Another day, another country

Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, December 2, 2005

Awoke with a sense of urgency at 6:30. We were headed to Cambodia today but had no money at all as by the time we received our passports last night all the banks were closed. So our bus was leaving at 8 and we still needed to visit the bank, which luckily opened at 7:30.

Checked out of our hotel and headed over to the bank, which was only a few streets away. We arrived at the bank early and secured a place at the front of the queue. A couple of minutes later and I had $200 in my pocket, more than enough for a couple of weeks in Cabodia I assume. Grabbed a sandwich for breakfast and went to go wait for our bus. There were only 5 people aboard our bus!

Today should have gone pretty smoothly. It's only a couple of hours to the border and we already had our visas so it should only take a few minutes. However we ended up stopping along the way to see "lots of lovely animals". It's just a ploy to get more money for their friends. It was sunny for the first time in ages so I made the most of it and sat sunning myself for 20 minutes before we were ready to go.

Back on the bus and we're told we're only 25 minutes from the border and they hope we are more comfortable after the stop. I replied that I would have been more comfortable if we had just carried on as we would only be 5 minutes away.

As with the China-Laos border we were met with the usual wave of money changers. If I had needed any money changed then I would have done it on the bus. As it was, this was the first country that I had successfully managed to use up all my cash! So I told them all quite truthfully that I had no money.

Getting over the border took forever so my thoughts of an easy crossing were dashed. On entering the Vietnamese immigration building to complete the exit procedure we were met by loads of people sitting tables with very little discernable point. Their whole purpose was to collect the disembarkation cards but they may as well have done that at the main desk like in every other country.

Having managed to pass on my card to the person with the pointless job I joined the queue. There was 1 queue open which I found incredible! Well there were 2 but the other one seemed to be for locals only, which only served to annoy me further.

The queue just didn't move at all. I could see no reason why it should take so long as all they have to do was stamp us out the bloody country, which should take a couple of seconds. Not in Vietnam it seems!

The guy at the desk took about 2 minutes per person, scrutinizing every last detail of the passports. The queue was stretching out the door and it took us over an hour to get through, constantly battling with Chinese people trying to jump the queue. Get to the back shortstuff! My backpack also seems to have doubled in weight since Laos so it was quickly on the floor to give my shoulders a rest.

After getting through the stupid Vietnamese immigration I had my passport checked again before walking the 100 metres or so to the Cambodian border. Once here I should have been able to walk straight through to the other side as I had my visa, but no I had to fill in an embarkation card of course.

Finally through to Cambodian soil and found my way to our new bus, you have to change bus at the border. Told we had 45 minutes to wait so go get some lunch. Beef chow mien, with rice instead of noodle? I swear the meat was dog rather beef! Wasn't too bad though and cost $1.50. Had expected the price to be in Riel but being the border I assume they expect no one to have any local currency?

The border was quite strange. It was very elaborate and looked like a temple but you can tell the real business they are trying to promote. Immediately after crossing the border you are confronted with a huge casino. I think I counted at least 3 casinos so it is obviously big business. Gambling must be illegal in Vietnam as well as Thailand, as I know the border town of Poipet on the other side is a huge gambling town.

Back on the sauna of a bus at 1pm and on the way to Phnom Penh. By now the weather was boiling! This is what I had wanted in Vietnam but sadly it pissed down all the time so I couldn't enjoy it. I'm sure I'll return there one day however as it was an interesting country and I saw barely anything in our north-south blitz.

The drive to Phnom Penh was nothing like I would ever have expected. The landscape is totally flat as far as the eye ca see. I never thought such a landscape could exist anywhere but it does here.

I also expected it to be quite a desolate landscape but it was again totally different. Vast endless fields of varying shades of green with small clumps of trees dotted here and there. Small streams with kids playing and farmers canoeing around their fields. Water buffalo wallowing in the muddy waters, trying to escape the intensity of the sun and the most emaciated cattle I've ever seen struggling to avoid keeling over dead. Quite how they were so thin was beyond me as grazing pasture was so abundant. It is an incredibly picturesque landscape.

While we were passing by these flat fields I thought that the country is probably the biggest airfield in the world. If a plane gets in trouble somewhere over Asia I imagine the traffic control just saying, "land it in Cambodia somewhere!"

The country still seemed very similar however and was very much like Laos. The first banner I spotted wasn't for Angkor beer (although they are everywhere), it was for M150, the faithful industrial strength red bull. The written script was the same and the majority of temples looked incredibly similar to the ones in Laos. I instantly felt at home in this country, far more than I did in Vietnam.

We passed loads of wooden huts again on this journey, however not the small round ones like in Laos. These tended to be larger and more rectangular. Some of them even had walls made of mud. Even though they were grander in scale I still couldn't help but think they were of a poorer design quality than the Laos style.

After a couple of hours we came to our first stop. I was starting to fall asleep so being woken up by someone banging on the window shouting "buy something" wasn't to well received. I didn't buy anything but that didn't stop them trying! They even came on the bus to try harder.

The reason we stopped at this town wasn't just to annoy the passengers, but to wait to board a car ferry over the river. Bridges are obviously an alien concept in Cambodia! Didn't take long to get across but it was a good excuse to stretch my legs and take a few photos. This is a very poor area and the favelas on either side of the bank were a complete shock to me. They looked like they would collapse under the slightest gust of wind.

Soon back on the road again and flying towards Phnom Penh. The LP loves to dramatize everything and said the road was terrible. Well it wasn't and we experienced far worse roads in Vietnam and China.

Got to Phnom Penh around 5:30 and were of course taken to the tour companies hotel. So used to this by now but we humoured them and checked out the room before leaving to find another place. It wasn't the worst place but it was in the middle of nowhere. There are 2 main areas to stay in Phnom Penh, near the river or the lake. This was neither so we had to move on.

I had wanted to go near the lake but a tuk-tuk driver persuaded us to go to the river area instead and took us to the Okay guesthouse. Totally pointless as when we arrived it was packed and there were no rooms left. Oh well still loads more in town!

We asked the driver to take us to another place nearby and we ended up at the Royal Guesthouse. Not quite as grand as it sounds! He said if we didn't like it he would take us to the lake, but he had dissuaded me by mentioning loads of mosquitoes and those bastards love me!

The room was pretty standard. A box room with a couple of ceiling fans likely to decapitate us during the night if we dare try anything faster than half speed, a couple of beds, a pretty scabby en-suite with cold shower and a redeeming point of superb cable TV with ESPN, Star Sports and BBC world. Sold! Only $2 each as well which was a bonus. This country should be pretty cheap.

Paid the tuk-tuk driver and headed off to get some dinner by the river, about a 5 minute walk away. They say don't go out at night because there is a very real chance of a gun being placed in your face whilst someone relives you of your wallet. I don't believe it is anywhere near that bad and had no qualms about heading out.

Safely in a bar with my head intact my wallet soon took a battering. Food and drink are stupidly expensive by the river, but the food was very good and worth the splurge. It's expensive because everything is listed in US$ rather than Riel. The bar maid even laughed when we tried to pay in Riel saying "why did you change up Riel?", er....because it's your currency? I hate the fact that the US$ is so in demand in Asia and no where can be as bad as Cambodia! No one uses their currency which really annoys me. If they didn't use the US$ then it would be far weaker and my money would go further!

We ate our diner at a table outside, admiring the lightning storm in the distance over the river. 5 Minutes later and it was pouring! Great! I thought I had left the rain in Vietnam! Hopefully it's a one off. Either way we escaped to the safety inside the restaurant for a couple of drinks until the rain died a bit before heading back to the hotel.
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