Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chapter 2: Scams, Shams, Slums and Salmon.

Cambodia... Where the slums got so much soul.

We alighted the train into the sweltering heat of Aranyaprathet just on the Thailand side of the border between Cambodia. A pack of Tuk-Tuk vultures set upon us immediately and another couple travelling on the train with us negotiated a 40 Baht ride to the border, so we followed suit. Arriving at the border we noticed one thing. Where the fuck was the border?... Jumping out of the Tuk-Tuk a few sleazy (Bangkok suit seller style) men started waving forms for us to fill out claiming they were the visa organisers and we needed to get a visa then they would take us to the border. We all instantly new something was dodgy especially because the sign on the building said "traveller's agency" and after about five minutes of second guessing them and checking the Lonely Planet for advice we jumped back in the Tuk-Tuk and told the driver to go to the border.

The driver reversed, drove 100m up the road and turned into the Embassy of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Again at the embassy we weren't sure if we were being scammed or not but we noticed that one of the guys from the travel agency came in with the passport of another European man who had been at the travel agency. Basically they get you to fill in the form and pay, then they take your passport to the embassy to get the visa adding a few dollars commission. We decided just to go ahead and do the visa at the embassy but the other couple from the train still felt suss so they went straight to the actual border. Leaving the embassy a man in a Salmon Polo Shirt tried to convince us to get a taxi from him on the other side of the border, we politely declined saying we'd get a bus and jumped back in the Tuk-Tuk.

When we did make it to the border we found the other couple and learnt that you could actually just get the visa straight from the border and for about $5 less. Oh well, shit happens. The border crossing itself was long and hot process, lots of standing in line, going to a counter and then moving on. The area between Thailand and Cambodia was a no man's land and reflected an instant change in the level of road maintenance as well as general wealth. Cambodia being the much, much poorer of the two.

In PoiPet on the Cambodian side of the border we were accosted by the man in the Salmon Polo again, he had followed us over the border and led us to the last checkpoint where we got our Cambodian stamp (another long hot queue). Leaving the border he directed us to the free tourist shuttle that would take us to the bus station. Arriving at the Bus station there were no buses to Battambang and that a taxi would cost us about $20. We checked the Lonely planet guide again and found that the bus station was actually run as a monopoly and were notorious for scamming tourists with expensive trips.

Again we bailed from the station taking our fellow travellers with us back to the main road. Problem. The Salmon Polo Shirts followed, they didn't just follow us they chased us constantly trying to negotiate a price to travel. By the time we arrived back at the main rd (about 200m from the bus station) the four of us had an entourage of unmarked taxis and men in Salmon Polo Shirts fighting with us and each other for our fare. We found another smaller bus company, but the buses only departed in the morning. We tried to ask a police man for help but he just took off only to return two minutes later with another taxi following. BYYAAAAAGHHH!!! While they were distracted negotiating with us, the other couple (who were heading to a different location) took the opportunity to bail unnoticed and we wished them a silent "good luck".

Eventually we negotiated a 500 Baht fare ($16.66) in a share taxi where we had the back seat to our self. Considering Battambang was an hour and a half drive from PoiPet and the taxi had aircon, this was a pretty sweet deal. Then the next problem occurred, right hand drive, right hand side of the road. This was our first experience with wrong side driving, and especially considering the driving style of the region with the imaginary third middle lane, and the fact that when the driver wasn't indicating to overtake he was mashing the horn, and the constant overtaking while cars or trucks are rapidly approaching the other way... Well lets just say it was a bit unnerving.

A lot more people in Cambodia are on Scooters and a lot more things are piled on the scooters. We've been having a lot of fun counting the number of people or the amounts of stuff that we've seen thus far, which includes one guys with a solid wood bed on the back of his motorbike and a family of three with the mum holding up a IV drip which was going into the arm of the kid in the middle.

When we arrived at Battambang it wasn't really as we expected, to be quite honest it's a bit of a hole, and kinda smells like a combination of fish and Echuca?? We didn't realise we'd been spoiled in Thailand. Battambang is desolate and feels like a busy version of the wild west. If there wasn't so many scooters you could easily imagine a tumbleweed rolling down the dirt/concrete/paving/etc street.

We walked into a hotel that we found in the Lonely Planet and booked as walk in and got a lovely and huge room with a great ceiling fan, TV, balcony and hand carved heavy wooden furnishings for $10 US for the next two nights. Then taking the recommendation of Lonely Planet again we went to dinner at 'Smokin' Pot' which is a great little restaurant that did great food. We copped out and had western food (breakfast/hamburgers) for dinner seeing as we hadn't eaten all day.

We've booked to be taken on a motorbike (scooters) tour of the sights tomorrow and we've even got an English speaking guide for the whole day, all for just $24. Hopefully we'll see some of the temples and evidence of French Colonialism and the lush areas of Battambang of which we are still sceptical as to whether they exist., either way we get to try our hand at wrong side driving, on a motorbike, in Asia...

More on that and possibly a link to photos in the next post...


  1. sound like the adventure has just started!! Just be careful :)

  2. Hi Drew and Prue from Uncle Jim and Auntie Jenni!! Loving the blog - takes me back to India 30 years ago (Jenni) - heat and dust, chaos and confusion. Very character building!
    All the best on the Quest, and may the force be with you.