been delivered by vendors throughout the train.

The stops seem sometimes very long, trains with 3 rd class attached don’t rank high on SRT’s priority list. Quite a few times the halt is preceding a single track segment and the train is stalled to let a higher ranked train go through first or let another one clear it, before your train can proceed to his destination.

Luggage room is plenty, unless you plan to travel on or before Thai holidays.

Smokers resort to the ends of the waggon, both doors there usually remain open and it is officially ok to lite up a cigarette or so here. Some sit in these open doors andd read a book or just enjoy the breeze. The styrofoam trash lines the immediate track neighborhood significantly in some places.

Toilets are somewhat basic and special to foreigners. Plan your bowel movements accordingly and please don’t use it in stations. All falls right down through the hole there! You can safely walk around in the whole train and even step outside to take pictures or shop at station kiosks, the departing train will be announced by whistle blows or a big bell ringing. Watch for the flag waving official in the middle of the train an the platform, he communicates with the engineer up front and tells him by waving a green flag to go. It’s time to jump back on the train then!

The dining car party in the train leaving Chiang Mai in the afternoon is almost a tradition, sometimes the Chiang Mai bound train has parties too. Dining carts are rented out privately in Thailand and the quality of their services depends on their respective renters. Some have a couple rows of Christmas-style lights attached to the ceiling, smoking and consumption of alcoholic beverages is encouraged here. Entertainment is provided by a stereo system of the management here and choices of music being played are slim but some folks bring their tapes or CDs along. Dancing is a normality and sometimes this gets a bit wild. Some wild girls dance on the seats there, they will later be reminded to leave enough clothes on for the dining cart team not to get in any troubles during any station stops.

The party stops in the wee hours, when profits from the crowd sink below acceptable limits here. Melona and I would never miss this fun event, when returning by rail from the north. Chosing the right train back seems to be a key factor to join this international crowd. Parties like this seem to be an exclusive on the Bangkok bound Chiangmai train, as we have never witnessed such fun on southern or northeastern routes.

The dining car is, however, a sanctuary for smokers, it closes normally some time before midnight and reopens for breakfast between 5 and 6 a.m.

The 3rd class is a great place to interact and communicate with others as the seating provided is very limited! Only 12 pairs of seats make up their entire furniture for passengers and the seats are of the upholstered folding variety. Consumption is an obligation here, coffee costs 15 Baht and softdrinks are 20 Baht. Alcohol is being served as per their menue, but the prices are reasonable too.
Dining carts in trains that carry only 1st and 2nd class aren’t worth your while unless you like a “windows locked shut” and “caged in” sort of feeling, the are airconditioned and strictly non-smoking!