You Sir Have Integrity: A crossing the Thai-Cambodia border story

This is another unique SE Asia experience from my first big backpacking trip back in 2009 – my first land border crossing in a vastly different and chaotic land.
Getting from Siem Reap to Bangkok was a jungle. I guess it could have been more of a circus if I went with the alternative. Initially I was going to ride in the back of someone’s pick-up truck to the Cambodia-Thai border, walk across, and then take the train the rest of the way to Bangkok. I quickly changed my mind when I discovered it cost only eight dollars by way of group shuttle for the entire journey. The bus was packed tight with bodies and everyone’s luggage lined the floor. I expected an adventure, and I was getting one.
At the time, the flight route from Siem Reap to Bangkok, through some government extortion, was owned solely by Bangkok Airways. Allegedly Bangkok Airways pays off the Cambodian government to not pave the road (yes the one road) between Siem Reap and Bangkok. To really make things interesting, Bangkok Airways encourages the tour companies to Russian Nesting Doll the vans so that horror stories of the uncomfortable ride will drive business to the highly overpriced airline. (NOTE: this route is no longer exclusively held by Bangkok Airways as now AirAsia and Thai Smile operate “discount routes” starting at $60 for late night flights, and around $100 for a midday flight, not including luggage charges).
Having guided trips between Italy and Greece and Italy and Croatia, I knew this game well. For some reason, despite only being an hour flight, flying between across the Adriatic is absurdly expensive leaving people with the option of dropping 300 euro minimum round trip, or cuddling on the floor of an overnight ferry with a Transnistrian truck driver for 30 euro (NOTE: Also note, thanks to discount airlines like EasyJet and Vueling, you can now fly cheap between Italy and Greece / Croatia. HIGH FIVES for the discounts airlines – and middle fingers for United because, United).
Back to the story…
We hit the Thai border in what I suppose was good timing because in SE Asia, even if it takes forever, you made it in good time. When I was almost sold on the notion of going by pickup truck to the Thailand frontier, I was seriously picturing a border crossing in a jungle with a Class III rapids river rushing cutting the frontier into a lush valley and for some reason I half expected to ford the river on some bamboo boat. Nope – it was a run of the mill steel bridge that you crossed by foot while being flogged by touts, peddlers, scam artists, and little kids selling your bracelets. We were going to be ripped off anyway, so we opted to buy some bracelets from the kids because, hey all backpackers have bracelets that tell a story, and because we hoped that maybe the money would help the kids get a good meal or buy school pens.
Backed by karma, we loaded more cramped shuttle vans on the Thai side of the border, likely owned by the Lomprayeh family – the transportation cartel whose name you will definitely know if you ever have been to Thailand. I was joined on the bus by a middle-aged group from America who were on a religious tour of Thailand (why they chose Thailand, you got me) with matching scarves that screamed “we are a group of tourists who want everyone to know we are a group of tourists, please rip us off, and take our kidneys”
When we hit the Bangkok city limits, we were slammed by the legendary hailstorm of traffic that is synonymous with one of SE Asia’s largest cities. Due a flooding rainstorm, traffic was even more at a standstill. Sick of the group up front trying to convert him, our Thai driver took extreme measures to get us to our hotels and out of his life immediately – driving on the wrong side of the road, barrel rolling over cars, and everything he has learned from a decade of Liam Neeson action movies. Every bob and weave he made resulted in another onslaught of cheers from the Bible Belt up front. Every person he hit, and Tuk-Tuk he demolished led to a chorus of “USA! USA!” chants. I put my head down and wept silently, knowing my English friends sitting next to me were going to have a field day over this.
Just as I thought the excitement peaked, the driver started to hydroplane, and then Tokyo Drifted around a corner, through an alleyway and came to abrupt stop right in front of the hotel for my fellow Americans. The group’s ringleader turned to the man and said quietly “you have integrity, sir” then turned, started at the whole group and yelled at the top of his lungs “THIS MAN HAS INTEGRITTTYYYYYY” as if auditioning for the next Tony Robbins motivation speaking tour. Integrity? Really? That’s the word you chose. Cahones. Yes. Not sure how integrity got in there.
That night, I drank several alcohol buckets. That’s integrity. I should’ve taken that flight.
If you are traveling to Thailand want some help booking your trip, or specifically looking to avoid taking cramped, integrity filled shuttle vans everywhere, shoot me an e-mail at mike@fearlessleaderstravel.com
Disclaimer: no one’s kidneys were hurt in the making of this story. And in my experience, Thailand is a very safe place.

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