Posted by: Googie | February 16, 2010

Cambodia – the kingdom of wonder

I was referring to the detailed and well written guide to crossing from Thailand to Cambodia over land through the Poi Pet border crossing available here:
http://tr.im/bangkoktosiemreap

For this, I needed to catch the train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet in the afternoon. I picked up my luggage from Tomi’s place in the evening, said goodbye to him and reached the now familiar Khao San road. I could no longer walk on that road without a huge grin on my face, because everywhere I looked there was something to remind me of some crazy thing we had done there just a few days back. I took up a small room, got dinner and went to bed.

The next morning I was at Hua Lumphong train station, and got on to the train going towards Aranyaprathet.

SAM_0115

At the Hua Lamphong railway station

Compared to this train, the one we had taken to get to Surat Thani was a super luxury one. This train had hard seats, was hot and humid and crowded; but I enjoyed the journey nevertheless because I was travelling with the locals like they did all the time. Midway during the journey, I took out my country flag patches and started stitching them onto my backpack. People around me were intrigued by what I was doing and in no time I had an audience. A woman sitting next to me even spoke something in Thai. It could have been anything from, “Why the hell are you stitching these crappy patches, you moron?” to, “Wow, you’re such a cool guy. I have a beautiful daughter at home, will you marry her?” But unfortunately, I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, and I was pretty certain there was no one within 10 square kms that could translate it for me.

SAM_0132

Train to the Cambodian border

SAM_0120

Slums next to the tracks 1

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Slums next to the tracks 2

Once in Aranyaprathet, I got a tuk-tuk to take me to the border. But the tuk-tuk guy took me to some sort of travel agency. I was prepared for this, and told him to take me directly to the border as I already had a visa. He was clearly disappointed, and reluctantly dropped me off at the border.

Departing Thailand, walking into Cambodia, and passing through Cambodian immigrations was a breeze thanks to my e-visa; except for a minor goof-up on my part. On the Cambodian side, when I was showing the officer my passport, I didn’t close my passport pouch properly. Inside were about 80 notes of 10 Rupees each (yes, Indian currency – I don’t know why I’m still carrying the notes!), and all of them fell down. As luck would have it, they fell right in front of one of the standing fans and blew to all corners of the room. I spent the extremely embarrassing next 10 minutes running all around the room collecting my money. There was a time I even had to ask one of the officers to stand up and move his chair, so that I could crawl under his table to pick up some notes.

07 Entering Cambodia

Entering the Kingdom of Cambodia

Once outside, I was legally permitted to be in Cambodia for the next 30 days. Since it was late already, I was unable to find anyone to share a taxi to Siem Reap that was about 150 kms away. But I got a fairly good deal with one of the drivers, who agreed to take me for 25 USD. Our first stop was a Cambodian gas station, which, to put it very very mildly, had zero safety measures. Trust me when I say this to you, dear reader, a bunch of kids pumping gas out of an inverted gas cylinder and into the car using foot pumps could be a little scary for the faint hearted!

08 Cambodian petrol pump

A Cambodian countryside gas station

I was a bit nervous when the driver began to slow down and eventually stopped in the middle of nowhere. He was a frail old man, and I was sure that unless he knew some crazy martial art like Muay Thai or something, I could easily take him on. But I was thinking more in the lines of people jumping out of the side of the road and ambushing the poor Indian tourist. Nothing of the sort happened, because it was just a “taking a leak” break.

The driver knew the guesthouse I was looking for, and brought me there safe. I was happy and I gave him a tip of 5 USD. By Cambodian standards, this was a HUGE tip; and by the look on the driver’s face, I knew that I had made his day.

The staff at Sweet Dreams guest house were very courteous, especially the Manager, Mr. Ni Ni. He said that I reminded him of one of his best friends, and that he would charge me only 4 USD for my room. Echo came by my room later in the night, and we had a small chat about how we would spend the next few days in Siem Reap.

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