(Original post follows in plain text, notes added for this LiveJournal post in bold.)
I just got in this afternoon (19 January) after a smooth trip from Siem Reap to Bangkok via Poipet.
I showed up at the Sokimex station about 0615. The day before, I'd bicycled by a couple of times to check things out. I think I saw the guy you call "a useless fat tub of goo" both the day before and this morning.
In talesofasia.com, we're warned about some of the taxi touts or middlemen, one of whom is a profiteering jerk the site author refers to as "a useless fat tub of goo", because a) he is fat, b) he contributes nothing to any transaction, and c) he takes a cut. Sokimex is one of the gasoline companies in Cambodia. One of its stations in Siem Reap serves as an unofficial long-distance taxi rank.
There are other ways to get to Siem Reap, which is the town for Angkor Wat, Cambodia's biggest attraction. You can fly, which costs real money. Or you can grab a space in the back of a truck, which is cheaper, but not at all fun, and slower. Finally, you can try one of the tourist buses run by operators in Bangkok. These take you for a ride in a lot of different ways. Taking a taxi allows you to ride quickly and in air conditioned comfort.
When I showed up I went towards the tail of the line of taxis to a guy who was sweeping out the back seat of a Camry, and asked him about going to Poipet. Too bad he just called for the touts to come over. Soon I was surrounded by a crowd of touts, one of whom said, "Come with me," and wrote 1200 on his hand. I took his pen and wrote 900 underneath, and he shook his head, saying something about Chinese New Year. "I'm Chinese," meaning, don't give me this crap about New Year, and waved my hand, turning away. Back by the cars I saw a driver wave me over, and I walked up to him. When I got to his cab he held up both hands, fingers spread. "Okay," I said, got in his cab, and slammed the door shut.
Our negotiations were in Thai baht, the third local currency in Cambodia, after the US dollar and the Cambodian riel, in that order, as everyone prefers dollars to riel, except for small change. Thai baht are used mostly in the western part of Cambodia, and in transactions connected with that region. There are around 40 baht to the dollar.
The driver got in his cab, pulled out his wallet and showed me a 1000 baht note, just to make sure. I gave him the "thumbs up" sign, and we took off, at almost exactly 0630.
It was a pretty uneventful ride, with a fairly sane driver. Most of the time he stayed under 80 km/h, and there were only a couple of times he hit 100, all on paved bits. And he was reasonably cautious when overtaking.
I didn't see any toll barriers this time, and there was only one bridge that was impassable, which everyone detoured around easily across the dry streambed. At another point there was a road grader and a roller teamed up trying to fix the road. There was a noticeable improvement in the surface quality where they had passed.
I travelled in the dry season.
This picture is from the rainy season. To get a better idea of my experience, subtract all the water and add big clouds of brown dust and larger potholes.
Here is a good picture of a temporary bridge. Most of the permanent bridges have sustained some damage. In order to make them passable, temporary bridges have been placed along damaged bits. The vehicle ahead is a typical truck in its mixed cargo/passenger configuration. See what I mean about it being less fun?
Toll barriers in Cambodia look very unofficial. A couple of guys with AK-47s and a pole across the road to stop you so they can demand money from your driver is about right. Mostly, though, they stop trucks.
We showed up at the traffic circle at Poipet at 0950, 3 hours 20 minutes after leaving Siem Reap. I handed the driver two 500 baht notes. He smiled, and we wished each other a good day. He seemed like a cool guy.
Two toilet themed details: there's a town between Siem Reap and Sisophon, at about the halfway point of the trip, which has built a thriving business out of giving tourists a place to go to the bathroom. For five baht, you get a flush toilet. The whole town is festooned with signs saying "Clean Toilet" in English.
Poipet (the Cambodian/Thai border town) rhymes with toilet. The similarities do not end there. For one thing, it smells like shit. It's one of the more unsavory places in Cambodia, and all of Southeast Asia, for that matter. It's full of hustlers, touts, and con-men, all of whom have scams to separate you from your money.
One of the stranger phenomena at Poipet is the two huge casinos that have opened up in the no-man's-land in the couple hundred meters between the Thai and Cambodian border posts. In principle, I believe they're actually in Cambodia, but the owners appear to have paid the right officials enough bribe money to build large, opulent casinos. Despite the complete lack of regulation or even law enforcement in no-man's-land, they seem to be doing very well. So well, in fact, that the Thai government has erected large signs warning in English and Thai that you travel to these casinos at your own risk. I tried getting a picture, but I'd run out of film by then.
I've been in a few casinos in various countries. You couldn't get me to set foot in either of these, much less lay a bet. Who the hell knows whether the games are rigged, or more likely how they're rigged.
This is a pretty good shot of the decorative arch on the Thai side of the border, with a casino with an overhead walkway visible through the arch in no-man's land. From this vantage point, you are standing in Thailand, while Cambodia is farther on in the picture, past the casino building. To the right, in a building with the blue-green awning and a blue sign above it, is Thai immigration.
Going through the border at 1000 is a breeze, at least for me, a Chinese-American with a US passport. I was at the moto rank in front of the convenience store by 1020, having cleared both Cambodian and Thai immigration very quickly, and was immediately on a moto to the bus station. When I got off the moto I handed the rider two 20 baht notes which he glanced at then stuck in his pocket and rode off. I was at the bus station at 1027, got in the very short queue for tickets at the 999 company (the one on the corner), paid 164 baht, and got on their 1030 bus at 1029. The bus didn't leave until 1034, so it wasn't really that close.
Motos are motorcycle taxis. You ride pillion on a little motorcycle. Helmets are nonexistent in Cambodia and something of a luxury in Thailand, even though there is a helmet law and you can get fined for not wearing one. In practice, I think the "fine" ends up in the cop's pocket.
We showed up at Morchit bus station at 1437, 7 minutes late. At Morchit there's also a city bus station, where I caught the #3, which stops by the Mo Chit and Saphan Khwai BTS stations (and the Chatuchak Park subway station, whenever that opens). I only take the bus because it stops literally feet from where I live. It's so slow (particularly at rush hour) you feel like you could walk faster. But at three and a half baht for the non-a/c bus, it sure is cheap.
Since then, the non-a/c local bus fare in Bangkok has gone up to 4 baht even.
You can't quite walk faster to the BTS stations but it's close; the #3 takes a wacky, roundabout route, going north before going south. If you're in a rush and you want to get to the Skytrain, get a moto or a cab. (Walking is something I did once just to see how far apart the BTS and the Northern Bus Station are. It's annoyingly far.)
BTS is the Skytrain</i>, part of Bangkok's spiff urban rail system.
So, overall, a nice, straighforward trip. Sokimex station to Morchit Bus Station in 8 hours, 7 minutes, for 1204 baht.
Bangkok has a number of bus stations. Morchit bus station
is the one that handles traffic to the north and northeast, and is by far the largest.
Thanks much for the info that made the trip easy. Your site rocks.
It is a really awesome site.
Photos are not mine but links to ones I've found on the web. I ran out of film, and those photos I have I haven't yet scanned in.