October 14, 2013

Games with Frontiers

Denholm Elliot blends in with the locals! Indiana Jones (1981)

I’m not sure if Peter Gabriel would approve of the title of this post, but there is a valid reason for it. More on potential border crossing problems in a moment..

My travel team have been busy. E-mail is a great thing when it comes to making these sort of long distance arrangements, and I don’t think it would have been possible for me to arrange this trip, say 15 years ago, without an army of travel agents and a lot of fax paper. Possibly even a telex machine!

Emily has been busy on my behalf in Hanoi today. She managed to reserve my two train journeys in Vietnam – the SE1 and SE3. Better still she has managed to reserve both as bottom berth seats. I did travel on what I imagine to be the route of the SE1 in 1992 and can’t remember it being too bad, but there seem to be lots of Westerners complaining about how dirty these trains are (see Tripadvisor!). Maybe the trains have got worse? Or it is possibly just the growth of package tourism and the sort of people who are bound to be out of their comfort zone on a foreign train? Anyway, as I don’t know for sure I have decided to make a bed sheet into a kind of sleeping bag so that I have something in case its seriously grubby. This will also keep the (alleged) mice and mosquitos out of my bed!

vagonWEB – finds the composition of your train

Igor has been busy on my behalf in London today. My tickets were confirmed on the D10 “Polonez” – this is the 18 hour train from Warsaw to Moscow. I’m a bit confused about what I have got here, as my ticket seems to be a mix of 2nd and 1st class portions (it is issued as three legs). I’m awaiting clarification on this point. It is perhaps worth mentioning to the would be traveller that a bit of intel can help here. I used the vagonWEB system to look at the composition of the train. This allowed me to spot some older carriages and guide Igor towards booking me into the better ones – last year I got allocated a very old carriage which I even ended up breaking, but that is another story! I can see that in carriage 23 I’m in either a refurbished non air conditioned PKP (Polish carriage) or a reasonably new air conditioned Russian one. If I’m honest I would prefer the Polish one, but its 50/50 as they alternate each day.

Mr Soley has been looking after me in Siem Reap today. He has arranged a private taxi to take me the final 95 miles across Cambodia to the Thai border at Poipet. At $50 this seems rather good value if it works out. I have been reading some pretty bad reviews of this crossing. It would seem that from the Thai side its a massive rip off – they have what appears to be a fake border with people dressed up who are actually travel agents selling Cambodian visas. I am hopeful that from the Cambodian side it will be less hassle as clearly there are no Thai visa requirements so nothing to sell, other than inflated transport.

All I have to do is get the taxi to Poipet (152km), complete Cambodian immigration, walk across to the Thai border, have my fingerprints taken, passport stamped and then across the Thai border. Then its a short tuk tuk journey (6km) to Aranyaprathet, where I will hopefully get a ticket in 3rd class on one of two daily trains to Bangkok (255km) – around 5 hours, known to many as “The Cambodian Express”!

The Poipet – Aranyaprathet Border – Wikitravel

Wikitravel describes this frontier as “a gritty border town”, “dishevelled and stinking” and “having some of the World’s greatest border scams”, so I’m prepared for the worst and will be seriously on my guard. That said I don’t mind being scammed if it gets me quickly out the place, so if I’m offered an “express” service, I’ll probably take it. I will keep smiling on this day by thinking of Denholm Elliot’s character in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” – Marcus Brody – the man who blends in with the locals, that you will never find.. but who once got lost in his own museum!

2 Comments on “Games with Frontiers

October 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

SE1 and 3 are very very good trains. Looking forward to reading all the adventure Matthew. Rob

Toad's Travel Adventures
October 17, 2013 at 10:58 am

Thanks Rob. No mice then? How was the food? Trolley or restaurant?


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