I don’t know what it is, but still whenever I think about Cambodia a certain Dead Kennedys song goes through my head. Weird. Today would be my third visit to the country and my first to the south-west.
Although I’d planned to get up early, that didn’t quite work as I decided I just had to watch the last two episodes of last season’s Spooks before I packed up. Woah, what an ending! I won’t spoil it for you… This meant I headed out to get breakfast at around 10:30. I picked up chicken and rice from the same place as yesterday and also checked on the transportation to Hat Lek (or Had Lek). This is obtainable from the “bus station” around the back of the market, on the other side from Sukhumvit Road.
Buses are frequent and I managed to get the times from a very helpful lady. Between her broken English and my broken Thai, I deciphered the times and that for 60 baht I would be taken to Hat Lek, then for a further 50 baht another sawngthaew would carry me to the border checkpoint. The name “sawngthaew” literally means “two rows” and refers to the benches bolted into the back of a regular truck. There’s usually a roof (hand made, of course) over the top as well.
I thanked Mama Jame who recommended a place to stay in Krong Koh Kong, and walked back round to the bus station. Bang on time, I was ushered onto my awaiting steed, crammed in with 7 non-English speaking Thais and we set off.
After around twenty minutes, the truck pulled over and two little old ladies got on. We made room for one and I volunteered to stand so that the other could sit – I was nearest the entrance/exit/step so it made sense. After maybe 15 minutes of being a passenger in a fashion that would have the Health and Safety munchkins in the UK’s heads exploding (oh, what a joyous thought), both ladies departed and I regained my seat.
A few more passengers got on and off, including one woman with a small child (who got a smack off his dad for running across the road) and a basket full of puppies. Just what you see every day. Well, here anyway. Roughly ninety minutes after we left town, we pulled into Hat Lek and I was shuffled onto another sawngthaew along with the puppy lady and her son. Half an hour later we were at the border. I could have told you this by the sudden gaggle of madmen asking me if I needed visa, ticket, hotel and so on. Here we go again.
I dodged them all, confusing many by saying I wasn’t going to Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Which was true – not until the next day anyway. Checking out of Thailand took two minutes in an orderly queue (where I spotted that if you enter the country by land, you only get a 15-day visa, not 30 as from the airports) while I joined a veritable melÃ©e outside the immigration office on the Cambodian side.
My eVisa didn’t really speed things up, but it did save me some cash going by the complaints from the surrounding tourists. If you arrive with one of these, you still have to fill in an immigration form and ensure you keep one of the copies of your visa tucked into your passport as it’s the only thing you’ll have with your visa number on. You’ll need this to check into hotels and so on. The only real downside is that you don’t get one of the nice, big, green stickers in your passport as a souvenir – just a regular stamp.
In the queue I got talking to a Danish family (mum, dad, 3 kids) a girl from Sweden and Claire from London. There was another chap, but we lost track of him so I can only tell you he was British. As we all had separate plans, Claire, Swedish Girl and English Guy and I all ended up in one taxi. English Guy had “agreed” to a 300 baht fare without haggling so we were stuck. But on we went.
As an aside, yes – baht. Around the border area and in the town, baht is readily accepted along with US dollars and the native riel. Handy if you need to cash up as there is only one ATM at the border and none in Krong Koh Kong, although the banks there will accept Visa for cash advances.
As we drove, our first hint that our cab driver was trying it on was when we arrived at a toll gate. He demanded 11 baht from each of us for the toll despite a large sign next to the booth clarly stating that cars were 4000 riel ($1, 38 baht). Despite English Guy being ready to cough up, we stopped him and stood our ground. Or sat in or seats. We were already paying too much for the ride and he was trying to screw us for an extra 44 baht.
Eventually he caved, insisting we would pay him when we reached town. Then he started to sulk. We’d asked to be taken to the guest house, although English Guy and Swedish Girl wanted to check out the chance of a taxi to Phnom Penh. After the diversion resulted in them refusing the 4000 baht asking price we ended up at a bus ticket sales office.
We argued and demanded he take is to the guest house which he’d earlier said he knew, but he suddenly declared he didn’t know where it was. So we got out. Claire and I decided he could make do with 200 baht for the fare instead of the 300 he’d asked for as he’d not taken us to the correct destination. Swedish Girl, I think, gave him too much so he probably got close to his 300 anyway.
English Guy gave in and got back into the cab – fool – and us three got another one which looked at the card Mama Jame had given me and agreed to take us there for 50 baht each. It was five minutes’ drive away and, on arriving, was obviously not the place on the card. Similar name, different telephone numbers. Still, the rooms looked OK and were 100 baht each so we took them. Amusingly, English Guy had arrived at the same place ahead of us (with the taxi driver who “didn’t know where this place was”) and was on his way elsewhere as he wanted somewhere more upmarket.
The Danish family had also beaten us there and booked into one room with two beds for 150 baht. Bargain for five people! The staff were pleasant and the obligatory cute infant was running around so we felt fine there.
Thing is, I’d by now run out of cash as I had thought there was an ATM in town. There isn’t. Claire, however, had plenty and kindly offered to spot me until we got to Sihanoukville. At the time of writing I owe her for my bus ticket (500 baht or $15), dinner (95 baht) a beer (80 baht) and half a banana pancake (no idea). In case she reads this – a huge public “thank you” for helping me out and you should have the cash by now!
After dinner, we took a quick walk onto the river to snap some sunset pics then down the road for internet (60 baht an hour in each place we found and very slow indeedy). We also located the Koh Konh Guest House which is where we’d wanted to go in the first place. The staff there were also lovely, the rooms nicer (but pricier) and the food much better, bigger portions and cheaper! We told them about the taxi drivers and they got a little annoyed. I hope they sort it out.
We settled down and had the aforementioned beer and pancake while we talked to a few lads who were watching the footie on telly. All too soon, Claire decided to call it a night and I decided to head back as well. It’s pretty dark around here at night so I couldn’t let her walk back by herself.
Back at the guest house I had a quick, cold, shower. Despite having an electric shower on the wall, it didn’t work. Strong jet of water, luke warm. Still, I had that for over three weeks in Bali. It’s just annoying as we’d taken the rooms partly as we’d expected warm water. Well, I had.
I took a quick walk over the road, too, where I got a bottle of water for 25 baht. It was meant to be 25, but I was all out. The little old lady there very kindly said I could have a 1 baht discount. If I remember in the morning, I’ll try to scrounge a coin from Claire and run over with it. 1 baht to me is nothing. To them it’s actually worth something.
And now I’m finished typing, I’m going to start on the final season of The Shield. I will try to get some sleep tonight…