Today we crossed the border. The tuk-tuk guy we’d used yesterday picked us up at 9am and drove us to the little visa place a short distance from the border itself. The visa fee is meant to be $20 as stated on posters in the area. I was asked for 1000THB which is $33, but told them we had no Baht and they accepted $30. The excuse from last night was a repeated: “you can pay 1000THB here to get visa right away or go to Bangkok and wait 2-3 days which is more expensive”. Or you can fly into the airport, pay $20 and get it immediately as they don’t try to rip you off.
A bunch of 3 guys were there and relieved we could use dollars as they had no Baht left. One had to get his visa as his Thai one had expired and he couldn’t re-enter the country without exiting first! The tuk-tuk drove us the last half mile or so to the crossing proper where we were “helped” through border control by a Thai with a badge.
On the Cambodian side we were herded onto a “tourist bus” for the 500m drive to the taxi office where we could get a bus ticket for $10 or a taxi ticket for $60. This is a huge increase on recent years, where the taxi fare used to be $25 – and in fact, still is. The remainder is taxes and fees for the monopoly which operates in the area.
Their argument is it stops the old rip-offs that did occur – getting halfway to Siem Reap and then the driver demanding more cash or he’d dump you in the middle of nowhere. Rare, but reported. All drivers now must be licensed and regulated through them. Any problems and the driver can lose his license. They can also lose their license if they’re caught bartering outside of new system. We couldn’t find anyone else to share with (the others who came through were a group of four, and four is the maximum for a taxi) so had to foot the $60 charge between us.
The driver was great. Fast, chatty, friendly and the 2 1/2 hour drive passed quickly. The roads really have improved on what I’d heard about and for the first half or so it was rare to go more than a mile without seeing some kind of roadworks as they continue to be levelled and surfaced.
In Siem Reap, I gave the driver 200 Baht (about three quid) as a tip and he seemed genuinely taken aback. Hey, I don’t even know if he’d get a fare back to the border. Petrol here is about 50p a litre – less than half that in the UK – but this is an enormous amount when the average daily income is less than $1. We had a short tuk-tuk ride to the Bou Savy Guest House where Amy had stayed the last time I was in Siem Reap and settled in to enjoy the aircon.
After a shower and change of clothes (yeah, I know you’re hearing that phrase a lot on this blog – it’s humid over here), we tuk-tuk’d to the Children’s Hospital where I bled down a tube in exchange for a Coke and some iron tablet. As we were there, the first proof of the wet season descended upon us. When it rains here, it really rains! After the torrent finished, we got a lift down to the old market for a quick wander round.
Leah looked at the silks, I stared at the meat and fresh produce section. Great stuff. After a quick wander into some bookstores and a non-haggled $5 purchase of a new Vietnam Lonely Planet from a woman in the street, we settled down at the Temple bar on Pub Street for a drinkie and some food. My pizza was very tasty and Leah made approving noises as she devoured a steak. After a few more beers/vodkas we walked upstairs to watch the free Apsara dancing and supped a couple of cocktails. I recommend the AK-47 with a whopping 5 shots in it… and always available on 2-for-1. Eek.
After the dancing, we trundled over to the X rooftop bar where I let Leah beat me at pool (with our jury-rigged ball system as there aren’t enough for the two tables) and I got talking to a guy from Dorset who kind of arrived here and hasn’t left yet. He’s now working at X for around $10 a day, wondering what to do with himself – but I don’t think his plans will involve moving on any time soon. Apparently I was drunk when Leah instructed me that it was time to head back to the guest house, but I still don’t believe it. I’d only had about 12 beers and 9 shots. And one less pint of blood in my system than usual.