Dirty town and the dancing road

Trip Start Nov 15, 2003
Trip End Nov 14, 2004

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Monday, November 17, 2003

After an attempt at sleep in Bangkok and the jet lag still kicking in I dumped my bags off at a friends in bangkok so i could travel light. I bumped into my old colleagues from hong kong before jumping on the train to the Thai - Cambodia border.

On the recommendation of a friend i chose to get the afternoon train to the border and cross early the next day. Mindful of Richard's warning not to drop cigarette butts on the floor of Bangkok station and so not get arrested, I found I had 2 hours to kill. In my jet lagged state it was fun to sit and watch the world go by. I even managed my first attempt at buying local food from a stall. Pointing at food seems to be the best way forward.

When the train did arrive, I could nearly have killed Mel. It was a 3rd class stoppping train with plastic seats. 6 hours of that on my untrained western bum on a seat not designed for a 6'1" foreigner, coupled with my jet lag was too much. The thing was rammed as well. But having said that once we got out of Bangkok I reall began to enjoy the ride. A random old woman opposite me had a garbled conversation with me in French and English for a couple of hours. It was great to watch the countryside go by. Even though it is flat and boring it is strangely hypnotic. I think palm trees really make a place. It was a great chance to try and adjust to the pace of life, and get out of London mode. Something that has taken a few days.

On the journey I met a really interesting German man, who has been travelling pretty much for the last 40 years, and for a while lived in Kabul, Afgahnistan, so at least I had conversation for the trip. We overnighted on the Thai side of the Cambodian border in a reasonable hotel and talked about life over a few beers.

We hit the border in the morning after a prostitutes breakfast of coffee and cigarettes. I have to say that I was really worried about the border after hearing so many bad things about it. It was pretty painless until we crossed over. On the Thai side there are lines of trucks, carts and people from before the border opens. This is one of the major trade routes between the two countries. Once you get to Cambodia, you hit this horrible dirty town of Poipet, and are instantly accosted by taxi touts. The whole experience is one of hell, rubbish every where and your are followed by this pack of scavengers. Not wanting to wait around and not in a fit state to deal with 4 hours in the pack of a pickup we opted for a cab. We walked about 500 metres away from the border crossing and hired a whole car for about 1200 baht, not the 3000 the guys at the border wanted. I am so glad we did. The road is appalling for a long section, dubbed the dancing road as we seemed to spend our time bouncing round the back of the cab. After hearing the stories of the guys who got pickups or tourist buses I am glad I spent the extra. 3 hours of air con was exactly what the headache doctor ordered.

The journey in was a great way to start Cambodia, and I pretty soon started to fall for its charms. Watching the paddy fields and villages pass by has a mesmerising quality. We soon reached the outskirts of Siem Riep, fast becoming a version of a greek holiday town, with new hotels opening up by the minute. I think that pretty soon what's left of the charm will be gone, replaced by corporate monoculture hell as the tourist industry takes off.

A few more beers at the guest house and I felt ready to hit the hay and attempt some temples the next day.
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