I feel like I’ve experienced so much already and this trip is only two days in!!
Driving to Cambodia: we left the Bangkok Center Hotel and 6:30AM. It took a while to get outside the metropolitan area that is Bangkok. As we drove, the area became more and more rural.
On a side note, Bangkok has the largest billboards I’ve ever seen!
Since some of us did not get our Cambodia visas in advance, we had to stop at the consulate which was only about 5 minutes from the border crossing. We pulled up to the consulate and all I thought was…”the consulate is here?” I always have this impression of consulates being in major cities (NYC, Washington DC., LA, Bangkok, etc). But this consulate is in the opposite of a big city. It’s on a small, pretty quiet side street. It took about 20 minutes to get everyone’s visas sorted out.
Crossing the border into Cambodia (in Poi Pet). I wish I could have taken pictures of crossing the border, but ya know… didn’t want to get arrested and make things too interesting, so I didn’t. But I’ll try to describe it. Our bus pulled into a parking area and we were instructed to take everything off with us so I even brought my empty large water bottle. All our large backpacks were loaded into carts that some local people would haul across the border and meet us on the other side with.
So, first we had to walk across the first border and leave Thailand, then, we had to cross a little bridge crossing a creek-like ponding area that smelled so awful and had sooo much garbage in it; made me so sick and sad. Wanted to take a picture of it, but again… wanted to avoid an international incident.
In this in-between space, there is the large casino. I think people from Cambodia and Thailand come to gamble there. You could also tell that as you crossed the border, people were poorer. This in-between space was a busy road with lots of people… so we all ended up walking single file trying to keep up with the tour guides. We finally got to the Cambodia immigration which was a little office at one end of an enclosed sidewalk space. We formed three lines, went to the window, gave them our passports with visa, put both hands on a fingerprint scanner, they stamped the passport, then we left that area and walked a little ahead. It was so sunny and hot. We had to wait till everyone got through and so ended up forming a circle of white people who always ends up attracting attention from locals. A few people came around begging… it’s basically a situation that always makes me uncomfortable.
Now in Cambodia, we drove about half an hour (or maybe more) and we stopped for lunch at a road-side restaurant. I’m always slightly sketched out by roadside restaurants as a result of my experience in India. Well, I didn’t have a particular experience only with the exception that you don’t just go eat at a road-side restaurant or food stand! Cambodia reminds me a bit of India… hence, road-side = sketchy. The food was cooked and it was good; rice and veggies.
We drove by miles and miles and miles of rice fields. I saw some people working in the fields but we were always already past them when I decided I wanted a picture. But they were usually up to their thighs in murky, muddy water. There were a lot of water buffalo around, wallowing in the water at the edge of the fields by the road. I learned a little bit about rice from our four-wheeling guides (see a couple of paragraphs below). Apparently, there are two types of rice that people grow: “3 month rice” and “6 month rice.” The 3-month rice is lower quality and is used by the locals. The 6-month rice is better quality (i.e. jasmine rice) and is exported. 3-month rice is about half-meter high and 6-month rice is about a meter high.
Our driver slowed down the bus pretty slow and we saw a motorcycle on side of the road and people gathered around a guy that was laying flat with his head in someones lap… they were all tending to him. Both me and Gemma looked at each other…. yikes… poor guy. Not sure how that’s going to end up.
As we drove, we passed several tractor-like elongate, motorized contraption. Road-side shops had status of animals; some had colorfully painted roosters. They’re so cute!! I wish I could get a large one and ship it to my brother, but that’s not possible because they have some huge ones! So, I need to find a tiny one!
We arrived at our hostel, Mekong Hostel on Taphul Road in Siem Reap and had to check in and get ready for a little 4-wheeling tour of the neighborhoods. While I had fun and we saw a pretty sunset, the whole experience was, what’s the appropriate way to describe… awkward seems to be the only word I can come up with at the moment. Thoughts that were going through my head were:
– We’re just a bunch of tourists riding these noisy machines around these folks neighborhood.
– Causing disruptions and kicking up dust when there is enough dust being kicked up already.
– I felt like such a tourist!
– I was so focused on driving the four-wheeler well, not causing any damage to the machine so I didn’t have to pay for repairs
– Making sure I didn’t crash into any local motorists, cycling, animals, children, people, etc….
Too many thoughts racing around my head.
Dinner was at a restaurant called New Hope Restaurant. It’s a training restaurant and school where they teach and train kids and young people in cooking, sewing, english, etc., so they can go out and get jobs. The food was great! It’s supported by G Adventures (the company my tour is with).
Our guide had us get up at 4:00am this morning to head out at 4:30am. We were going to catch that sunrise at Angkor Wat temple outside of Siem Reap. We arrived at the ticketing center at about 4:45am to get our tickets. It was nuts how many people were up at 5am to see the sunrise. Our guide got us there at the right time though. We only had to wait for the ticketing window to open and we had our tickets in about 5 minutes. It was awesome. Then, after a short drive and a walk through the dark over a floating bridge, and towards a little ponding water. Apparently (when it’s not cloudy), the sun comes up right over the temple and makes for some pretty spectacular photos…. but it was not to be this morning. So I just experimented with my camera’s shutter speed to adjust for the lighting.
It was so freaking humid all day with absolutely no breeze whatsoever. Imagine sweat running down everyone’s backs. I had dressed a little warmly for such a hot day but you’re supposed to cover your shoulders and knees in the temples, so I wore my synthetic-fiber long sleeve and REI pants… can you say plastic bag? So hot. By the time we didn’t need our pants and shoulder-cover anymore, I didn’t want to take it off because my t-shirt was so wet…. needed a shower, badly.
We did have a very good lunch at a makeshift village type thing inside the national park. I had vegetable “carry” (I think it’s supposed to be curry) with coconut. So it ended up being like soup with vegetables and a plate of rice on the side. It was really yummy! Oh, and before we all got our dishes, our guide brought a dish for us to try… it was something like fried beef and red ants… not joking. Again, I skipped the bugs, but my travel mates said it was good!
Did I say it was hot? Anyway, here are some pictures of the temples. The day felt like it was sooooo long; no wonder as we got up and started the day at 4AM.
We got back to the hostel at I think 1pm? I wanted to take a swim and cool off, shower, catch up on correspondence, etc. I also wanted to head to the main shopping “pub” street in Siem Reap to get some cotton loose-fitting, cool pants for the next cover-yourself temple we visit and I don’t feel like sweating off 5-pounds again. That was intense. So, I love my new outfit (and a half). I bought a pair of pants with matching shirt and another pair of pants. You’ll just have to wait till I wear it and get a picture to see it.
I met a couple travelers at the hostel this evening as well. Talked to Melissa from Toronto and another girl from Connecticut! Cool people!! 🙂
That’s it for now. We head to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning. Road trip! For now, have a good day, night, or whatever it is when you read this! 🙂