After arriving in Peru’s Lima, I wanted to stay in the area of the city called Miraflores, because it’s known for being one of the safest and has numerous tourist facilities, including hostels.
I found out beforehand that a company names Airport Express Lima has regular services between the airport and Miraflores, precisely because Miraflores is popular with tourists. I however also found out that a smaller company called Quick LLama also offers transportation from the Jorge Chavez International Airport to Miraflores, and unlike the former, which costs 25 Soles, the trip with Quick Llama costs only 15 Soles.
However because Airport Express has a stronger hold on the market, it is far better advertised, so a tourist arriving in Lima will know right away where to find them. There are no indications at the airport that Quick Llama even provides that service, so one simply has to know about them in order to seek them out.
Nevertheless, both companies depart from the same parking lot, which is located behind the Costa del Sol Wyndham Hotel. To get there, walk out of the airport, and you will see the hotel right in front of you, on the opposite side of the road passing by the entrance. Walk around the hotel to find the parking lot behind it. Airport Express bus will likely already be parked in the most prominent location there, and will have a small booth set up where one can buy a ticket.
Quick Llama doesn’t have buses, but rather vans. The vans have large stickers on sides, so they can be easily identified. If there is one already waiting for passengers, it will likely be parked more in the back of the parking lot.
When I got to the parking lot, it was already 7:15 am. There was no Quick Llama vehicle, but Airport Express already had their bus waiting. I asked the staff at the booth at what time it leaves, and was told the next one leaves at 8am. Whereas I had enough time, I went back to the airport and returned to the parking lot in 15 minutes. By that time, a Quick Llama van was already there. I spoke with the driver who told me they were leaving at 7:45 (15 minutes before Airport Express), and confirmed their ticket to Miraflores indeed cost 15 Soles, which was 10 less than Airport Express.
I boarded their van and waited until it departed. There were only 3 more people in the van, so even though far from full, the van left when scheduled – precisely at 7:45.
We however did not arrive in Miraflores until 9:30am, because of Lima’s insane traffic. The jams on uncontrolled intersections were massive, and there are many uncontrolled intersections in the city. It was all about who can push themselves in the hardest. The larger the vehicle, the less crap it gave. The smaller the vehicle, the longer it took it to get anywhere.
Despite seemingly long lasting journey, the Quick Llama van got us all to Miraflores safely, and given the mad traffic situation, as fast as could be. I would use them again, and would not hesitate recommending their services to visitors arriving in Lima.
One of the more disturbing villains in World War II spy movies is the image of the Nazi Gestapo agent. He moves through the train clad in a black leather trench coat demanding “papers, papers, you have papers?” Today’s air traveler passing through the terminal’s security checkpoint encounters the unsmiling TSA Agent who also asks: “papers, can I see your papers please?” Black clothed Customs and Border Patrol agents (CBP) are close by to take custody of fugitives, illegal aliens or potential terrorists. We know where airport and air travel security took us, but what will it become in the future?
I had a very interesting conversation with a man who works as a compliance officer for a company providing security services to international airlines at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston, Texas. Let me share with you what an expert in the field of private security thinks the future of airport security and air travel holds for us. Needless to say, much of the analysis provided focuses on the United States in particular, but this could very easily be the trend that the rest of the world will adopt:
Air Travel: A Synonym to Jail Bait
Ten years ago most airport security protocols were voluntary. If you didn’t want to submit to them you could choose not to fly. Refusing a security scan today can result in temporary arrest and serious fines. TSA Security Agents have replaced private security companies at the checkpoints. Metal detectors have been replaced by full body scanners. And as if that wasn’t enough – the requirements of airport security have now been extended to bus, rail and marine terminals.
Future travelers will simply walk through security portals hoping the unsmiling security officer doesn’t arrest them on the spot. It’s a dark world that awaits travelers based on increasing use of technology; a widening range of security threats; and a government more than willing to trade individual rights for national security. The trends are clear and the direction they are taking looks pretty bleak.
Airport Security of the Near Future
You can expect to see the transportation security net tighten in the next few years. New technology is constantly appearing as are new threats to national security. Transportation hubs are the choke points where these threats can be removed from the system. Two new advances in technology can be expected in the next four years (by 2015). Facial recognition software will be added to terminal security cameras. This will pull more fugitives and “no fly list” suspects out of the system before they reach the checkpoints. Manual operation of full body scanners will be taken over by computer algorithms due to privacy concerns. This means that most, if not all passengers will be subjected to full body scanners. You can also expect to see more use of psychological profiling. The TSA already has agents trained to spot potential problem travelers based on these profiles. Those techniques will be refined and their use expanded.
You can expect the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) to take an increased role as a sister agency to the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) rather than the secondary role they now play. In effect, the TSA will become a sort of “internal border patrol.” Oddly enough, the Federal Government is now looking to push transportation security duties, and their costs, downward to state, local and private entities. An increasing share of the day to day workload will be performed by private contractors.
Airport Security of the Next Few Decades
By 2021, the security net will tighten even further. Standardized ID cards tied to more sophisticated government computers will permit better tracking, and clearance, of travelers. Links between government computers will make those checks much more detailed. You say you are flying from Pittsburgh to Houston? Those traffic tickets in LA will finally check up with you. Make sure your child support payments are up to date too! Automated check-in systems combined with less obtrusive scanning will also make the traveler feel less like a bug under a microscope. Improved scanner technology will finally allow airlines to meet the requirement of 100% inspection of baggage and air cargo.
By 2031, the security net will have spread wider. A national ID card as well as the scanners to read those cards at a distance will have been implemented. Fears of a worldwide pandemic will result in new scanners that screen for medical data as well as hidden weapons. Travelers will receive automated medical screening they most likely could not afford on their regular medical plans. This can lead to some interesting results and business possibilities:
“Good morning madam, just back from your honeymoon? Our scanners detected it was everything you hoped for. Congratulations, you’re pregnant! For a small fee we can give you a copy of the printout. Our premium service can even tell you the sex of your first child!”
The downside to the widening net will be increased arrest powers granted to private security contractors. This is a trend already well under way today. It should see its heights when private security officers are required to make “citizens arrests” of anyone violating Federal security rules.
The greatest challenge in 2031 will be integrating America’s new territories into the system. The problems of our porous southern border; combined with the collapse of the Mexican government to the drug cartels; will have lead to the Second Mexican American War. The CBP, TSA and private contractors will have to set up shops as the military pulls out. So many threats and so many challenges will await transportation security in our future 51st state.
Airport Security of the Future – Conclusion
I’m hoping for MagLev trains transportation to replace air travel soon. Unfortunately, this fast, environmentally friendly method of transportation would long have been used if it didn’t threaten the larger than life lifestyle of oil rig operators with pockets so full of cash, they can afford to lobby anyone into keeping us dependent on gasoline powered travel. Still, no matter what the future of transport holds for us, the next few decades will make it more and more frustrating as the security screening tightens and starts getting under everyone’s skin. The threat of risking a fine or jail time each time you decide to fly will be one of the main concerns. And as the airport security gets more sophisticated and starts collecting data about you without you even knowing, then perhaps the time will come when people turn to nature and give long distance travel a temporary pass.
One thing in Laos frequently used by travellers that’s far more expensive than anywhere else in South East Asia is transportation. You’ll be able to cover twice the distance for half the money in other SE Asian countries, including seemingly more expensive Malaysia, than in Laos. The cost of transportation was what was killing my wallet the most while I was in Laos. Songthaew (back of a truck) is a less expensive option, but it is significantly less reliable, much slower and incomparably less comfortable to a point that unless you carry a really tiny backpack and don’t mind sitting squashed with your knees tucked tightly under your chin while dozens of chickens peep hung off of the carrier bar next to your head for upwards of 8 hours, then this little saving is not that great of an option.
Since Laos has been on a map of individual travellers for a few years now, decent transportation options comparable to those found in the more developed neighbours are nowadays widely available, however they are significantly more expensive than what you would pay for when covering the same distance or traveling for the same length of time in other SE Asian countries.
While cost of transportation in Laos is high as it is, unless you buy your inter city ticket directly from the provider (aka from the booth of the company running the bus), you will also end up paying the tour agency fee which will bump the already high total cost even higher up. Most travel agencies will sell the ticket with 30% – 50% markup which is brutal.
For example an air-conditioned (albeit squishy, with no leg room) overnight bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang costs 115,000 Kip (about $14 US based on 2010 exchange rates) when purchased directly from the bus company but if you buy the same thing from a tour operator in Vientiane, you end up shelling out 150,000 Kip (about $18,50 US) or more. Though the latter will also include tuk-tuk transport from your guesthouse to the bus station, tuk-tuks can be easily individually arranged and should cost no more than 10,000 Kip. In this case the tour agency charges extra 30% on top of the ticket price.
Luang Prabang is about 390 km from Vientiane and the journey by bus takes about 8 hours to complete (includes a few stops along the way). For comparison purposes, Cambodian Siem Reap is 544 km from Sihanoukville. Overnight bus trip with lots of leg room takes about 10,5 hours to complete (with a few stops) and costs $16 (September 2009), inclusive of a tuk tuk pickup from your guesthouse to the bus station. Similarly, Thai island of Phuket is about 840 km from Bangkok. To cover the distance, the overnight bus takes 12 hours to complete with only one stop along the way, however even though it’s more than twice the distance compared to the Vientiane to Luang Prabang bus trip, the cost is only 495 Baht (roughly $15,50 US) and you get to travel in a much more comfortable, modern bus than in Laos.
The cost of transportation in Laos took me by surprise. No matter how you spin it, covering the same distance or travelling for the same amount of time will usually end up costing you much more than it would in any of the neighboring countries. And you definitely won’t be getting what you’re paying for as buses serving Laos are older, louder, dirtier, and offer less comfort and leg room.
Straight after I have come to Cambodia I wanted to buy a bicycle. There were several reasons why I didn’t want to wait with it and needed to get myself one as soon as possible:
Bicycle is the most environmentally friendly transportation option, which is extremely important to me
Bicycle is a neat form of exercise that one may not otherwise get a chance to do due to busy schedule
Bicycle is an inexpensive form of transportation, ideal for travelers on a budget as it doesn’t require gasoline to keep going
Bicycle makes you independent. There is nothing worse than having to depend on other people and/or means to move from point A to point B
In Cambodia where Tuk Tuks – primary means of short distance transportation for majority of tourists – are driven by excessively irritating and rude people, bicycle gives you an option to show them all a finger and make yourself self sufficient, aka completely and entirely capable of moving yourself around without ever needing a Tuk Tuk
Also in Cambodia where Tuk Tuk drivers clap at foreigners from across the street and yell at them like they are cheap whores, riding around in your own means of transport (bicycle, since tourists are not allowed to drive motorcycles or automobiles) makes you unreachable for any of them. Taking this into an account, a bicycle will help you retain sanity as at least 90% of those irritating Tuk Tuk drivers will be unable to clap and yell at you ala crack whore style. The remaining 10% will still do it and ask you whether you want Tuk Tuk even though you are well off on your own way with your own transport. Tuk Tuk drivers simply don’t try to make their living by offering quality service or good price, but rather by irritating the crap out of tourists who will not take a ride with them because they need it, but just to get spared from being repeatedly approached in an uncivilized way
To further preserve your sanity, having a bicycle gives you the peace of mind because you know Tuk Tuk drivers will not see a penny from you which is awesome way to pay back for treating you like cheap hooker. If you didn’t have the bicycle, from time to time you will catch yourself needing transport other than your feet. You are likely to go ahead with a Tuk Tuk because they are omnipresent and represent a less expensive option to get moved around. An example of needing a transport even though you can do long distances walking is after you went for a beer in the evening and it’s time to go back to the guesthouse. Unless your guesthouse is located immediately next to the pub where you went for a beer, taking a walk through seedy neighbourhoods populated by local Cambodians will give you creeps and you will rightfully fear for your life. While everyone says that violent crime is low in Cambodia, the same people and publication warn against walking the streets after dark. No matter what the name of the publication that talks about Cambodia, they all warn about the same thing – there truly must be good reason for this unison. And there really is. Hence unless you have your own transport (such as bicycle), sooner or later you WILL get to a situation in which you will need to take a Tuk Tuk regardless of how irritating and rude those drivers are. Bicycle solves this issue once and for all
Bicycle is absolutely the way to go in Cambodia. I understood it right off the bat and would recommend it to everyone who is heading this way. I knew I was going to stay in Cambodia for a while so I decided to purchase one, however most guesthouses and hotels rent bicycles and if yours doesn’t, you can rent one from countless shops selling tour tickets or simply specializing in renting bicycles. There is no shortage of bike rentals in Cambodia and prices start at $1 for a basic one without gears. I once met two guys riding Cannondale mountain bikes – Cannondale is a pro line of bicycles so I immediately enquired whether they brought them with them to Cambodia but was told they rented it out here in Siem Reap for $5 per day. I don’t know where exactly it was, but there is a way to also rent quality bikes for those who prefer reliable and well equipped bicycles.
Area around Siem Reap and Angkor Archaeological Park is predominantly flat so riding bikes is easy. There are virtually no hills here whatsoever. The only challenging part is heat. Cambodian sun is scorching and difficult to handle especially if you putting your body through a workout by pedalling. Keep yourself hydrated and drink a lot of coconut water which costs only 2000 Riel ($0.50) and has all nutrients you need to keep you going in this sun.
For me it was a no brainer that I was going to buy a bicycle, I just didn’t quite know where to go to buy one. I have only been in Cambodia for one day and Siem Reap was small enough to manage on foot, but I needed a bicycle to keep me free from Tuk Tuk drivers and to have transport for Angkor (one way lift by Tuk Tuk to Angkor area from Siem Reap costs $5, or you can hire one for $15 a day, unless you want to visit more remote temples, such as Banteay Srei). Since I wanted by purchase a 7 day pass for Angkor and explore the area relentlessly as much as possible, I’d be looking at quite a bill for Tuk Tuks hence bicycle was absolutely the way to go for me. Furthermore – I’m very environmentally concerned and support transport option that don’t harm environment. Having nice exercise is an added bonus of riding a bicycle. As I had said, for me, this was a no brainer but I would highly recommend it as hands down the best option for transport in Cambodia, especially if you have primarily come here to see Angkor Wat and other temples from the Archaeological Park.
Tuk Tuks represent the primary means of transportation for tourists visiting Cambodia. A Tuk Tuk is supposed to be a three wheeler, but the Cambodian version of it is a semi-enclosed trailer that’s rigged behind a motorcycle – often a moped. Tuk Tuk riding is inexpensive and widely available all over the place. It will likely be the most used, if not solely used means of transportation for vast majority of tourists visiting Cambodia.
I have made a reservation to stay at Two Dragons for a week after arrival to Cambodia and part of the deal was to provide free transport for me from the airport to the guesthouse. Most guesthouses and low to mid range hotels will offer free transport from the airport and this transport is basically always provided by Tuk Tuks. Unless you are staying in a high end hotel with rooms ranging in three digit numbers per night, in which case you will get a ride in a taxi (aka an actual car).
While Tuk Tuks are omnipresent, Taxis are virtually invisible in Cambodia. After a few weeks of living here I have not seen one, but I know they do exist. Upscale establishment offer taxi transportation for their patrons, but as average tourist, you will not see a single one.
My First Ride in Tuk Tuk
After I have gone through Cambodian immigration and got my Visa on Arrival I walked out of the Siem Reap International Airport and straight into the hands of vulture like locals. It was puring cats and dogs outside and it was dark so Tuk Tuk drivers were all over every tourist who stepped outside with offers to take care of their transport. I opened the door and got swarmed by money hungry Cambodians who are on an endless mission to squeeze as much out of every tourist as possible. People of Cambodia are impoverished so there are hardly any hard feelings, but as a savvy traveller who knows the drill, I respectfully ignored every single one of them. I did imagine ranks of unsavvy tourists walking out behind me – all vulnerable and lost in a new country. Many have surely fall victims to the schemes of these Tuk Tuk drivers who know every single trick which works on a tourist and utilize it without remorse.
I knew I had my ride arranged so for me it was only a question of ploughing through the crowds of money hungry locals and watching out for a paerson standing out there somewhere holding a sign with my name. He was all the way in the back and up to the last minute I had people breathing down my neck to get me take a ride with them. Not only would they want to overcharge a tourist for a ride to town, but they’d also want to take the tourist to a guesthouse or a hotel which pays them the highest commission (if you ask a Tuk Tuk driver to get you to the best place, they will only and solely take you to the place that pays them the most in commission fees for each paying customer. Never otherwise).
Riding Tuk Tuk in the Rain
Once I have tracked down the Tuk Tuk driver holding a sign with my name, I told him I was Mark and he ran to get his Tuk Tuk and park it by the side of the road where I was standing as it was still under the roof. Sky was truly pissing that rain down without any shame. My driver put on the helmet and a raincoat, hopped on his moped and pulled over by me. I sat inside the trailer which is not fully enclosed so the seat was partially wet and rain was pounding me from both sides, I sat my main bag on the wetter seat opposite of me and held my camera bag on my lap. We took off and rode through the dark. I was actually a lucky one being within that semi-enclosed trailed. Even though I still got rained on from the sides, I just thought of poor driver who was riding that Tuk Tuk unprotected, facing the rain form the seat of his motorcycle.
The ride from the airport to the guesthouse wasn’t long. About 10 minutes or so, suggesting that the airport is not far from Siem Reap at all. Tuk Tuks don’t ride too fast. It’s a bloody moped that can go at max maybe 40 or 50 km/h plus it has a trailer to haul so I doubt the speed was any higher than that.
By the time we made it to the Two Dragons Guesthouse, it was already past 11pm local time. The guesthouse was quiet, but I was expected. A girl who was waiting for me at the reception took me to my room and turned on the air-conditioning as it was hot. I must have looked tired as hell (and I was) because she said no more. She just looked at me and left to leave me alone so I can get some rest. There was always tomorrow to go through formalities.
Even though pick up from the airport was to be provided for free by Two Dragons guesthouse as I have made a reservation to stay at the establishment for a week, I gave my Tuk Tuk driver a mighty tip of $1. It may sound like a laughable amount to pay to someone for hassle of sitting on a motorcycle in heavy rain to drive my fat ass to a guesthouse, but it is not so in Cambodia. Mighty $1 bill can take care of one local family for a day.
My first Tuk Tuk ride and an initiation to Cambodia with proper down pour of rain was successfully concluded. Let the adventure begin.