It’s not every day you get to say you did a day trip to Thailand to go shopping but that’s exactly what friends and I did the other weekend. The Joker was offered the chance to join us but thought the idea was almost as nightmarish as the bus trip from hell, so he declined.
What could possibly be a problem with shopping with three women? We contemplated getting him these work overalls just to prove we can be versatile with our shopping.
So three of us set off in a private taxi to Poi Pet, the nearest Cambodian/Thai border crossing, at 7.30 in the morning. The adventure started right from the get-go with a bit of faffing around as we tried to find a place with good take-away coffee on the way out of town. It was our first failure. And it set us back about half an hour.
Once on the way our taxi driver, Mr Gye, was a hoot. He enjoyed helping us practice our Khmer with him, but to be truthful mine is so dismal I wasn’t keeping up with the conversation very well. And his laugh was something else. He was also a bit of a flirt, as the men here can sometimes be. They love a bit of a joke and on the way there he seemed to take a bit of a fancy towards Jackie and cracked up about the possibility they could have lots of “joi” together. Yes, use your imagination for the meaning of that one. It was all in good fun.
We made another stop on the way to get a snack — a Cambodian favourite — a baguette filled with sweetened condensed milk. I will never again criticise the Joker for eating ice cream baguettes, also a popular snack here.
This day trip to Thailand was a bit of a journey involving the usual Cambodian road trip experiences — passing loads of trucks so heavily overloaded you don’t know how they still go; cows being walked down the highway; whole families on motorbikes and my all-time favourite — overtaking on blind bends. It’s all part of the adventure.
Then we had our second failure. We arrived at Poi Pet at about 10.30am where it seemed every Thai-bound traveller in Cambodia had got there just before us. Note to self — time the border crossings before the buses arrive. It took us about half an hour to get through the Cambodian checkpoint then we navigated our way through no-man’s land. It’s an interesting piece of land, stretching about 500 metres between the two border checkpoints and is home to several casinos, duty free outlets and shops. I’ve no idea whose law, if any applies in this region. And we opened the door to the Thai border control and the room was packed! So full, we could barely get inside the door.
It took an hour and a half for the queue to wind its way forward and deliver us to the front of the line and then I got Mr Grumpy Pants and experienced failure number three. It would have been simpler if I could have remembered the name of the Thai border town we were visiting. Aranyaprathet. But it is one I have always struggled with and so, like my friends, I put market as my destination. Mr Grumpy Pants didn’t like this.
“Market where?” he demanded.
“The market here,” I responded.
“Where is here?” he shouted back.
Oh, oops. You, know, here, this town, what the hell is it called again?
The other girls were through with no dramas. Alida was calling out to write something that sounded like Pasalak, as she headed out the door, so I scribbled that on my form, handed it back and Grumpy Pants glared at me, then grudgingly proceeded to stamp my passport. Phew. We later found out that it probably should have been something like Psar (market) Luek, as it was the Khlong Luek border market we were visiting. Live and learn. And always, always, write the name of your destination point. It saves so many hassles. Border crossings are serious business, even if you are just on a frivolous day trip to Thailand — another country — just to go shopping. It’s quite a novel thing for Australians (and New Zealanders) to be able to cross to another country just for shopping. I guess it’s not so unusual for those in European countries.
Finally, we were through and we were in Thailand. Woo hoo! And so began an afternoon of shopping at the massive border market. Huge doesn’t describe the size of this place. It’s so big you can hire golf buggies to get around — something we didn’t do but really should have because it would have been much quicker to find the stalls we wanted.
There were rows of sports clothing, men’s shorts, men’s shirts, runners, household items. Finally we found dresses and denim shorts. Many of the shorts and leather jackets we saw were second hand. I don’t know where they came from or where they went to but each stall had bags and bags of them.
Of course, there were no change rooms so the locals must have been wondering about the sanity of the three barungs wriggling and squirming into shorts and dresses, trying things on over clothes and under the scanty cover of sarongs. It was all quite hilarious. Everything, and I mean everything, was 100 Baht. About US$3. We didn’t barter. Probably could have got things a lot cheaper if we tried.
We were starving and couldn’t find a food area or a shop selling more than coffee and cakes but eventually managed to take the edge off with some street food — nothing like deep fried bananas to fill a hole. And some kind of rice cake with herbs that I can’t remember the name of. Also fried.
The return border crossing was really fast with only a few people in front of us at each crossing and in contrast to Mr Grumpy Pants there was a happy officer on the Cambodian side — almost unheard of in my experience.
The drive home was just as entertaining with Gye switching attention to me — I think because I was sitting in the front seat, trying not to focus on the fact we were often driving in the middle of the road with big things coming towards us, and he decided he was going to get lucky — until he found out about the Joker and he cracked up laughing and said: “I not lucky.”
We got home around 7pm. It was a great day out. A very random shopping trip.
Tips for the Poi Pet – Aranyaprathet border crossing
- Try and get there early to avoid the bus arrivals.
- Fill out your departure form in advance (if you are in Cambodia it should be stapled to the page with your visa).
- No man’s land is confusing. Once you pass through the Cambodian passport control, cross to the other side of the road (the left) and keep walking. You will go past shops, hotels and casinos and cross a bridge. Keep walking and there is an area to the left where people often queue up. Cut in towards them but go past the queuing people and head up the stairs of the building in front of you to the passport control.
- Many people will be happy to point you in the right direction. Be wary of those who will start walking along with you and expect payment in return.
- Some people might try to offer you an express service, which involves a payment of $5 to $10 and them taking your passport. Your movement through the line is fast-tracked. But I’ve heard they are cracking down on this practice. And it is usually advisable not to give your passport to anyone else.
- Most people don’t need a visa prior to entering Thailand if planning a short stay — you will get one at the border. However, if you are planning to stay for more than two weeks you will need to get one in advance.