Thursday, 5 March 2009

Into Cambodia

Today I crossed the border into Cambodia at Poipet, about 5 hours east of Bangkok. The first weird thing was that it was hot and sunny on the Thai side, but after passing through immigration and emerging on to the Cambodian side, it had become dusty, dark and windy. Five minutes later it was raining hard. It felt like I'd just stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia.

Before you even get to the Cambodian post there are a few big casinos right on the border, the Thais love to come over for day trips just to gamble away their baht. Apparently they are even allowed to pop back over the border without having to go through immigration, just so they can get to the ATMs.

I split a cab with an Estonian couple I'd met from the bus - they only had one pack between them, and it was even smaller than mine! Anyway the taxi was only a few bucks more and it beat spending another five hours on a coach.

Stepping out of immigration, the road was unsealed and rough, which did not bode well for the long trip to Siem Reap. However past this, it turned into a nice sealed road, which looked like it had just been built. The road was dead straight almost the whole way, with the occasional kink every 50km or so, and with a modern concrete-post power line running alongside it (very nice compared to the tangled cable fire hazards in Thailand).

White Camry sedans seemed to be the weapon of choice, and we had a whole convoy of them going for a while there. More than once we had to brake hard to avoid hitting a bullock running across the road, usually with a flustered woman chasing after it waving a stick. The style of driving reminded me of Indonesia - fast, constantly on the horn, and usually on the wrong side of the road. Seemed he could have wired up his horn backwards so he'd only have to hit it when he didn't want to honk, to save some time.

After an hour and a half we came to a construction zone which went on for 20km, where they were still building the new road. Instead of blocking off half the road while they work on it, the Cambodians seem to just like building the whole thing at once, while traffic dodged in between the lumbering steamrollers, graders and trucks. It doesn't seem to slow them down though; our guy was doing 80 on the wrong side of the wet dirt road, swerving to avoid the bigger rocks. We passed a truck which had tipped over too, but unfortunately I was too busy scoffing wasabi peas to get my camera out.

Quicker than expected, we arrived in Siem Reap (only two and half hours instead of five! It was worth those extra few bucks), where we were met by dozens of big, very expensive-looking hotels. I guess the Angkor Wat package tourists have to sleep somewhere too. By the way, who was it at Lonely Planet who had the bright idea of marking the US$750-a-night hotel as "Our Pick"? Is this why their guide books are so expensive??

No comments: