We set the alarm for 6am and after a very quick shower chucked ourselves into a tuk tuk for our ride to the border. The information we had read about the border crossing is very comprehensive if a little alarmist and suggests an early start to avoid massive queues. As gambling is illegal in Thailand but legal in Cambodia the town of Poipet will be besieged with Thais heading for the numerous casinos. Poipet is by all accounts a dangerous, filthy town and we want to get on our way to Siem Reap as soon as possible.
We pass a massive rubbish tip and a large graveyard on the way to the border. Other than those things there is nothing to see and I feel I will be glad to leave. As we approach the border it starts to get very busy with people heading for the market. We have read that we must watch our stuff like hawks here, ignore all children and don’t let anyone touch our gear. There is a long queue but we bypass some of it when the border opens at 7 by joining the “foreigner queue”. After a few minutes of scrutiny by the border guards we are through and walk to Cambodia. This process of leaving Thailand, getting a visa and proceeding through the Cambodian immigration is rumoured to potentially take hours and we are pleased to be done by 8.30. After all our concerns it was in the end simple and hassle free.
Our first glimpses of Cambodia are a bit like seeing Varanasi in India for the first time. The place is seriously filthy and absolutely stinks. We haven’t crossed an overland border on foot before and it’s very strange to walk across a line from a comparatively rich place like Thailand to a country as poor as Cambodia and see the difference in the way people are dressed, the roads and transport.
Eventually we reach the taxi services and we pay 2400 baht for a 3 hour car ride to Siem Reap. This sounds quite pleasant but nothing could be further from the truth. The roads are shockingly bad, no paving or tarmac and full of potholes. The laws of the roads seem to be that everyone goes wherever they want trying to avoid the largest potholes. The road surface is red earth and due to the dust the visibility is extremely poor. Sometimes down to several feet in front only. On a positive note we only go about 20 MPH so I don’t worry about accidents and feel we are safe enough.
In 3 hours we only pass through 2 very small towns. There is nothing to see on the way apart from flat green brown dusty plains, distant hills, occasional road signs and electricity pylons. There isn’t that much traffic on the way either, some motorbikes and a few buses. Several motorbikes have up to 3 large pigs strapped upside down on the back. We couldn’t make out if they were alive or dead and hoped for their sakes they were dead.
At last the roads start to improve and soon we reach Siem Reap, first impressions are of a large clean city with lots of posh hotels. We pull up outside The Jasmine Guesthouse and I’m really pleased with our choice. Who couldn’t like a place with a sign on the door saying “laundry ready same day if sun shiny”. This is next to a sign saying no guns, no bombs and no drugs! We have been so rattled around in the car that none of us are in the mood to do anything other than laze around this afternoon. We check in, the cost of the rooms is 6 dollars each and sit upstairs in the restaurant. As we went without breakfast we have our lunch sandwiches, chips and salad and decide to watch a film on the DVD player.
There is a good choice of films and we definitely want to see Tomb Raider which was filmed at Angkor but in the end we choose The Killing Fields. We agree with Ali that coupled with the discussion we had about the Khmer Rouge on the way here, this will be their schoolwork for the day. We have given lots of thought to exposing them to the atrocities committed in the 1970′s in Cambodia but feel they are old enough to cope with this information. Watching the film is sad and moving and although Simon and I have both seen it before I can’t really explain too well how it feels to be here amongst the Khmer people whose country still has so many scars to show for the brutality of 30 years ago.
Later we have dinner and try to make some plans for the next few days. Ali plays pool with some fella’s and Maisie plays her PSP. I’m feeling knackered and over heated and a good nights sleep definitely won’t be far off.