Suesday Cambodia!

Today was very boring since we spent almost the whole of it sleeping on a nine hour bus ride from Bangkok to Siem Reap but I will do my best to make it somewhat worth reading.

We woke up bright and early at 6.45 so we could eat the free breakfast our hostel provided before heading to the bus station. The breakfast itself was not very exciting, some cucumbers and tomatoes, bananas, and some cereal and milk but it’s hard to complain when it’s free. We watched the Benghazi Hearings on CNN in the background. It was my first time ever watching a Senate hearing and my god I think I would vote for Hilary just for being able to put up with that bullshit. After breakfast we showered and checked out, a little sad we had only spent six hours here because it did seem like a very nice hostel.

We headed out to the main road and flagged down a metered taxi to take us to the bus station for 60 baht. Oddly, as we were getting out of the taxi at the bus station, other taxi drivers started hassling us to see if we needed a ride anywhere. Don’t you think if I wanted to go anywhere else I would have done it in the taxi I was already in?

A little confused and still groggy from lack of sleep and a head wound, we went inside the bus station to retrieve our tickets we had purchased online back at the airport in Hanoi. We found them with no issue and also discovered that we bought them through Major Cineplex and we could have picked them up ahead of time at any Major Cineplex theater in Thailand, like say the two times we saw movies, and avoided having to arrive early at the bus station. Oh well, now we had time to stock up on snacks for the long trip ahead of us at the 7-11 inside the bus terminal. We both got some large waters, chips, and Oreos and sat down to kill an hour while we waited for our bus. Lynn passed the time reading, while I alternately watched a Thai soap opera featuring cartoon sound effects, and a child incessantly screaming for no reason and occassionally chewing on the bus station trash can rim. We were both interupted briefly at exactly 8 am for the national anthem and a tribute to the king when the whole terminal went quite and stood up. They really do love their king.

At 8.45 we wandered over to our bus and climbed aboard. The seats were a little cramped, especially with our day packs at our feet since they were unable to fit in the tiny overhead bins, but it was no worse than a plane. We both promptly fell asleep for the next few hours and missed the bus leaving the station and a breakfast of a pastry, oatmeal cookie, and coffee in a can being delivered to the seatback pockets. The next two hours were pretty uneventful as well. Lynn read more of her book, which looks truly terrible from the few pages I read over her shoulder and I listened to music. Just as the bus was getting a little too hot and stale for comfort, we thankfully pulled into a rest stop for a bathroom and snack break.

Our bus that ferried us safely from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
Our bus that ferried us safely from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
The rest stop where we stretched our legs looked remarkably similar to one you would find in the US.  Oh except that the bathroom were open air outside.
The rest stop where we stretched our legs looked remarkably similar to one you would find in the US. Oh, except that bathrooms were just open air alongside a wall outside.

After a twenty minute reprieve we climbed back aboard the bus for another hour and a half to the border with Cambodia. During this time we were all given badges on lanyards to wear around our necks and repeatedly told to put them on now even though we weren’t at the border yet. With five km to go to the border we stopped at the infamous “scam stop.” We had read about this on a TripAdvisor forum so we weren’t having any of it. What happens is a bus official climbs aboard and says that they will help you get your Cambodian visas here and doesn’t mention that you can also get them at the border from immigration for about half the price. Luckily for our bus no one seemed to buy what he was selling and he left empty handed. At this point we were also given our included lunch of three cucumber slices, one slice of pressed fish, and a scoop of fried rice. We both supplemented with our chips and Oreos.

Our badge on a string that seemed incredibly important for us to be wearing.
Our badge on a string that seemed incredibly important for us to be wearing.
Free lunch.  Well, included in the bus fare at least.
Free lunch. Well, included in the bus fare at least.

We continued on to the border and stopped just short. We were told we would need to cross the border on foot and meet up with bus again once we were through. Immediately upon exiting the bus we were offered more “help” to get our visas but we pressed through to the actual border security. The line looked incredibly long, but luckily it turns out the non-Thai line was very short and we breezed through with our eVisas we had gotten a week ago online and had printed yesterday. All through the route of maybe half a kilometer we marveled at the number of people hanging out in this no man’s land between the two border controls, trying to sell you visas or rides, or barefoot and begging for money, or selling all manner of cigarettes and liquor. The Poi Pet border crossing, it seems, has been designed to separate even non fools from their money.

It's hard to read but this sign says that sneaking narcotics into Cambodia is punishable with death. They are not messing around it seems.
It’s hard to read but this sign says that sneaking narcotics into Cambodia is punishable by death. They are not messing around it seems.
Bienvenidos a Cambodia!

Lynn and I managed to resist them all and found ourselves the first ones back on the bus. We climbed aboard and removed our lanyards, only to be told we still needed to wear them for unknown reasons. When in Rome I guess, so we left them on until otherwise told. After another thirty minutes we finally had our full complement of fellow tourists back on board and set off for the remaining three and a half hours to Siem Reap, again falling asleep quickly only to be woken when it was time to finally hand back our lanyards.

The whole day the sun had been bearing down on our side of the bus and we had kept the curtains drawn to make it remotely bearable on board. But for the last hour of the ride, the sun was thankfully setting and we could open the curtains to investigate the Cambodian countryside as we passed. It was mostly flat and filled with yellowing rice paddies stretching off to the horizon.  Occasionally a small hill would jut out of the rice fields but for the most part they were unbroken.  Along the side of the road there were houses up on stilts and stray, skinny cows foraged through the bushes and fields.  Every so often we would see an empty motorbike parked alongside a small pond, with the it’s rider naked and swimming in it by the side of the highway.  Lynn remarked that it reminded her of India, only with less people relieving themselves on the side of the road.  I thought it looked a bit like the swamps in Louisiana.  I guess only with more rice fields, cows, and palm trees.  There were also an abnormally large number of people playing beach volleyball, which we found fun and it was nice to see a little slice home 6000 miles away.

Around 6 pm, after nine hours aboard the bus, we finally arrived in Siem Reap and elected to walk the 15 minutes to our hotel to stretch our legs. During the walk we took in the city and it was very apparent that it only exists to serve the thousands of tourists who make the trek to nearby Angkor Wat.  The street vendors were also a lot more aggressive than we had seen anywhere since China, and we were constantly hounded by tuk-tuk drivers asking if we wanted a ride.  The request was usually accompanied by some fun miming of them revving a motorcycle which made the constant questioning bearable.

Lynn and very boozy bucket of mojitos for $4.  At this restaurant happy hour was from 10 am to close.  I think at that point its just called the price and no longer a drink special.
Lynn and very boozy bucket of mojitos for $4. At this restaurant happy hour was from 10 am to close. I think at that point its just called the price and no longer a drink special.
Siem Reap's version of 6th Street.
Siem Reap’s version of 6th Street.

A short walk down a busy road brought us to our hotel where, for a mere $17 a night, we have a private air conditioned room with ensuite bathroom.  It’s becoming harder and harder or us to think about spending more than $30 a night for a nice hotel.  Southeast Asia has spoiled us.

After checking into the hotel we explored the neighborhood a little bit and had dinner at a local Khmer restaurant where we decided Khmer food isn’t really a thing.  I had basically Thai curry and Lynn had a broccoli stir fry (though both were marketed as Khmer), and we both split some fresh spring rolls and a very boozy bucket of Mojitos that neither of us really enjoyed nor felt the need to finish, even after asking for more sugar.

We finished the evening with a stroll down “Pub Street” and both felt like we had been transported back to 6th Street in Austin.  It’s nothing but patio bars full of English speaking white people, and dirty street musicians asking for money.  On the bright side though, we did find the local hospital in case my head starts bleeding again. Looking for a slightly more local tone to cleanse our palette, we found the night market on our way back to the hotel where Lynn looked at some elephant tank tops and I considered buying a fake Rolex for $15 before we called it a night.

Daily Walking Miles : 3

Days Without Head Wounds : 1

Fun Facts:

  • Despite having its own currency, Cambodia uses dollars for most transactions but still uses their own Riel instead of cents (4000 riel = 1 USD) which leads to very confusing money situations.
  • Every company here pushes their philanthropic nature pretty hard, which makes it all seem suspect.
  • Siem Reap, which is the tourist base for Angkor Wat, was a tiny farming village before tourism exploded. It’s name literally means “Siam (like the old country) defeated.”

First Impressions :

  • We don’t like the prices being in dollars, it makes us feel like we are constantly being ripped off.
  • The street vendors and tuk-tuk drivers here are way more aggressive than they have been anywhere else in Southeast Asia, which is especially annoying for Doug because they tend to not think women make any decisions and so leave Lynn alone.
  • Cambodia seems much poorer than Vietnam or Thailand. Our theory is that tourism and manufacturing have not caught on here as much.
  • Just like most other countries we have been to, there are a plethora of wild dogs roaming the streets.  Most of them are very friendly and just peacefully resting on the sidewalks.  They also all seem remarkably well versed in traffic laws and only cross roads when appropriate.

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