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The Border: Thailand, Here I Am!

"Take you bag!"

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Aranyaprathet, September 5th 2011

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Safe and sound, I stepped over the notorious Poipet border of Cambodia, in one piece. Both, at the immigration of Cambodia and of Thailand, I got my passport stamped with no hassle at all.

I walked out the immigration office's tiny building wondering why my baggage isn't checked. It looks like when I entered Thailand from Malaysia by train. Outside, the agent who had been with me and my Japanese fellow, was already standing by the door waiting for us.

"Come!" he signaled us to follow him. We walked on a sidewalk. I recognized a lady who was together with us in the bus. She walked in the middle of the road. The road was wide, but no cars. I don't understand who are to walk on the sidewalk and who are to walk through the road. A railing separated the sidewalk from the road. This woman had a cart loaded with a big carton box. A guard post was stood in between the road and she was stopped by the guard. I saw her open her box. Wow... inside it were pairs of new sandals in plastic bags. She held one up. The guard nodded, she returned it into the box, closed the box, and walked on.

I was just about to think that I don't look like a vendor and thus I can just walk by, when I saw 2 big signs: "Ladies" and "Gents". "Wow! It looks like the entrance to a rest room!" I said to myself.

Our agent turned his head back. "This way," he said to me.

"Sure I know what 'Ladies' mean." (No, no. I didn't tell him that, of course.)

There were 2 small shelters on the right and on the left. A woman sitting under the shelter said to me, "Take you bag!"

"Ee...? Yes, I'm taking my bag," I replied.

"Take your bag!" she said again.

I was really confused. Is she trying to tell me that I don't need to leave my bag here for checking? I remembered when I was entering Cambodia from Vietnam, I was told to leave my suitcase behind and I picked it up later. Do some people have to leave their baggage here and some don't? Of course I'm taking my bag.

I was about to walk on when she repeated her order, "Take your bag! Here, here!" She tapped on a wooden stool next to here.

"Oh? You want me to put my bag here?"

"Yes, yes!"

I laid my suitcase on that wooden stool. This border is certainly for backpackers. I can't imagine a big suitcase laid on this stool. It would be a task to keep the suitcase in balance.

"Open, open!" I heard.

I zipped off my suitcase. My 2 boxes of coffee and 1 toilet-case toppled out like Jack-in-the-box. The guard-woman picked up one of the Vietnamese coffee boxes, turned it up and down, and shook it by her ear. I wish I had placed a little microphone inside, that would give the sound "meouwww..." when shaken. It would be cool to watch her face.

Next, she zipped off my toilet-case and examined the tiny bottles and containers inside. Next, she picked up one pack of clothes from my suitcase. In order to reduce space, I had put my stuffs into zipped plastic bags. I had knelt on each package while sealing the zip in order to let the air out. "Now, there you go," I said to myself as the guard-woman signaled me to open the plastic bag. "Welcome air in, and there goes all your effort pressing the bags." I was ready to helplessly let her have my plastic zipped bags one by one opened. But she didn't.

She went to a small box tugged in at the side of my suitcase. She opened it and took one roll out. Those were my disposal underwears. She slit the plastic band out and rolled it open. A form of a panty came in sight. She looked rather startled. She turned it up and down, then hurriedly rolled it back in. Now I understand why there are "Ladies" and "Gents".

I appreciate that this guard-woman did her best to help me rearrange my stuffs and even carefully zipped back my plastic bags. As I zipped back my suitcase, she helped press the top so that I could zipper it easier. However, she was far from done. There were 2 pockets on top of each other on my suitcase's side. She pointed to one zipper. "Open!"

She pocked her hand into it. This pocket I used to store plastic bags, rubber bands, tissue paper (wet and dry), and such. She pulled her hand out with a used transparent zip-bag in. I had used it to put baguette. I didn't throw it away just in case I might need it again. She held the plastic bag up in the air and moved her fingers on the crumbs.

"That's bread," I said. "You can take it away, if you want." She didn't.

Next, she examined my little plastic bag of rubber bands. I started to wonder how long this would take. I still have another pocket on my suitcase which are my books. I still remember the story of a traveler who entered the border of China from Vietnam. The guard was unhappy and took his Lonely Planet guide book away because there was something about China written incorrectly in that book. What if there's something wrong about Thailand in one of my books? How would I know?

No, she didn't check my books. Instead, she ordered me to take off my camera backpack. She pulled the zipper a little and then pulled the other zipper of the pocket inside. It's a small pocket I use to store batteries, keys, band-aids, and a pen-flashlight.

I meant to help her examine easier, so I pulled the zipper of my camera backpack opened further. The sight of my camera immediately appeared with the strap on top written "CANON". I hadn't pulled the zipper of the other side, but the guard-woman seemed kind of shocked by Canon. "Okay, okay. Go," she said.

"Okay??" I asked in disbelieve. She didn't tell me to open my laptop case which was on top of the camera. I thought she wanted to see the pictures I had taken... She didn't bother about my other bag sack hung over my shoulder. Neither did she with my tripod case.

"Yes, go," she answered.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Next time, when I travel overland from Cambodia to Thailand again, I'll show my camera backpack first and make sure the camera stripe lays on top with the letters "CANON". I might get through quicker. Ah, Canon... delighting me always.

Several meters away, my agent was standing while leaning on the wall. He smiled, I smiled back. Where's my rainbow guy? He pointed out. Oh! My Japanese fellow who sat next to me in the bus was inside a room. His backpack was laid opened on a table. A big table. Next to him was an officer in uniform. Wow! I seemed to bring twice his belongings and yet I'm done. Logically, the more things, the more time needed to check. Isn't that so? What's wrong with my rainbow guy? Is he actually a bad guy? He ought to be through before me.

I looked again inside. I saw the officer holding up a ring in the air and faced it to the window. He turned it left and right. "Cling... cling..." I fantasized a sparkle of star on the ring like in cartoon movies.

I'm still far away from Bangkok. What if the bus to Bangkok has already left? I started to get worried again. But my agent was still smiling.

At last, my rainbow guy came out with his backpack on his back. I looked at him wondering whether he was okay. He gave me a big smile, as if he had won a game. This guy must be a phlegmatic. All the way from Phnom Penh to Poipet in the bus, he looked through the window with a cool look. He did not look excited but neither bored. I can imagine that he would be still smiling if the bus to Bangkok had already left.

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Here I am, on Thailand soil, in freedom. According to the exif data on my photos, the whole process starting from getting a stamp for check out from the Cambodian immigration, entering Thailand immigration, having documents checked and passport stamped, baggage checked manually, altogether only needed 36 minutes. It was 3:06 PM at this point. That's not too long, actually. Time just seem to crawl like a snail when you are uncertain or worried.

Our agent led us to a van. He kindly helped store my suitcase into the van. The fare already includes the 19.02 USD I paid to The Sinh Tourist that booked me a seat with Capitol Tours. Capitol Tours did a good job, I have to say. The bus was fine, the driver was careful, and there were agents who took care we went the right way from one immigration office to the other.

There were some passengers already inside. All of them were Asian looking. One woman had a baby basket next to her on the seat. Where had she been? From Cambodia? With a tiny baby like this, crossing the border? She must be more insane than me.

I asked the driver whether I could sit in front next to him. "Yes, yes!" He laughed.

I got up on the front seat with my camera backpack. I sat down and sighed. It had been raining rather hard before I arrived at Poipet. But it didn't rain at all while I proceeded from Cambodian check-out to Thai check-in. It would have been pretty inconvenient if it had rained. Ah, and now I get the whole window to myself. Thailand, I'll be watching!

"Nya nya nya nye nye nye mian.... " suddenly I heard the driver say.

"Ee...?" I looked at him trying to figure, is this Thai or Chinese?

A woman behind me said, "He says that you can have noodle there while waiting." She pointed to a restaurant across the road.

It looked like a good idea. But I was too worried the van would leave before I'd be finished with my noodle. So I just walked around browsing the shops. My van was not the only van. There was also a big bus with berths on top.

When I returned to my van, my driver was nowhere to be seen. Ah, it really seems to take rather awhile and that's why he suggested me to have noodles. Maybe he is now having his noodle somewhere. Instead of noodles, I thought of going to Seven Eleven to buy some snacks. That was my first time in Thai's Seven Eleven. Hmmm... interesting. The pastas. I changed my mind. Beef spaghetti looks better.

In Thai's Seven Elevens, you don't need to be able to read Thai to check whether the food contains pork or not. Amidst of the other ingredients, "pork", "beef", "chicken", is specified clearly in English. If you can't read English, that's your problem.

It was drizzling again when I got out of Seven Eleven. I opened my umbrella and walked back, slowly, to my van. I've already sprained my leg. I must be careful not to fall again. Roads are sometimes slippery when it rains.

Suddenly the stocky agent who first met me when I just got off the bus in Poipet was standing by the road. I ran to him. "Oh no, the bus is about to leave and I've kept everyone waiting!" I thought.

"I'm sorry!" I said. I ran to the front seat and jumped up.

"Where's your bag?" he asked me.

"It's already inside." I meant to say, don't worry, we can leave now.

"Here, here. Where's your bag?" He signaled me to get off.

So I got off, went to the back of the van, and pointed to my suitcase. "It's here already."

Mr. Stocky pulled my suitcase out immediately.

"Why??" I was confused again.

"Wrong bus," he answered.

I hurriedly pulled my tripod out from the back of the van.

"But the man just now took me here," I argued.

"No, wrong bus."

"I want to go to Bangkok."

"Yes, Bangkok! Come on!" He was about to cross the road.

"But he was with me also!" I pointed to my rainbow guy who was sitting peacefully inside, still smiling. "Why do you only tell me to get off?"

"What? Who?"

"Him!"

Mr. Stocky pushed his head inside the van. "Oh, yes, you, get out!"

"Ee...?" my rainbow guy said. His hands stayed calm on his rainbow hat on his lap.

"You, you! Get out, get out!"

Mr. Stocky led us to another side of the terminal. There were many similar vans, too. My van was loaded. No place anymore for my suitcase at the back of the van. But the driver managed to get space for my suitcase next to his seat on top of other baggage. There were exactly only 2 seats left. I took the empty seat in the middle and my rainbow guy took the other one at the back of the van. One seat was occupied with a pile of backpacks up to the van's ceiling. There was a negro passenger and many Westerners. Now, I do feel like being in a tourist bus again. However, a window view was absolutely out of question. On my right was Mr. Big Black Negro by the window. On my left was Mr. Big White Blond by the window. Straight in front of me was the pile of baggage with my suitcase on top. Front left and front right of my view were blocked with the back seats. The window on my front right (behind the driver's seat) was covered with the stack of backpacks. So here I sit, like an ant between elephants.

Mr. Stocky had a short argument (discussion?) with our driver. And then he popped his face into the van and said to my rainbow guy, "Can I have your card please?" I know he meant the name tag that had been exchanged with our tickets when we arrived at the border.

"Ee...?" my rainbow guy said.

"Give it to me," said Mr. Stocky.

"Ee...? Ano kaban no naka ni arimasu." My rainbow guy pointed to the stack of backpacks in front.

"Whattt??" Mr. Stocky retorted.

"He says that it's in his bag," I interpreted. I couldn't believe that I was back to work.

"Take it out!" Mr. Stocky requested.

An "Ee...?" was once again heard from my rainbow guy. He looked confused. His look said, "Do you want me to go to the front, pull my backpack out, and stretch for the card?"

I was already upset for having to exchange my perfect window view in the previous van with a seat in between elephants. I don't want any delay now. Just take me to Bangkok soon.

"He was with me together from Cambodia! You saw us." I said to Mr. Stocky.

"Okay. Give me your card, then."

I gave mine and our van started to move. We were in no time running on a highway. There's was nothing special with the scenery. So there wasn't much to regret about the window seat either. Mr. Big Black Negro took out his novel, and then took pictures through the window with a pocket camera, read again, took some pictures again, and so on. I took out my beef spaghetti. Late lunch or early dinner, up to you.

We stopped twice for a break. The second one took longer. Before we got off, our driver told us that it would be the last stop and the journey would take two three hours more due to the traffic jam in Bangkok. Our driver's English was very clear. He was also a kind guy.

When the day turned dark, Mr. Big Black Negro closed his novel. He and the Western lady behind me turned into a warm conversation. They talked about their experience in Phnom Penh. I listened carefully like listening to a radio. Mr. Big Black Negro sat on my right and this Western lady sat on my back left. So the channel flew smoothly into my ears back and forth. Apparently, they both work (or had worked) in Phnom Penh. I was on my way to Bangkok, but was learning about Phnom Penh and Cambodia overall. Ah, thanks Mom and Dad, for pushing English into my brain.

I listened also about their stories getting over the border. The Western lady who later I learnt to be a British, had entered Cambodia from Vietnam. She complained about having to pay 35 USD for a visa to an agent without knowing how much the visa actually cost. I felt sorry for her and didn't have the heart to tell her that a Cambodian visa actually cost 20 USD.

Mr. Big Black Negro turned out to be a British African. So no wonder, she and the British lady behind had much in common: Citizens from the same country, both working in Phnom Penh and loving it, and both on the way to Bangkok. Until we entered the jammed traffic of Bangkok, their conversation was still alive. It was to me like a radio channel without advertisement break.

I gave my driver a piece of paper with Omni Tower's address on it. He let me off by the side of a street where he said is the closest point to my hotel. He told me to get a taxi. Until I got off, the "Black and White Radio" channel inside the van was still broadcasting.

I got a taxi easily and arrived at Omni Tower safe and sound. The taxi fare was 73 baht. I received a very warm and kind welcome at Omni Tower. It was by then about 7:30 PM. First thing in mind was: swimming pool!!

Posted by automidori 01:45 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand border the_sinh_tourist capitol_tours omni_tower

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