|Rob stands guard in Battambang, Cambodia|
After one month in Thailand, it was time to head into neighboring Cambodia to renew our visas in the capital, Phnom Penh. I was nervous about the border crossing. From reviews online and stories told by other travelers, the border crossing at Poipet was a confusing labyrinth of scammers and touts offering anything from fake visas to tuk-tuk rides to nowhere. So after some research, we decided to take the quieter border crossing at Ban Pakard/Prum.
We were delayed a day due to the Songkran celebration in Chanthaburi. The next day we took a minibus to Ban Pakard, and walked across the bridge into Prum, Cambodia. The border was nearly deserted. Two bored guards stamped and stickered our passports, after some haggling over the visa fee. Cambodia accepts the visa fee in US dollars, Cambodian riel, or Thai baht. I had a $50 bill, but the guard didn’t have the change and we weren’t about to forfeit 10 bucks. That goes a long way here. We ended up paying in Thai baht, allowing the guard to keep about 100 baht. I was glad to have avoided the Poipet circus. A friend of ours ended up on a bus to nowhere, where she was forced to exchange money at some shack and pay an extra $40 to enter the country.
We took a taxi to the closest town, Pailin, only to discover that it was now Songkran in Cambodia! The roads were crowded with slow-moving motorcycles and creeping tractors towing wagons crammed with Songkran celebrants. Kids lined the streets throwing small plastic bags filled with water at passerby, covering the streets in a layer of clear plastic.
The bus station was a poster board sign standing in a dusty parking lot. We got out of the taxi, only to be told that the bus wasn’t running that day, again due to Songkran! So we asked the taxi driver if he could take us to Battambang, our destination for the evening. After some haggling, we agreed on $10 and 30 baht as the price. But the taxi didn’t go far. He turned around and drove about 100 meters back up the street, where he passed us off to another taxi driver in a white Toyota Camry. This would have been all well and good, but this taxi was a shared taxi – and we were informed that we would be sharing the back seat with two other people! Not cool. We tried re-haggling, and managed to agree on $10 flat, no baht.
I was on edge the entire two and half hours to Battambang. The driver blared his horn nearly continuously, weaving between tractors loaded with people and running motorcycles off the road. Many of the motorcycles were loaded with four or five people. The most I counted was 3 adults, one child, and two babies all hanging on for dear life as their scooter put-putted along the side of the road. I kept thinking that if our taxi so much as nicked them, all six of them would be roadkill. I think our driver spent a good 50% of the drive in the other lane, dodging oncoming traffic and being a general jerk. Rob was infuriated at the guy’s idiotic driving. I could hear the occasional screech of his teeth grinding.
At last we made it to Battambang, the leaping off point for visiting the Angkor Wat ruins. Battambang is extremely tourist friendly, with many good hotels for a cheap price. But we’ll have to catch the temple on our way back to Thailand. First we have visa business in Phnom Penh.
Lucky us, it’s mango season in Cambodia! This little cutie is snacking on one while his mother sells mangoes at a roadside fruit stand.