Our visit to Cambodia was all about soaking ourselves in culture, expanding our horizons and experiencing another culture, before heartily eating and relaxing back on Koh Chang island in Thailand – an aim we most definitely accomplished.
After only a couple of hours sleep, the group arose, as quiet toddlers, and noisily began packing and getting our asses into gear, ready to leave the hostel at 0430 – and surprisingly we managed exactly that! With a little kerfuffle we managed to party down some cabs, and we were soon hauled up at the train station, around an hour early, the boys passed out on the middle of the train station floor, much to the delight and dismay of onlookers and station staff.
The train was a delightfully old thing, a rusted hole by my foot providing an outlook onto the speeding tracks below. It had a demigrandure that comes with age; wooden panelling underclassed by plasticy upholstered seats. The windows were wide open, providing the large proportion of cooling, when compared to the ceiling fans above, though had the unfortunate effect of permitting the bright orangey-red mud of the surrounding areas to impregnate our clothes and settle on the skin, turning into some kind of blotchy umpa lumpa when I applied sun screen.
The landscape was so vast. Having spent 9 months in rural Japan were damn near every sightline has a mountain in view, I’d forgotten that such flatness existed, the horizon the only thing viewable in every direction. The topology was so alien, low rising scrubland, broken by large patches of scratty, stoney ground, trees scarcely taller than a man dabbed across the landscape, and occasionally a rocky lump, barely more than a steep hill, would force its way out of the otherwise flat monotony of reds, browns and sun bleached greens.
On the train we made friends with a Chilean women, who would end up being a travel partner through the border, and onto Siem Reap. Fortunately for us, the train never got over crowded and we weren’t forced to make cosy with new friends, though our train would ultimately end up two hours late, seemingly for no reason.
The Dreaded Poipet Border Crossing
Despite all being hyper-alert after having read such horror stories about the Thai/Cambodia crossing; being taking to fake crossings; attempts to fast track you through visa controls and horrendously long queues the later in the day you crossed, we were fortunate to come across none of these problems.
Arriving at the border area, we merely followed the signs, keeping to the left and following ‘Foreign Passport’ directions until we found ourselves in an air-conditioned room, awaiting to have a papers sorted – a damn sight better than the outdoors, in the sunshine queue for nationals wishing to cross.
You then have to walk through no-man’s land. A bizarre place of stalls and small shops, full of people passing back and forth, whilst huge casino complexes sit directly in the middle, capitalizing on the loophole of being able to offer legal gambling.
Crossing over to the right hand side of the road, there was a small, official looking building, in which you could purchase a visa on the spot. Unlike iternet reports, this process took no more than a few moments, and gave one of the group a cool visa sticker in his passport, and saved him $7 over the shitty paper print out we recieved for processing online.
A little further down the street is a low building in which you fill your embarkation form, scan your fingers and you’re through into a world of men offering to take you to the shuttle bus area. All in all, it was a pretty quick and stress-free crossing, that only took us a while as we were for waiting for 9 people to pass through.
Picking up a Ride from the Cambodian Border
Online, the bus park, with free shuttle to it, had been described as little more than a means to limit tourists options by taking them outside of the main part of the town, and compel them to take the rates the drivers were offering. With that insight, and having picked up 2 Japanese tourists in our band of brothers, out 11 strong party had some weight to it, and we were able to hire a 15 seat minivan to drive us the 4.5 hours from the border to Siem Reap for $10 per head – which works out as 20 glasses of beer… So I don’t know who got the better deal in the end.
Again the landscape was just flat, and the monotony of the journey unbroken as the road, much like the train, travelled in a practically perfect straight line for nearly the entire journey.
As we began approaching the city, the frequency of buildings began to increase, until we entered the grid like structure of roads that cut up the landscape; roads with big wide vistas, and low rise, earthy brown buildings, that later turned into shops and small stalls.
We arrived at probably the minivans owners house, and waiting for us were tuk tuks and MPV, offering to take us to respective detinations and so we said goodbye to our international friends, and proceeded to our hostel; the Mad Monkey of Siem Reap.
Read about our time in Siem Reap here >>>