Thursday, 8 July 2010

Holiday in Cambodia!

"Holiday in Cambodia"-a Dead Kennedy's ditty we're kinda partial to, also a highly recommended weekend break! One small problem is that it takes an age to get here and is fraught with border crossing stress...

Actually we felt we got off fairly lightly after reading copious horror stories of dodgy Thai officials and then seedy downtown Cambodian Poipet (the border town you emerge into from Thailand).

After a luscious hour sleep in BKK interrupted only by heat and the noise of Spanish fans celebrating their success against Germany and the knowledge that we had a 4am alarm call - we took a taxi to Hualamphong Railway Station. [Top tip again! DON'T let taxi drivers in BKK take you anywhere off the meter- we were touted immediately we left the guest house and told "no meter" but that the trip would only cost us 300Baht - we duly told him of an interesting way to get there himself and flagged a meter cab down to the tune of 53 baht!!!!)

All the train windows were wide open as we set off bumping along out of Bangkok, passing again the shocker of shanty towns built in the very roots of the high rise hotels and office blocks. It really takes the breath away how these folks manage to live in such squalour and poverty, yet we saw one little girl all neat in her school uniform standing on a home made wooden walk way above the stench of stagnant ditches, having her hair brushed by her mother. At least she's being cared for and going to school but I wonder if all her school mates live in similar shacks or whether they come from varying backgrounds? I suppose she doesn't often have friends for a sleep over!

The countryside was lush and gorgeous paddy fields, full of storks, egrets, strange but beautiful looking kingfishers and everywhere folks tending their crops in searing heat!

The journey seemed never ending, taking 6 hours and ending with the joys of border crossings. Almost the moment we got off the train we were set upon by tuk tuk touts. Carefully we negotiated only the border and "only 50 baht" - all seemed understood and we set off. Immediately he turned away from the arrow pointing to the border and straight into a travel agency - well I wasn't having it - I cannot stand naughty boys who don't listen to instructions!!!! I yelled "If you don't turn around right now and take us to the border -we'll get out and no pay!!"(What an old colonial bossy boots- but I knew I should have brought our own rickshaw wallah on holiday with us!) Anyway I clearly scared the fisherman pants off him as he duly turned around and headed demurely off for the border.

It was then a relatively simple affair to fill out departure forms to leave Thailand and fill in medical release forms for Cambodia and then the visa forms for the Cambodia visa (though the border official did exactly what the guide books and websites said he'd do and tried to charge us a extraneous 200 baht on top of the $20 visa fee. I said "What's that for?"he looked at his feet and mumbled "express visa processing"! No need to fear if you're doing this- don't pay the baht and wait for the longer visa processing which took 2 minutes.

Finally we walked into Cambodia and got hustled on to a "government tourist shuttle bus" Quite funny because everyone on it was questioning the guys and all were really paranoid that this too was a ruse to get more cash out of us. Whilst journeying along the french girls in front of us suddenly groaned as they found the bit in Lonely Planet that says basically don't get fooled by the official shuttle bus. Great! We were especially anxious as we'd arranged for our hotel to have a taxi meet us at the Cambodian side not at some bus station.

Anyway- in the end it worked out okay and on refection we don't think they wre trying to rip anyone off (I think they are trying to allay rumours of scams and corruption by being ultra helpful and efficient but because the all new modern bus station is actually in middle of nowhere and completely empty it looks like some sort of very expensive scam. Our driver wasn't there and a kindly police man allowed Si to call the hotel and after some misunderstandings and complexities which we still can't quite get to the bottom of, we got to the Mother Home Guest House some 2 hours later.

So far we love what we're seeing here. The countryside is stunning and people farm their land using oxen to pull their ploughs. Their are water buffalo everywhere in the fields - it is really lovely. The people are different too - extremely friendly.

Siem Reap is surprisingly new at first glance . It is open and light (no high rises) Lots of parks and royal gardens. Last night we walked into the centre where the bars and restaurants are and had the most delicious Cambodian national dish (Amok) Fish red curry - scrumptious. Draft beer at 50cents (about 40p) a pop and the meal about 3.75GBP.

There is a colonial feel to the old town and there are plenty of bars which have balconies which give a little more breeze and a view of proceedings away from the constant beggar action. I can feel this will be a continuing ethical issue for us...there are numerous land mine victims begging and also children (one very little boy could only have been about 4 years old and came running in front of us kneeling and bowing down head to the ground and little hands together) It's upsetting but also a concern that you don't want to encourage the life style for children. Prob best to remember how it feels to see them and donate to a charity when we get back.

Off to explore some more (prob staying here til 16th now as there's lots to see and do and the hotel is fab!)
More in a day or two.

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