The welcoming crowd when the bus arrived was about as I expected, maybe 10 people pushing and shoving trying to get me to go to "Blah Guesthouse 2", where "Blah Guesthouse" is one mentioned in the Lonely Planet, and "Blah Guesthouse 2" is someone trying to get idiots to go to theirs instead
. I gave some guy 50 cents to take me to the Star Guethouse, only to find out it was 20 seconds away, around the corner. That has to be the biggest profit margin ever. Oh well, I didn't take the chance of wandering the wrong way, and it was a lot cheaper than buying the guide that includes the map. I had some fish and chips at the guesthouse and bought a mini-bus ticket to the Laos border for tomorrow. It really irritates me that the ticket costs $10 to go less than half the distance I came today (and today I paid $6). It seems that the closer you get to the border, the more expensive things get. I have the option of taking a ferry the second half of my trip, I'm not sure what I'll do though. I had intended to take the ferry up the Mekong to avoid the supposedly crappy road, but it might be too much hassle in the end. It seems that all the rumors of the Laos border being only semi-open are incorrect. Granted, this crossing changes more than the guidebooks update, but it is definetly possible to cross the Cambodian-Laos border if you have the appropriate Visa in advance. In fact, my bus ticket is the "Kratie-Stung Treng-Lao Border Busline".
I spent some time wandering around this quiet little town. It's really nice not having people ask me if I need a moto ride every 5 meters. In fact, nobody ever asked me to buy anything. It's not a tourist town at all, other than people stop overnight on their way to Laos
. I went looking for an umbrella only to discover that few of them have learned English, so I had to go back to my guest house (across the street) and ask what the Khmer word for umbrella was. The town is really small, maybe a rectangle 1500m by 300m I walked from one end to the other in 15 or 20 minutes. Typical of Asia, I found a street with literally 6 barber shops. Six! in a town with only 20 streets. Another good one was two places right near each other name "car and motor wash". It just cracks me up how capitalism works here. I guess they figure it will give them both equal business if they are in the same location. I did receive quite a few stares by the locals as they are not used to foreigners wandering too far from the guesthouses. The children are not shy at all and most of them will yell "Hello" to me when they see me. I always yell "Hello" back, and sometimes this repeats a few times, depending on the child. I found some kids playing soccer in the school yard, and some kids on a street playing "hacky-sack" with an old badmitton dart (I forgot the correct word, pigeon?). Everything seems as you would expect in a happy little town. Of course, the problem is that most of these people have no future except in this same small town, probably doing what their parents did. The outskirts of town immediately shift to agriculture with pigs and cows grazing at random.
I am very impressed with Cambodia. The people have been unequivocally kind and willing to help out. I fear that perhaps with time they may turn into the jaded scam artists of Thailand, but for now things seem great. I would even consider living in Cambodia if the right job came up. Given the good nature of the people and the relatively open government, I think Cambodia has a lot of potential in the 10-30 year future.
I am fairly certain that dialup is the fastest internet connection in Kratie, so I may have to postpone uploading many photographs for several days until I get to Pakse or Vientiane.
Up and early once again, I rode the 7:30am bus bus headed for Kratie. I don't have a particular thing to see in Kratie. It seemed like a good sized city that was a decent distance from Phnom Penh, and it was on the way to the Laos border. The ride was uneventful other than a guy near me getting sick (on the rice I decided not to eat) and vomiting rice all over the guy in front of him. The guy in front had to go outside and wash his head off with bottled water, but seemed to think the whole thing was rather funny. People are really relaxed here in Cambodia and seem to never get agitated. Most of the bus ride the driver had to use the horn to shooo children, cattle, other animals off the roadway. I say roadway in a literal sense this time as the Cambodian government paved this road sometime in the last year by the looks of it. We'll see tomorrow how far the paving goes past Kratie.