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Published: February 20th 2007
Aka Moss Isley (refer to Star Wars, Episode IV), the armpit of Cambodia.
Step 1: Getting in to the country
Cambodia is still tremorous from decades of political instability. The re-building efforts radiate from Phnom Penh, the national capital. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that those areas furthest away from Phnom Penh should be the poorest, least developed, and populated by the most desperate people. That is the euphemistic way of saying that the land border crossing at Poi Pet (check ou the map) is pretty much lawless.
We had to bribe our way the the visa issuing authorities. Their opening request was for an extra $10CAN each for a $20US visa. We denied their request, and pointed to the official list of prices on the wall, above the "immigration official's" head. "Old sign," he declared, and re-affirmed that the new price was 1000 Thai Baht ($29US). We told him we didn't have baht as we were leaving Thailand and had spent them all. "Only US dollars" we said. "You can change..." and he pointed in the direction of a colleague who would have been more than happy to exchange our dollars for baht. In case I forgot to mention this earlier, the currency of Cambodia is the Riel.
Nun at Angkor Wat...
...keeping Buddha company through the hot Siem Reap afternoon.
So, they want to get some out of you with the exchange, and then they overcharge tou on the visa.
We kept refusing all the offers, and some visa facilitators informed us that they didn't know how long we'd be there with that attitude. We had come to a point of diminishing returns: our time was more precious than the extra money, and just as we were nearing a point where we would have agreed to anything, they came back with "20 dollars plus 100 baht" ($23US), and we conceded.
Step 2: Getting to Siem Reap
Once in Poi Pet, Cambodia, you still have to get to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat, the mother of all temples. On a map, the route seems fairly innocuous: how bad could 150km, on what looks to be a highway, be? An hour and a half, two hours, tops?! Make that 4 hours on a shelled out, dusty (possibly on the top ten list of dustiest roads), pot holed, mixed use (bicycles, tractors, buses, cars, scooters) stretch of dry land (because adherence to even the loosest definition of "road" prevents one from applying the term here).
Monks in dialogue
"...Well, ok, how do YOU keep your colours so bright?"
There is a transportation syndicate (a cartel, if you will) which holds Poi Pet in its grip. You have a choice of taxi, minibus, or bus. The fewer the passengers, the more each passenger has to pay. Fair enough. There will be no negociating, nor will you seek out any potential competitors for a ride to Siem Reap. The penalties are not explicitly detailed, but the aggressive demeanor of the Tourist Transportation Union make it clear that once you are on their turf, the only way out is in one of their vehicles. Sixty dollars (US) for three of us to take a taxi to Siep Reap seemed like a rip-off, but in the end it was well worth it.
In the end, we were delivered exactly where we had asked to be dropped off, and promptly found a room
Step 3: Getting around
Get yourself a good tuk-tuk driver. Self explanatory, I think. Don't get a bad one.
For the following three days set off to explore the temples of Angkor. See photos.
In my next update we'll look at Phnom Penh: The City That Makes You Wish You Were Drunk.
The mother of all temples, it really is quite a thing.
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