Headin’ south

We checked out in the mid-morning and I ran around trying to get some US$ from local banks. Amazingly, the largest one didn’t have any at all. I ended up in a small money exchange place over the road where I got a very reasonable $33 per 1000 Baht.

Our plan was to get the train down to the border, so we hopped on a BTS to Sala Daeng, walked underground onto the Silom MRT. The hardest part of this was the security check. For some reason, there’s a guard at the entrance to every MRT station (and all the lifts are unusable) . Normally, they take a brief look into the occasional handbag. However, Leah and I were carrying five items of luggage between us! Out pops a little torch and he had a flit through, knowing we had nothing explosive but having to do his job and appear polite at the same time.

Soon enough we made the quick journey to Hua Lamphong train station. There we were accosted by hordes of Thais in yellow shirts offering to help. Genuinely. It seems to be some effort on the part of the transport people to make using the railway easier for foreigners. These young Thai spoke excellent English and seemed to know the entire rail timetable off the top of their heads, as well as which queue to get in for the tickets. Very, very useful. Even though we’d done the research on the trains and times, it helped knowing where to go to get the tickets and what platform for departure.

Rail travel in Thailand is well cheap. Our 4 1/2 hour journey cost 48 Baht each – around 70p. OK, again we would only have fans and no aircon, but at that price you can’t pick and choose. It was a hot day when we left, but as we’d gone for the afternoon journey it cooled down as we travelled further south and the hours wore on.

A Thai couple on the train struck up a brief conversation with us, and were all smiled and waves when they disembarked. The drinks sold by the wandering ladies from buckets full of ice were cheap, and the scenery out of the windows was gorgeous. The further south we went, the more lush it seemed to get. The types of housing changed and the distance between them increased. Really, a lovely train ride.

We’d already decided on our accommodation before we got there, based on some web searching. There’s not a lot in Aranyaprathet – basically it’s a stop-off before the border crossing and a preferable alternative to the milling pit that is Poipet on the other side. We overpaid (probably) for a tuk-tuk to the Thupthongkum hotel (or Thap Thong Kam as on their business cards) that I’d spotted on a web page. The recommendation turned out to be very good, though the pricing was out. We paid 400 Baht for a large twin with aircon, telly and hot shower. In fairness, everything has gone up over the last year or so. There are rooms available in the area for half that price, but I have no idea what they’re like.

The hotel’s not in a prime location, but I don’t think Aranyaprathet has one. We were a fair distance from the town, but after a few hours on the train we really just wanted to stretch our legs, get some food and crash out ahead of more travelling the next day.

While getting our shower sorted (one of the fuses had popped – they fixed it very quickly), I got talking to a Cambodian woman who (apparently) works for the tourist board or something. She basically told me a lot of stuff I already knew – I’d pay over the odds for a visa at the border, the transport is monopolised once I cross over and so on. Essentially, she was trying to convince me to get her to do all the work for me. Which I’m sure would have made her a few bucks.

The way she phrased the excess fee at the border was that the $10 excess was a “rush fee” to have it done immediately, whereas in Bangkok they take 2-3 days to return a visa for $20. Of course, she didn’t seem to understand that if I flew into the airport I would get the visa on the spot, immediately and without waiting for $20… Let’s face it, the additional fee is for the border staff to line their pockets and nothing else.

Regardless, that was a job for the next day. Tonight we had dinner at a restaurant a couple of doors down. Lovely local food, and a chilled bottle of beer – that the owner had to go and get from an off-license for me as they’d run out!

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