TENTH MOVEMENT: CAMBODIA
Siem Reap, Cambodia
I woke up today at 04:10, got ready, packed my bags, checked out of the hotel, and then walked east to the Bangkok Railway Station. Upon reaching the station, I bought my ticket to Aranyaprathet (the city closest to the Cambodian border) and then boarded the train; as darkness turned to light, the train left Bangkok Railway Station, moving further and further away from the city. As the train traveled away from the center of Bangkok, it stopped many times, picking up more and more people, and soon the train was filled with passengers and many were standing in the aisle way. Soon we reached the Thai countryside where many rice and corn farms could be seen amongst the jungle of banana trees and coconut palms. As Thailand was passing me by, there were the usual vendors walking through the train cars, carrying their merchandise in baskets and announcing their goods, ensuring sleep for none. As we neared the town of Aranyaprathet, a Thai lady sat next to me and told me that she had lived in Los Angeles, she even showed me her husband’s passport (American, Selfish Generation, probably met her in the Patpong district while on R&R from the war in Vietnam); I had trouble understanding her, but was able to pickup on most of her English and learned that she was working in Thailand for the past year and was soon planning on returning to the United States to see her children and her recently-born grandchild. We then finally reached Aranyaprathet, I said “goodbye” to the Thai lady, and then went straight to the restroom (it was a six hour train ride and I didn’t leave my seat once). After relieving myself, I then went out to find a tuk-tuk to take me to the Cambodian border near Poipet; I met a Japanese tourist and we decided to share a tuk-tuk – that way it would only cost us each half the price. On the drive to the border, the tuk-tuk driver asked us if we wanted to stop to get our Cambodian Visa; I anticipated this scam thanks to seat61.com (a fantastic website for travelers primarily focusing on train travel, but it gives a detailed write-up on how to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap) and told the driver we both have Cambodian Visas and to take us straight to the border. Once at the border, the Japanese (due to political correctness gone awry I can’t shorten this word) man and I departed Thailand through their immigration office, then walked across the border (keeping an eye out for pickpockets – the border is crowded and reportedly full of such criminals) to the Cambodian Visa on Arrival office (along the way we were stopped by Cambodian “health officials” who had us fill out a form, they took our temperature, handed us an emergency contact form, and then tried to extort 20 baht from us; I gave the contact form back to the “health official” and he soon let me go without gaining any extorted money – fuck all criminals); we filled out the Visa form, submitted a “recent” passport photo, and gave 800 baht (it should’ve been 640 baht ($20), but not everyone stays up-to-date on exchange rates) to the guard there; in five minutes we received our visas; then we walked on, past many casinos, to the Cambodian “Arrival” station; at the station, we filled out our Arrival and Departure forms and were soon stamped in to the country. From there, we went to the free shuttle bus, which – after waiting for a while – took us to the bus terminal outside of Poipet. At the bus terminal, we each paid to have a minivan take us to Siem Reap ($10 or 350 baht – it should’ve been 320 baht, but not everyone stays up-to-date on exchange rates – I ended up paying 340 baht); once the van’s capacity was filled, we traveled to Siem Reap; after about two hours of driving through the mostly flat countryside of Cambodia, we reached Siem Reap. We were dropped off at a spot slightly out of town where many tuk-tuk drivers were prepared to take us the rest of the way; since the man who sold us our minivan tickets told us the tuk-tuk ride would be free to our hotels and it was not, I was resolved to walk the rest of the way in to town (the freemarket must work itself out and I will not impede its progress); the tuk-tuk drivers told me the town center was eight to twelve kilometers away – it was actually about two kilometers away; once again, I’ve seen firsthand what type of people bus/taxi/tuk-tuk drivers are (i.e. “shit”); I will continue walking everywhere to help put these people out of business (if only they were honest and just folk, but alas, they are not).
Soon I was in Siem Reap city central and found my way to the hotel I booked with the night prior (while walking through the streets, I noticed a “6-Eleven” store, I think 7-Eleven should file a lawsuit). I dropped my bags off and then left with camera in hand to see the Old Market and “Pub Street”. Along the way I stopped at a bank’s ATM to grab some cash; I found out through my transaction and from the restaurant menus along “Pub Street” that Cambodia primarily uses the United States dollar as its currency; sure it has the Cambodia riel, but everyone does business in U.S. dollar bills; however, there are no U.S. coins, so all change below the “one U.S. dollar bill” is done in riel – this is very strange to me since I know the United States prefers to keep its currency “in-house”. Also, Cambodia is the first country I’ve been to since I left the Philippines that drives the American way – on the right-hand side of the street. I soon reached “Pub Street” and found a decent looking restaurant where I had Khmer barbeque, which was very similar to Korean barbeque; I had beef, bacon, crocodile, and kangaroo meat for dinner, along with boiled vegetables and steamed rice – it was delicious! I also had a pitcher of beer and an orange fruit shake. After dinner, I walked back to the hotel (buying a bottle of wine along the way) and soon found myself on my bed and drinking an Argentinian wine (a mix between Merlot and Malbec grapes) while watching ‘Django Unchained’ on the television. It was not long before I passed out after finishing the bottle of wine.