19 Dec The Border: goodbye Thailand, welcome to Cambodia
At the border, we encounter the craziest traffic. Besides scooters buzzing all around and pedestrians walking everywhere, there are huge trucks rolling by with over loaded trailers. The trailers look like they should bust at all the seems or topple over with their goods. Other people are pulling huge wooden carts loaded up with food and goods. Some are so big, we wonder how a human can possibly pull them. Some carts are pulled and pushed by several people. There are several scam artists trying to get us to do the visa for Cambodia through them. Fortunately, we read up on it and already have our e-visa ready. An official, tells us where to go to get stamped out of Thailand. We follow his directions. We go through the narrow path way where the huge, human drawn carts go and park our bikes. Then we are heading upstairs to the “foreigner” counter to get stamped out and head back to our bikes. Of course we do not dare to leave our bikes unattended in this chaos, so we do this in teams, while the other team is watching the bikes.
Then we have to walk about 150 meters to the Cambodian site. During these 150 meters we watch traffic change from the left side of the road to the right side of the road in a somewhat organized but still chaotic matter. Somehow, the chaos works. Although there is a lot of honking and beeping going on, nobody gets bumped or run into. Even we find our way to the right side of the road before we reach the Cambodian passport control. Strangely enough, there is a lot going on in this short strip of “no-mans-land”. There are Casinos, hotels, shops, and who knows what in between the two border controls.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”486″]http://youtu.be/mdnb_L-KHmI[/youtube]
Although we have the e-visa, we still have to stand in line for a long time. Apparently, a touring bus arrived just before us and all the tourists have to exit the bus, their luggage gets carted over the border in several hand drawn carts while the tourists stand in lines to get stamped out of Thailand and stamped into Cambodia. Then they have to wait for a different bus to continue their trip. We on the other hand have to wait for all of them to make it through the long line ahead of us.
Finally, we make it to the front. We have to approach the little window one at a time. We hand our paperwork over, get a picture taken, answer where we are coming from and where we are going to, and finally we get our stamp into the country. Since the long line is leading through a narrow tunnel-looking building, where no bikes are allowed, we have to do this part as teams as well…so much for time management!
Finally, we push our bikes past the last official building into Cambodia. It is very obvious from the very start, that this country is much worse off than Thailand. The road is much rougher, the town is engulfed in a huge reddish dust cloud, garbage is more abundant…and it is very loud. All of a sudden trucks and cars are zinging by at much higher speeds and everybody is honking their horns. Actually, the horn seems to replace the brakes for some of the drivers as they bulldoze their way down the road. We stop at a bank shortly after crossing the border to get some Cambodian money. When I ask about the exchange rate, I get a funny look and are told, that the ATM will not spit out more then 250 US dollars, but if I want I can exchange some into riel. With an even stranger look on my face I ask, why the machine would not give me any Cambodian money to begin with. So I am told that in Cambodia, most everything is traded in dollars, even in the villages people are used to dollars. However, there are no coins, so change is given in Cambodian riel. Since the exchange rate is roughly 4050 riel to 1 dollar, 1000 riel are basically equivalent to a quarter and so on. Well, that’s gonna be interesting!
I get my dollars out of the machine. The ATM spits out two 100 bills and one 50 dollar bill, and that in the second poorest nation in SE Asia! Who is supposed to break that for me?! Good thing I am at the bank, but they too are unable to break the money for me because they are about to close for the day!
After explaining the money situation to Ron and Randy, we continue our ride in the chaotic traffic. A little tired, we are looking for a guesthouse, but with the chaos all around us we miss all of them until we are at the very edge of town…several miles down the road. Unfortunately, the first one we find is already full, so we continue to the next guesthouse. After checking in, we are told that the electric just went out, which means the water is not working as well. Luckily, it came right back on again, which did not matter much since our toilet did not flush anyways and Jessica and Randy had no working light in their bathroom, just bare wires sticking out from the wall just above the shower head.
Well, time for dinner.
Since, we didn’t notice how far we actually rode in the chaos to get to our room, we initially decide to walk back into town to eat at the casino. Tired of rice and rice-noodles for the last several days, Randy was really looking forward to something different. We were also hoping to break some of the bigger bills there and to get some change.
We quickly figured out though, that we are much further away, so we hail down a guy on a tuk-tuk looking vehicle to give us a ride. Strangely, he wants to get payed in Thai baht. We scratch together all of our last few baht to pay him and still had to throw in a dollar bill. At the Casino, we end up having another meal consisting of rice and meat, but we treat ourselves to a banana split to top it off. Again, everything we order, we are supposed to pay in Thai baht…well, we managed to spent all of them in Thailand as planned and have none left. So to pay, we have to exchange our dollars into thai baht, but we have to know exactly how much we want to exchange, otherwise we are getting stuck with baht that we do not need. Considering, that we are officially on the Cambodian side of the border, we find this a little bit strange.
After a long evening at the Casino restaurant, we are on the lookout for a ride back to the room which turns out to be more than 3 miles out of town. It is late, the border is already officially closed and traffic has died down considerably. We do a lot of walking and asking around and soon find out that there are no official taxi cabs or tuk-tuks anywhere in town.
After failing miserably at hitching a ride, we finally decide to give the scooter taxis a go. Ron and I share one, Randy already found his own, and Jessica got one as well and off we go in the dark. The ride is very long and we have to continually reassure the drivers, that “yes it is further down the road, we promise!”
Finally at the room, we fall asleep fast.