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Published: February 4th 2008
Sometimes traveling on a budget just doesn't pay off. The Lonely Planet Guide called the road from the border to Siem Reap as The Boulevard of Broken Backsides
and after a grueling 6 hours after crossing the border into Cambodia I understood why.
We departed Thailand early in the morning to head to the border at Aranya Prathet (Thailand)/Poipot (Cambodia). The journey on the Thailand side was ok though we were crowded into a mini van but at least it was air conditioned and so the 5 hours passed in mild discomfort only.
We made it to the border and our visas were sorted out by the guy from the tour company. Maybe warning bells should have started to ring at this point and probably would have if I read the The Bible better (aka Lonely Planet Guide) as we paid more than 20USD face value of our visa but we thought hey we have a visa so we should just walk through to the other side, pickup our next bus and be on our why. WWWWWRONG.... we queued for over 2 hours to get through immigration even if we were clutching our passports with our shiny new visas
And then our little Cambodian guide from our so called reputable company insisted that there were no ATMs in Siem Reap and we should change money now. I was suspicious about this fact (again if only I had read LP more closely...but there again I should also be wiser after 7 months of travelling) but with our next bus already waiting to go and the guy was very pushy and insistent about the fact of no ATMs and more importantly not wishing to risk been without money (I had no other currency to exchange other than the small remaining Thailand Bhat) I made the decision to exchange some USD Travelers Cheques. Suspecting I was getting a slightly lower rate - our helpful guy had given us a figure in advance! and was now hurrying me to get to the bus, I had little chance to really think or check. Only later I found the total extent of the scam had cost 20USD...I try not to hold bad feelings to the guy in question as ultimately it was my decision though when I am struggling on a budget then losses like this are not helpful. We left him
behind at this little border town richer and no doubt pleased with his extra earnings....I can but leave it to his conscious and karma and hope it is worth it.
For the next 6 hours we bounced along probably the worst road I have encountered so far - yes worse than Nepal and India - crammed like sardines into a small over packed bus with no air conditioning and any available leg space occupied by luggage and bags. The roads were dry and dusty and clouds caked the surrounding trees and countryside turning it grey.
We eventually fell out of the bus in Siem Reap looking like we had aged by 20-30years from the experience, caked in a layer of road dust and coughing and sneezing to clear clogged lungs as we all were. It was late, we were tired and though we suspected another scam by the fact we were dropped out of the town at a guest house on the edge of Siem Reap, many were too tired to argue and went with the 6USD a night rooms which were at least large, clean and comfortable with hot showers and satellite TV. I think most not
really minding that we the probably paying an extra USD or two especially as we were told we would have free lift into the town the next morning. As it happened it really wasn't a scam - funny how one bad experience can colour your vision if you let it.
Anyway the next morning we got our free lift in to Siem Reap centre and struggled to find a place for the same value as we walked around the many roads with the numerous Banks and ATMS! Though in the end we did move closer to town it was with some reluctance as the room at the first place was pretty good.
Soon we explored Siem Reap and found it quite touristy but what can you expect from a town that has Cambodia’s biggest attraction of Angkor Wat on its doorstep. And if we expected to find Cambodia cheap then we were in for a big surprise, everything was in USDs and far from cheap compared to many parts of Asia and many were more expensive that Thailand. Rani and I were both quite dismayed at the prices on the menus of most of the restaurants and quickly
sought out the cheaper roadside Mamas - little stalls offering Khmer food and cheap fruit shakes.
But putting aside these things then a trip around the famous and majestic Angkor Wat is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face especially if you rise early enough to see it silhouetted against gold, pink and purple sky at sunrise but that is another blog.....
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