12/29/09: Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia
I expected to learn a lot about myself on this trip, but our time in Thailand taught me two things that I never expected to learn:
- According to Zhou, when I get worked up I angrily jab my finger like I’m standing next to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
- When I no longer trust anyone, I simply lower my head and start walking with no destination in mind.
More on that second item later.
This morning we left Bangkok for what will hopefully be the last time ever. In order to sneak out without saying goodbye, we caught the 5:55am train to Aranyaprathet and long before the sun rose we were gone. This train wasn’t like the ones we have become used to riding, but the lack of cockroaches surprisingly didn’t make for a more enjoyable ride. Instead, as it turned out, we traded in the cockroaches for an overcrowded car with incredibly rigid benches and open windows that let in almost biblical amounts of ash twice during the ride (where the ash came from, we have no idea). To top it all off, the nice lady in the bench facing us had the thirstiest six-month old I’ve ever seen. Where does etiquette state that you should look when a quarter-naked mother is sitting directly across from you for six hours?
When we finally escaped the train, memories of Bangkok took hold of me and I began walking. Assuming every person was out to scam us, I quickly began ignoring every living thing that came within ten feet of Zhou and me. The problem was, we needed a tuk-tuk to travel the six kilometers to the border, and I was walking with my head down and no clear plan on how to get a driver while ignoring everyone. Zhou finally talked a little sense into me, and I picked the fourth tuk-tuk driver we talked to after not trusting any of the others.
On the short ride to the border, I shifted my head to the up position so I could watch all signs and turns that the driver was making. With me glaring angrily from the back seat, we actually made it to the border… almost. We pulled into a parking lot next to a poorly built hut labeled “Cambodian border and visa service.” A man wearing a name tag and carrying a clipboard approached us and told us we were at the border. Zhou and I have now been to almost twenty border crossings, and not one has been a rickety shack, so I about lost it. I made it clear that we already had our Cambodian visas (even though we didn’t) and that everyone was a dirty rotten liar because we weren’t at the border. I left Zhou in the tuk-tuk (sorry Zhou!) and once again I put my head down and started walking.
A minute later Zhou came to the street, followed closely by the liars and the cheats. They wanted me to pay for the tuk-tuk ride, but I refused because we weren’t at the border. They insisted we were, and pointed to the police station and told me to ask them for myself. I confidently went inside knowing I was right, and found out I was wrong. We were as close to the border as the drivers were allowed to take us. It just so happened that this particular fake border crossing was very near the real one. I paid the driver and we walked to the official building and checked out of Thailand.
Between Thailand and Cambodia, on the casino-lined streets of no man’s land, I went into walking mode again, ignoring anyone who spoke to us. We walked right past the real Cambodian visa office as I hastily replied “no” to the man who asked us if we already had our visas. A few seconds later it was Zhou again to the rescue, walking back to the man and telling him we actually didn’t have our visas – I don’t think she realized my plan was to unleash a swarm of bees on the border and then sneak into Cambodia without ever trusting anyone for help.
We filled out our forms, bribed the border patrol with 100 baht (we decided our time was more important than our principles, so we paid the corrupt officers $3 rather than wait them out), got our visas stamped and then, you guessed it, started walking.
We ignored all the people telling us that we needed to catch a bus to the taxi stand, despite the hoards of gullible tourists sitting there waiting on the free shuttle. (Zhou had read about this scam, where they take you to the middle of nowhere and then overcharge you for the cab. I just had my head down.) We walked past all the cabbies trying to get our fare for the 150 km journey to Siem Reap. We must have walked for close to ten minutes before we realized we were running out of street and had to get a taxi soon. Two guys who had been following us were coming to the realization that we weren’t going to mess around, so they offered us a fare with the stipulation that we would only need to pay if our first stop was at our guest house. It was as good of deal as we were going to get, so we nervously got into the cab and kept our fingers crossed that we’d soon see Siem Reap.
I don’t like this person I turned into today. I’d much rather be over-trusting than under. But we’re here in Siem Reap now and we made it with relatively little hassle, so I don’t regret it. Zhou, you can breathe a sigh of relief – I’m ready to relax and have a good time.
Picture of the Day: Zhou and her enormous dead fish at Dead Fish Tower, a quality recommendation from Gavinmac. Thanks!