The Bangkok to Aranyaprathet train journey takes 5 hours, not allowing for technical problems in which an engine had to be moved from the rear to the front, leaving open the connecting rear door in our carriage and so providing a wonderful view of the rapidly receding railway track. Not to worry, a knee-high safety chain prevents anyone from falling out. Night had fallen however by the time we reached our terminus, transferred to a waiting tuk tuk (cousin of the Bangkok highjacker) and made the swift transfer to the border where an agent (uncle of the said driver) arranged our visas for a fee. Escorted by a courier (nephew of the said uncle), who supplied us with bus tickets for the following morning and relieved us of another $10, we finally sank into our Casino Hotel beds in no-man’s land for a well deserved rest.
The casinos of the Thai-Cambodia border at Poipet attract many Thai customers and were the scene of previous escapades described early in my blogging career. The following morning we ate our breakfast in the casino basement before setting out, suitably fortified and wiser than yesterday, for the crossing into Banteay Meanchey Province. We fended off every offer of help from the extended family of the Poipet mafia and made our confident way down the busy dusty street to the office of Capitol buses to await our onward transport. All but the stoic seasoned traveller will succumb to the combined pressures of tout and punter, taxi driver and courier, heat, language, queues and confusion and find themselves on the tourist bus heading for the International Tourist Transfer Facility some 5km out of town where it is almost impossible to obtain a fair price for bus or taxi anywhere. More successful than yesterday, we happily awaited our $5 bus and soon found ourselves in safe, familiar Mango – the local name for Sisophon, provincial town of Banteay Meanchey, only 45 minutes from the border.
Here we will spend the Christmas-with-a-difference, in the bosom of our Cambodian friends and adoptive family who eagerly await our arrival. We have had mixed feelings about Christmas away from our own children and friends but here we are, for better or worse, on Christmas Eve, determined to make the most of it.