Published: December 11th 2011November 27th 2011
The border crossing from Laos to Cambodia is not too oft travelled. Internet forums are rife with traveller’s experiences of getting over charged at entry. To be honest we just found the border crossing laughable. Firstly, Laos. We had to pay a $2 exit fee (insignificant in the scheme of things but given that there are no official signs and we certainly hadn’t read about it anywhere in the guide books, it is easy to assume that the border controllers are making a nice earn out of this one). Keep in mind through all this that all fees to be paid have to be in US dollars even though both Laos and Cambodia have their own currencies. Secondly, Cambodia. And this is where you just have to laugh. You walk from the Laos control booth firstly to a tent, similar to something you find in country fair where old grey haired women with pointy cornered glasses would spruik the amazing benefits of joining the Country Women’s Association, and they ask you to fill out a health declaration form (or something of the like). It asks if you have any diseases basically and if you answer no they stamp it with a
We Made it!
We successfully crossed the Laos/ Cambodia border...with not too much corruption!
stamp that says “no symptoms of disease”. You pay $1 for this. Here I must say that “the Canadians” with whom we were crossing the border, just thought better of stopping at this tent and just passed straight on through without enquiry. With very important “no disease” form in hand we then zig-zagged across the dirt border road to a portable building to apply for our “visa on arrival”. This was certainly a lot more official and we parted with $25 each after filling out another form. Walking on to another portable building we then handed over our freshly authorised visas to obtain our entry stamp into Cambodia and like Laos, there were no signs indicating that this “stamping fee” should cost anything but this time we had contribute $5 each to the border controller’s end-of-year pig slaughtering party and with that the crossing was complete. I am firmly of the opinion that 3 of the 4 payments are unofficial and just padding the pockets of the Government (probably at many levels).
And so we were finally in Cambodia. Sure, we could have just filled out one form and waited in one line at just one building and be
served by just one officer. Sure that would have been more efficient but somehow there has to be more fun in lining up 4 times at 4 different “buildings” and passing through 100 officials or so.
Our plan was to jump on our bus (ticket pre-purchased to ensure a speedy border departure) to Kampong Cham and stay there for half a day and night. It would be a nice break up of our travels to get up to Siem Reap. And so our plans unravelled at the speed of a F1 car. Our bus was full and we were shuffled onto another bus...another company’s bus actually. No longer the VIP service we had paid for and no longer leaving at the designated time. We firstly waited for 1.5 hours to get onto the other bus and then waited almost another hour and a half whilst sitting in the bus stationary at the border. Naturally we were now waiting for the bus to be full. This was a task successfully achieved in the 1.5 hour timeframe. We ended up leaving with people sitting on tiny little stools the entire length of the aisle. No VIP for them either. Many were
not happy and rightly so.
The delay, whilst testing our patience as never before, might have been a godsend. We did not arrive to Kampong Cham until night fall and therefore decided just to bite the bullet and extend our ticket to get us to Siem Reap that evening. This was quite simple and so after 17.5 hours including a border crossing, travel on 3 buses, a boat and some strange negotiating with a tuk-tuk driver, we were checked into a hotel room in Siem Reap. We now had more time to explore Siem Reap and the world-renowned Temples of Angkor.
Siem Reap was a great big fat splurge for us. On top of shelling out for 3-day temple entrance tickets at $40 each, we sought out a nicer than usual hotel to stay in knowing that we would be at least 4 more nights in the one place (very rare!). An absolute gem was uncovered for the princely sum of $25. For $12.50 each we had acquired a hotel room with breakfast included, air conditioning, cable TV, wifi, fridge and a big pink and purple bathroom. Nice. Most importantly though our splurge also got us a quaint
balcony overlooking, wait for it.......an amazing swimming pool complete with sun lounges. Yep, this is back-packing!
We chose to hire mountain bikes to visit the temples for the first 2 days. We started day one by visiting the Roulos group and oldest group of temples some 13kms from Siem Reap. We were definitely impressed. These temples are not as often visited by tourists as the temples around Angkor Wat are and as such it was a nice easy intro into temple tourism. Whilst the Bangkor temple was undoubtedly amazing our day’s highlight was riding through local villages away from the main highway on our return to Siem Reap. School kids were in abundance and were all welcoming with smiles and waves and most found it fun to practice their English greetings. It was a really friendly return trip and a great experience. In total we amassed about 35kms on day one (not excluding the climb up Bangkor) in 35°C heat. The luxury of our pool was well welcomed at day’s end!
To experience the sunrise over Angkor Wat was touted as being a “must see” event so day 2 began at with the clock starting with the number
Street side vendor near Wat Athvea
5. It turned out to start with the number 4 as we were awoken by fair sized mouse in our regal suite. This was something we had not yet experienced even though our average nightly budget would only be about $6 each! So the mouse awoke us earlier than planned but it did help us to get to Angkor Wat in good time. We again rode our bikes, this time the first 8kms was in the dark (would we do this at home?) to Angkor Wat and merged with the throng of tourists that had made the same sleep sacrifices as we had. My first memories of Angkor Wat are:
1) Christina being so pumped with adrenalin from our mad dark bike ride, that she had turned into a psyco fast walking woman dodging her way through crowds to get into the temple as quick as she could. No one was going to stop her! I’m sure that she didn’t really know what she wanted to do once she got inside, but one thing was for sure, she was going to get inside very quickly. Sweat and all.
2) With the famed Wat within reach, Christina was handed
A Peaceful Dawn
Angkor Wat it all it's morning glory
a burning incense stick and ushered to some kind of shrine. It was obvious that this would require some kind of donation but she was so pumped she just took the stick and went to the shrine. Paying meant more time lost so she hurriedly gave the stick back.
3) My first view of Angkor Wat was memorable of course but unfortunately even more memorable is that I can still hear the words “you wan coffee sir, lady?” ringing in my ears. For some reason authorities allow vendors to spruik their food and drinks inside the grounds of the world’s largest religious building. Not only do their stalls detract greatly from the beauty of the grounds but they are about as insistent as any vendor we encountered throughout our time in Cambodia. It was most annoying.
Angkor Wat is a truly special place but we preferred the Bayon, Ta Promh and Preah Khan temples. Bayon has 50 something smirking carved faces spooking you at every turn and the latter two which are similar in architecture, both have the large rooted trees strangling and suffocating the temples. All of the temples were ridiculously photogenic. In total we explored about
15 temples in our 3 days. Many of them involve great high steps and yet others only leisurely strolls. Many of my photos for this blog are of the temples. With probably 1,000 plus photos to choose from, it was a tough task!
Our time in Siem Reap included a fish foot massage too. It’s an unusual feeling having 100’s of fish sucking the dead skin off your feet and it’s outrageously ticklish! “The Canadians” had once again joined us in Siem Reap and I am glad that they did. Not only did we share some good dinners, but watching Audrey try the fish massage thing was so damn funny!
With the temples done we took an express van south to the country’s capital of Phnom Penh. And express is the appropriate word. The driver gave no consideration to any road rules (as we in the Western World know them) and would overtake at will – around bends and with oncoming traffic, all the while standing on his horn and speeding like he was taking his 9 month pregnant wife to the hospital.
We arrived safely......and promptly. We had decided to only spend one day in Phnom
Penh. The end to our adventure was fast approaching and we didn’t want to end our trip in a big city and especially not one like Phnom Penh. Unfortunately for Phnom Penh, the majority of “tourist attractions” are built around the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime and whilst important and educational, it’s abundantly depressing. With $10-a-day tuk-tuk driver secured we visited Tuol Sleng Museum or Security Prison 21 “S21” as it is more commonly known and also the nearby “Killing Fields” of Choeung Ek. Prisoners were detained in S21 and the majority taken to the Killing Fields afterwards for execution. Both places are chilling and real eye-openers. Suffice to say that it is amazing that these atrocities occurred in my life time. We had an interesting day but maybe one not to reflect on in too much length in this travelblog. I like to keep my blogs cheery and (hopefully) funny.
Our fleeting visit to Phnom Penh was a stopover for our travel to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s answer to Surfer’s Paradise or Miami. There’s no waves but they do have a long white sandy beach fronted by a long run of bars and restaurants. Unfortunately you can’t really see
the beach from all of the chairs, tables and umbrellas. Even more unfortunate is that you can’t even relax on the beach. Every minute of your time there you are approached by children selling jewellery, women selling food, spruikers offering up their bar menus and beggars with all forms of disabilities. Two young girls with good English started up a conversation with us and in the meantime one asked Christina if she could try on her sunglasses. She did this and then placed them back on the table. The conversation ensued until the girls were alerted in some way by another youngster further down the beach. With that they bolted and she took the sunglasses with her. Immediately Chris said that her sunnies were taken and whilst only a pair of cheapies, I decided to get them back. I didn’t chase the girls rather I waited and used stealth to track them down. I grabbed the girl by the scruff of the neck and simply said “sunglasses please”. She obliged by handing them back with an apology but not one that was too genuine. She made out as though she didn’t know she had them....in her bag!
just wasn’t the scene we were looking for for the last week of our trip. Accordingly, we booked a diving trip with a difference to a nearby island. We scored a great deal. For $65 each we booked 4 dives, boat transfers, bungalow accommodation and 5 meals....the catch was that whilst diving we had to collect rubbish we found on the reefs. No problems! Help the environment and get cheap diving. Why not hey? The dives to be honest were far from amazing as the visibility was not overly great but it was a good experience.
We had only 5 days remaining and our search for the perfect white sandy beach with turquoise clear waters had to come up with something quick smart! Our diving was on Koh Rong Samoleon and but our research said the next island north called Koh Rong was where we could find it. Our conundrum now was how to get there. We could see the island from our dive island but we had been told that we would probably have to return to Sihanoukville (2 hours minimum) and then buy a ticket to get to the other island (another 2+ hours). Well, the dive
location was situated right next door to a fishing village. Our thoughts were that surely someone with a boat could get us there...and they did. We had to cough up $30 which was expensive in these parts but it was a 30 minute trip and saved us a day of terrible boats rides. It was possibly the best expense of our trip thus far.
Arriving on Koh Rong we realised immediately that we had found exactly what we had dreamed of. We understand that the island is destined for destruction with resorts, casinos and an airport all planned but for now luckily, it was the idyllic way to relax and see out our SE Asia adventure. Our accommodation was a pretty basic bungalow with oceans views. We ate nearly every meal in the local village – it was the cheapest place to eat, the food was exceptional and the people so amazingly friendly. The beaches were never ending bends of white sand and so it was here that I decided to ask Christina to marry me. Beautiful beaches and seaside locations mean a lot to us and so this to me was therefore the perfect place to pop the
question. After 6 years together I suppose it was about time. After firstly asking if I was serious, she then provided the right answer.
Our time in SE Asia was all but over but we did manage to slot in 2 more dives with Per our Swedish friend who again just turned up. It is one of the best things about back-packing. We ended our time in Cambodia with a 3 hour boat trip back to Sihanoukville which including several fellow passengers vomiting over board and one stupid Frenchman not understanding the “down wind” law. About 10 of us ended up with spots of his spew on us. We were far from impressed. The return bus ride to Phnom Penh was stopped due a demonstration, our hotel in the capital we suspected to be more of a sex hotel than not (the pricing signage included hourly rates....always a giveaway) and our choice of restaurant also seemed a little suspect as Christina was the only non-male in the place (other than the short-skirted, high heeled, over-make-upped, over-friendly abundance of female “waitresses”).
The dream is now over. I am finishing this from the comfort of Sydney where haggling is not
required, showers are hot, transport is clean, pillows are comfortable and a beer costs upwards of $5. Nice.
There are more photos below