We will go to the foreigner district tonight that is famous in the infamous world travelers circuit. Tomorrow all the mix of English campers/college girls from Japan and Thailand will be going to the royal palace. We will part ways and start our journey across the Cambodian border in search of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.
I had to call in the cavalry yesterday and have $ sent to me from the ‘rents. (Thank you.) It was pretty frustrating because Thursday I get paid in Korea and I’ll just be sending it right back. I have money sitting in my American account but forgot my American debit card, so I can pull none out. And I have my US credit card but nobody can take it because they’re not that advanced apparently. So, Western Union had to step in.
Friday after the last day of class we went to the beach and were fed fresh pizza and ribs by the school and sang karaoke with the Uni girls we’d been teaching. Saturday me and Josh went to Rayong, a town about 30 minutes away on our rented scooters so that we could eat at The Sizzler and to find the Western Union. On our way back while cruising on the shoulder like is customary for lil scooters on the highway, this COMPLETE idiot fur-rang (that’s foreigner in Thai) came super close to making josh lay the bike down and go in the ditch. It was not pretty. Luckily everyone came out atop their bikes.
7:00 a.m. came suuuuuper early. We walked to where the bus was supposedly going to pick us up and found nothing. After searching for an hour, I saw a white guy and after a quick chat we had a great deal of knowledge on how to make this trip work. We had to take a city bus to the big bus terminal, get on a bigger (and thankfully nicer) bus and went to the border. At the border we had to get out again, cross, take another taxi bus to another bus terminal and wager a charge to get us into the city. And it is this complicated all the time, anytime because of dissention between the Khmer’s and the Thai’s. The border was super hot, dry, dusty and filled with many shady looking areas and people. I also got to walk past my first live round, loaded AK assault rifle.
Halfway between the border and Siem Reap I experienced my first “gringo trap”. There were already 2 other busses parked as we entered this unexpected parking lot. We were told to get off and that this was a time to rest and get some food and drink, and that in 45 minutes we’d be leaving to go the rest of the way into the city. The only saving grace was that despite them technically being hustling street gypsies, we were greeted outside the bus by the sweetest, cutest little kids in the world. And boy did they know English! Granted, they knew exactly what they needed to say, from repetition, but surprisingly, most of them could really have a good conversation with you. Their little scheme was to hold out tied and twisted string bracelets and say “here. For you. Free.” And then to pull out coins from other countries and then ask you for your coins.
Finally it is time to leave. We got back in the bus and about 5 minutes into our journey I feel the bus driver do a pretty hard brake check so I poke up out of the seat and then the air brakes grab again. Now I see a car that is sitting perpendicular to the road ahead of us and it is completely blocking the road. As we get closer I look at Josh and we both have the same facial expression of curious “oh no” paranoia, so then I glance to the right and then the left…really hoping NOT to see pick-ups full of gun toting Khmer-rouge about to pounce on us. There isn’t…yet….so we’re good. The car pulls forward, stops. Then back, stops. And because the bus is fully stopped now, I’m really wondering what’s going on. The car driver looks at us, then looks around, and I check again to see if we’re about to have a mandatory give away. Now the car driver pulls forward again, this time turning his wheels slightly, then back again with them turned opposite. He is now facing the other direction, and it is apparent that this guy has successfully performed the longest, most difficult u-turn in automotive history.
Getting into Siem Reap….I am in awe. It is a very interesting place. It is a super bustling place. The first things I see are LOTS of little motorbike taxi things called tuk-tuk’s and on either side of the road are glamorous, multi floor, hotels and suites, complete with accent lighting and wonderfully landscaped fronts. Obviously this is a tourist façade…the actual country isn’t like that. But what I came to realize is that labor is cheap, they still do good work, and the U$D will go so far that even IF they charge “ridiculous” (to them) tourist prices…it only comes out to $20-60. I tried to get Josh and Haley to splurge on an expensive 60$ room, but our tuk-tuk driver took us to a 20$ establishment, and it was immaculate. I don’t think the beds were memory foam, but it was firm and when you laid down it became soft. Fake memory foam. They have everything else fake; I guess it’d be sad if that were left out. 3 full size beds in the room, all tile floor, and the bathroom was NORMAL. It had a full size tub, the shower head came out of the WALL….ABOVE my head, and not a hose that was connected to the sink faucet like the rest of Asia, there was a shower curtain, and there was room to move in the bathroom. “I have finally arrived,” I thought.
We unpacked, showered, and decided to go walk around. We found the nightlife street, and the restaurants had the same thing going on as the hotels. We found a cool looking place that served exotic meat that you grilled yourself…and we (the 3 of us) ordered snake, ostrich, kangaroo, frog legs, alligator, and unlimited side dishes…. For….wait for it…..30 dollars. 30 dollars! Total! And it was enough meat for all of us. It was truly impressive.
The next day we had an equally amazing meal, mine cost $6.50, and it was ratatouille pasta with chicken. It was spicy and oh so tasty. Walking around after dinner I saw a guy wearing a Cambodia soccer style jersey on, and asked him where he got it. He told me the night market for $5. Brilliant. So we walked to the market and it was closed. We turned around and were walking around again when I saw him pass. I confirmed w/ him that he paid $5 for it, then pulled out a $10, actually it was Haley, I only had a $20…and said, ‘you want to double your money?” He laughed and didn’t think was serious, but after I explained to him we were leaving at 7 a.m., he laughed again and took the money. So I got me a Cambodia jersey. Yeah!
The Cambodia side of the return trip home was decently tolerable. This time the customs/immigration line was long and it was hot, but that was only the beginning of our irritating problems. We got fed story after story, and getting back to the stinky little town of Ban Phe couldn’t have been more difficult I don’t think. Or longer for that matter. It took us a full 12 hours. Everything turned out fine though, and we came away with an amazing experience and a few pretty good stories. 48 hours and I'll be on the plane bound for Korea once again.