Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia

15th Sep 2006

I overslept for two hours and got out of bed at 5:30am (I planned to be at the bus terminal by 5:30am) and reached Mohr Chit-Mai a.k.a Northern Bus Terminal at 6:15am.

Quickly purchased a ticket to Aranyaprathet (border town of Thailand) for 207 bhat. The ride was smooth the roads fabulous. The bus reached Aranyaprathet at 11:20am. I quickly hopped on to a tuk-tuk and asked him to take me to the border which was around 6km from the bus terminal. After sending off to tuk-tuk driver I walked towards the sign which said immigration and departure. I was already feeling the change in the air as soon as I took the turn I was approached by a few kids asking for a dollar, I was happy that I finally made it.

Immigration was a breeze through I stood in the line which said foriegn passport (they had separate line for the thais) at my turn I was told to take the re-entry VISA as I would be returning back to Thailand. I was little worried about the cost: 1000 bhat (again!!), as this was not planned for (the re-entry VISA). Anyways after getting my re-entry VISA stamped from the clumsy thai employee at the immigration (he stamped the date wrong on my passport and then re did it after some striking with his red pen..eeks i hate mistakes in my passport). Leaving my 1000 bhat and worries behind I crossed the friendship bridge and the border to Poipet, Cambodia. Poipet is a seedy place with lots of casinos and gambling centers as it is illegal to gamble in thailand people cross over to this side over the weekend to gamble.

This is how the border looks like

Thai-Cambodia Border

It was totally a different landscape just a few hundred meters away(thai side) was clean and quiet and now I saw touts, beggars, labourers, visiting thais and khmers (cambodians) crossing border to shop at the friendship market. I saw the cambodian flag with a picture of angkor wat on it flying high a smile ran through my face …it felt good.

I walked right into the VISA counter to get my VISA on arrival it was a breeze through. I guess every foreigner, no matter how well read or cautious about cambodia, they get scammed into this and so did I. Well, it was plain and simple the VISA costs around 20USD i.e. 800 bhat but they charge you 1000 bhat i.e. 25USD you can’t do much about this. After having my VISA stamped I hopped on to the free shuttle which dropped me off at the immigration. I filled in the arrival card and a few minutes later I was out of the line. I guess not many Indians travel to Cambodia cause I was stared at all the time.

Did I mention that there was this tout who was following me right from the thai border asking me if I wanted a taxi to siem reap? Well, I was ignoring him as I knew that this is all a scam I would be lured into taking one of those taxis ridiculously priced and I would be dropped off at some guest with which they have a deal with. Anyways after ignoring him for a long time he was kinda pissed off/angry with me as I was not responding to him the way he expected. For instance I told him that I would be “taking a walk around poipet and then decide where to go”, which is highly unlikely that a tourist does it and they know why everyone comes to cambodia.

I got into the free bus shuttle service which drove through the mucky streets and dropped me off at the bus/taxi station. The time now read 12:40noon. I decided earlier that I would not be taking the bus. I looked around to see if anyone would be interested to share the cab to siem reap the town closest to Angkor Wat.

I met a friendly american who was waiting for the bus to arrive since 10:00 am she quickly agreed and we decided to hire the cab for 2000 bhat i.e. 50USD. It was a Toyota Camry. I hought “must be the japanese contribution”. The tarmac on the road faded quickly than I realized. We set our journey on the bumpy road for the next 4 hours.

Cambodian Landscape

The camry was hitting speeds of 90-100kms inspite of the potholes every 2meters. The cab driver (Nianmai) was very kind enough to gives us enough stops(Sisophon Market and Karhlan) before our asses got numb from the ride.

Sisophon Market

He took us to the “Killing Fields” in siem reap before dropping us off.

A little bit about killing fields

On April 17th, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group led by Pol Pot, took power in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. They forced all city dwellers into the countryside and to labor camps. During their rule, it is estimated that 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution. 2 million Cambodians represented approximately 30% of the Cambodian population during that time.

The Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia to year zero. They banned all institutions, including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion, and the family. Everyone was forced to work 12 – 14 hours a day, every day. Children were separated from their parents to work in mobile groups or as soldiers. People were fed one watery bowl of soup with a few grains of rice thrown in. Babies, children, adults and the elderly were killed everywhere. The Khmer Rouge killed people if they didn’t like them, if didn’t work hard enough, if they were educated, if they came from different ethnic groups, or if they showed sympathy when their family members were taken away to be killed. All were killed without reason. Everyone had to pledge total allegiance to Angka, the Khmer Rouge government. It was a campaign based on instilling constant fear and keeping their victims off balance.

Killing Fields, Siem Reap

We finally reached siem reap at 6:00pm I checked into Chao Say guest house, which was recommended by one of the tourists, for 7 USD a night, with fan and hot shower and no windows.

A quick shower and I was out to find some place to eat..something authentic..something khmer. I chose a quite restaurant which served “Angkor beer” for 50 cents. The most delicious dish of all was the “Fish Amok” (I highly recommend this) served in a coconut shell. Prawn pastis were ok. I thought of the french and their infleunce on the Khmers.

I crashed into my bed hoping for an early start to catch the dawn….


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