They say the journey is the destination...
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Super wrong. The journey today sucked. The destination, beyond expectation.
Yesterday afternoon after landing in Bangkok we grabbed a cab to a small town on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. It was almost a 4 hour ride and when we finally got to the hotel he demanded we paid more than we agreed upon because he is bad at English and couldn't understand. We really really didn't have any choice though. The cab ride was nuts. Driving rules do not apply in Thailand or Cambodia. Every 2 lane road seems divided into 5 lanes. The 2 curbs, the 2 actual lanes, and the middle of the road. The curb lane was for slower traffic such as hand pedaled carts, scooters driven by 10 year olds, tractors, and trucks filled 20 feet high with anything imaginable. The creativity for some of these 'vehicles' was pretty impressive, but it made for dangerous driving
We made it though, and the culture shock hit hard right away. We were definitely not in Japan anymore. We were in a poor, hot, smelly border town. Our hotel was not terrible. Probably the best in town. But that being said, there were mosquitos, a shower head overtop of the toilet with some sort of dangerous looking electrical box used to heat the water, and a bed about as hard as a work bench. So coming off a long day of traveling and more than a week of living in comfort, we had a tuff time accepting where we were. I think we were both kind of questioning why we were doing this and how we're going to be able to ruff it for another few days without being miserable the whole time. We went to the motel's restaurant and got pad thai and watched a couple of episodes of Friday Night Lights on my laptop to relax and fell asleep.
In the morning we knew we were going to have a tuff day. The border crossing into Cambodia is legendary for scams and problems. It's dirty and unorganized, and everyone is trying to rip you off, from the pick pockets to the "security guards" processing your visas demanding more money for ridiculous reasons. They got us with not having an extra set of passport pictures to send with our visas so they charged an extra 100 baht. They just pocket it. The border crossing process goes like this. Go to a Thai building and wait in a huge line to get an exit stamp on your passport. Then walk a ways down the road and guess what dirty building to go into to get your Cambodian visa and give them $20 plus bribes. Then walk over a dirty bridge past a big casino (which they put between the borders since gambling is illegal in both countries) and find another dirty building to go though 'immigration' so you can actually finally go in the country
Once we finally got into Cambodia the taxi scam started. The taxi's are all run by a sort of mob, so all the cabs team up to get as much out of you as they can. I was familiar with most of the scams but they were still relentless. We were tired and hot though so we just grabbed the first air conditioned car we found. The drive to Siem Reap where our hotel is was about a 2 hour drive, and if possible, crazier than driving in Thailand. Here, you had to also deal with cattle crossing the road. I really can't explain in words how insane this was. Cambodia is super dirty too, there is garbage literally everywhere. By the time we got to Siem Reap and when the driver started pulling the typical "tuk tuk" scam where they drop you off with a new driver to take to your hotel so they can try to rip you off some more, we were not optimistic. Actually we were pretty miserable and assumed it was only going to get worse.
Then the tides turned. Our hotel is amazing. It is smaller and extremely ornate. There are gardens and a pool with a large fountain emptying into it. You are absolutely treated like royalty here. They immediately brought out welcome drinks and fresh roasted nuts. Then as we waited for our room to be ready we got our free one hour massages. Now, I'm not a big massage guy, and an hour is a long time, but it was pretty awesome
From being completely hopeless a few hours earlier we were refreshed and excited. We had the hotel call a tuk-tuk (which is scooter with a carriage attached) to take us to Angkor Wat for the sunset. Again I was somewhat worried that it wouldn't live up to all the hype. Again I was wrong. Unbelievable. We were driving past a long lake through the jungle when a temple popped into view. It turns out it was not a lake but a massive moat. At least five times the size of any moat we saw in Japan. As we walked across the bridge and through the first wall of the temple there were a ton of people around. It wasn't terrible though since the temple is massive. It turns out they were all walking out of the temple to take catch their tour buses. Before we knew it, we were wandering around practically by ourselves. The temple was just amazing. Every inch of the walls are carved into pictures and everything seemed to have not been changed since it was made hundreds and hundreds of years ago. There were dark hallways with headless statues, large courtyards with giant pits in the middle, and of course the 5 gigantic spires that rise above everything else. This being Cambodia, there really weren't too many rules either
We stayed in the temple until they made us leave, then slowly wandered back to the entrance. All I can really say about Angkor Wat is wow. Just wow. It's really unbelievable that someplace like this still exists in this world.
The tuk-tuk took us back to town and we walked to the old market. Siem Reap is much much nicer than expected. Nothing like any of the towns we passed on the way in, or the dump we stayed in the night before (it was literally a dump, we passed a big trash dump on they way to the border that they were burning.) The shops are friendly and not pushy and the restaurants are authentic and good. There were funny things everywhere. One popular thing is foot massages where you put your feet into a big aquarium full of small fish and they nibble at your feet eating the dead skin. We didn't try it.
Alright, I've been writing for a while now, and probably could for many more hours but, hey, I've got stuff to do. We're heading back out to the temples tomorrow.
Cambodia has so far exceeded all of my expectations. The good and the bad. But you know what they say, "if it hurts, it's probably worth it."