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A BRIEF STOPOVER IN BANGERS BEFORE WE MOVE INTO CAMBODIA

After the worst sleeper train experience to date, we recover in Bangkok before heading over the border into Cambodia busing all the way to Siem Reap.

THURSDAY 27TH FEBRUARY 2014 (DAY 180)

It wasn't morning when I woke the first time, or the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th time. It was still dark every time when I woke during the night. And what a horrible night it was. Usually on the train we all sleep like babies being gently rocked from side to side with a calming clicketty clack noise from the under carriage. But this train ride was like a ride from hell. It felt like we were being thrown from one side of the bed to the other, rather than gently rocked. Robyn commented this morning that she had the feeling that she would be thrown from the top bunk to the floor below several times. Not sure why this particular ride was so rough, perhaps because we were the last carriage #10 on the train? It sure felt like we were being waved around like a tail at the end of an animal. Needless to say none of us had a fitful sleep last night.

And of course just when you don't want it to, the bloody train is running on time which meant that we were being woken before sunrise to be served breakfast. 120 baht = $4.30 for a sandwich, cold fries and coffee, mmmmm delightful.

It was light by the time we finally arrived at the main Bangkok station and we were only about half an hour later than scheduled arrival time, a record for our train travel so far. It did not take too long to organise a taxi, we have given up on trying to get a metered taxi and are happy to pay 200 baht = $7.15 to take us to our usual hotel. Still the driver had a bit of a go as he stopped the car at a dead end in a street and said we had to walk from there. The dead end was due to road closure caused by the protesting going on here in Bangkok at the moment. We still have not really noticed any of the trouble while we have been in Bangkok before, but just in the last few days we heard while in Chiang Mai there had been bombs let off and several people were killed. Unfortunately, the country is going to go down the tube because many trade countries are now pulling out and want nothing do to with Thailand and it's unhappy political situation. And we have also heard that many governments are telling travellers and tourists to stay away from Thailand. If this continues the country could be in real strife. Anyway, I knew where we were when the taxi stopped and it was way too far to walk to our hotel. The driver insisted on increasing the fare to 250 baht = $8.95 to drive around the road closure. Obviously another scam - taxi sharks taking advantage of the protesting.

Spewing later when we bumped into some ladies that we met on the train who had managed to find a taxi that would use the meter and the price was only 70 baht = $2.50 to approximately the same place we were taken to. Piss me off!

Arriving at our hotel New Siam II, I enquired whether they had any available rooms for us. Lucky they did but we would have to wait until about 10.30 for them to be cleaned. This was fine, we stored our luggage and headed out to a restaurant to have a drink, use the free wifi and wait the time until we could get into our rooms.

Showers all round was the first thing when the rooms were ready, then we headed out to our stored luggage. No not to collect it but to add to it. lol. We stopped at a few ticket kiosks to price tickets to our next destination and then went to lunch to make the final decision when we would move on again.

So tomorrow we will take an early morning minibus to the border of Cambodia, cross the border and then hopefully get another bus that will take us to Siem Reap. This could be a 10-12 hour traveling day, depending on how long the border crossing takes. Ticket price for transport is only 200 baht = $7.15 each - bargain.

We returned to our rooms to enjoy the air con, relax, watch a bit of telly and some caught up on a few lost winks.

Come 5pm it was cocktail hour and we headed out to our favourite kerbside bar. The staff remembered us (fancy that) and the bar tender immediately started to make 4 pina coladas. Ah it's nice to be remembered! We could not sit in our usual seats as they were already taken so took up residence on the other side of the bar which had almost as good a view point as the front. Dolly was feeling a little poorly and said she would only stay a little while and have one drink. 3 cocktails later, we'd adventurously veered away from the Pina Coladas and tried an assortment of coloured alcoholic mixtures with ridiculous names such as 'zombie' and 'summer kisses' , we were getting hungry so decided to head off to find some dinner. Dolly now really was feeling poorly and skipped dinner heading straight back to the hotel and to bed. Robyn, Lyn and I went to one of the soi food places and shared clams cooked in garlic, a squid dish and crispy pork with kale all for the sumly total of 200 baht = $7.15 - love this country.

On the way to our happy hour we stopped and purchased our bus tickets for tomorrow for 200 baht = $7.15 each. Small price to pay to get to another country, Thailand to Cambodia, although we do still need to pay for a Cambodian visa at the border which will cost anything between US$20-30.

Early night tonight as we have an early start in the morning and a very big travelling day ahead.

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FRIDAY 28TH FEBRUARY 2014 (DAY 181)

I was woken up at 7am by Lyn knocking at our door, time to get up. We were clever enough last night to buy some sandwiches from 7-11 that we toasted in the sandwich toaster this morning for breakfast. Yes I am still carrying the sandwich toaster that we purchased in Koh Pangyan and times like this we are all thankful of the fact that I am carrying around a most unusual item when backpacking.

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Anyway, breakfast in the room with a coffee made from our kettle saved a lot of time and we were in the foyer checking out of the hotel just before 8am, the time we expected our pickup. Poor Dolly is not the best today. Her cold has taken hold and she feels like shit, not a nice day to be travelling for her, but she managed to sleep most of the way.

The van was on time and loading up our luggage and finding empty seats (we were the last pickup) we were soon on our way not long after 8am.

Morning Bangkok traffic was at its peak and we spent the first hour of the journey just getting out of the city centre. It was about a 4 1/2 hour drive to the border with a 20 minute toilet stop half way at a petrol station where the van filled up with gas while it's passengers used the facilities. This seemed to be the designated petrol station as about 25 vans passed through the petrol bowsers just in our 20 minute stop.

Just after 12.30 we arrived at the 'lunch stop' just before the Thai / Cambodia border. This is where we found out why the bus ticket at 200 baht = $7.60 was so cheap. Here is where the bus company con it's passengers into paying them to get your Cambodian visa for US$30. Now I had read online that the actually visa at the border was only US$20, but the bus guys counter acted this by saying that it was very difficult to get at the border, much better if they get it for us with no hassle. This of course was a con and we knew it and did not want to give in to it, but in the end had no choice. We were told that if we do the visa on our own, there would be no bus representative to help us through the border and to guide us to the bus that would take us from over the border to Siem Reap. He just said we would have to take care of ourselves and make sure we were at the bus station by the departure time of the bus. If we missed this bus we would have to purchase another bus ticket which would cost a lot more. Of course we were told it took a long time to get our own visa at the border and the chance the bus would be gone was a chance we should not take. If we took the visa service we were told there would be no waiting at the entry and therefore all a lot quicker experience for us. Again, I did not want to believe these guys as I knew it was just a money spinner for them, but I also did not want to be in the position of missing our paid bus and having to pay a lot more for another bus ticket. In the end we made the decision to bite the bullet and pay the US$30 each and that way we were sure to be on the bus.

So as we ate an overpriced last meal in Thailand, our passports were taken to the local consulate and visas were entered. Nice little money earner for them - bloody sharks.

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We were then driven just another 10 minutes down the road to the border where we were handed over to the Cambodian rep who would escort us across the border. We had to walk a short distance with our luggage and through Thai immigration where we were stamped out of Thailand.
A fairly long walk (about 300 meters) through no man's land on a busy street, where there are several gigantic casino/hotel buildings. Such a strange entrance into a third world country.

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The next hour was spent in a line, that was moving at a snail's pace, waiting to get an entry stamp into Cambodia. I have no idea why it took soooooo long, there were 4 windows open, but it still took sooooo long. It was very hot and the fans provided did little but move the hot air around. We were talking to a Finnish guy behind us in the line who advised he had paid 600 baht = $21.45 just for the bus trip. He was cunning enough to do his visa himself which did only cost US$20 without any problems (although they did ask for a tip - which he did not give). So even with our rip off visa
price we still got a cheaper deal as the bus was so cheap.
Eventually we made it to the front of the line and our visas were stamped and our finger prints were electronically taken (although for some reason Robyn was not asked for fingerprints), finally we were officially in Cambodia!

A short wait for everyone in the group to be stamped in and then we were shuttle bused from the border to the bus station 3 minutes away. At the bus station we were herded into an air conditioned bus which would take us the 155 km to Siem Reap. I did notice the price of tickets per person for buses (US$9) & taxi (US$12), so it would have been a costly endeavour had we missed the bus we had already paid for. However, because we sat waiting in the bus for almost an hour for it to fill up I really don't think it would have been an issue. At least they did have the air con running so the wait was comfortable enough. 4.10pm was the time the bus pulled out of the station and we were on our way.

The road was pretty good, completely sealed just a few pot holes here and there that the driver managed to swerve and avoid. Just before 6pm we stopped at a restaurant where we could have some dinner and use the dunny. Back on the it was getting dark and in this last leg of the journey the road had deteriorated somewhat. Now the driver was all over the road trying to avoid not only potholes but big chunks cut out of the road where they were in the middle of repairs.

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The bus station (if you could call it that), more like the place where they park up the buses for the night, was in the middle of nowhere. The bus company obviously had a deal going with the local tuk tuk drivers as you needed transport to get to anywhere from this drop off point. The fact that it was pitch dark, down an dirt alley way and we had no idea where we were all served in favour of the circling sharklike tuk tuk drivers.

Although they circled us we told them that our hotel would collect us and we did not need their services. Of course then they started with the old story of 'no hotel will collect from here, best you come with me' or 'oh your hotel is closed this late, no one will come, you must ride with me' and the bullshit continued to flow, which only served in me not believing them even more. I had booked two rooms at Bun Linda Hostel yesterday and they had emailed me advising they provided a free pick up. I phoned the hostel and after giving the phone to some old guy who could tell them where we were they advised they would be there in 20 minutes to collect us. Only then did the remaining sharks retreat as we were the last ones standing at the bus station.

Less than 20 minutes later we were being piled into a tuk tuk (the tuk tuks here are different to anywhere else we have seen them and comfortably sit 4 passengers, although the luggage was a bit of a struggle) and being driven to our accommodation, which was about 15 minutes away. I found this hostel and booked it on the internet, chose this place because it had a pool, and opted to pay an extra US$2 to have air con not just a fan. So it's not really a hostel, more like a hotel as we are in twin rooms not in a dorm. I actually thought it was a little flash for us with air con and pool and all, funny the first thing Dolly said was 'it's a very backpacker sort place isn't it!'. So upmarket for some of us and down market for others, but at US$20 per night twin room its a pretty good deal as it's walking distance to the market and lots of food places.

It had been another long, drawn out day and after checkin we were ready for bed. Dolly was still feeling the torture of being sick and having moved and waiting all day so hopefully a good nights sleep will speed her recovery.

SATURDAY 1ST MARCH 2014 (DAY 182)

Breakfast at the hotel was wonderful, we are back in a country which was once run by the French and good on the frogs they left behind the baguette legacy! Any country where the French have been you will always find good bread and for this I thank the French whole heartedly! So breakfast was 2 poached eggs (done to perfection) served with a mini baguette - and it tasted wonderful! A potato hashie of sorts and a couple of slices of hot salami - bit of an odd combination but all tasty just the same and for US$2.50. Yes, Cambodia is still using mostly US currency. The bus guys yesterday told us the new king is pushing for their own currency (riel) to be used, but so far everywhere is still quoting US dollars. And we were told the ATM's are still spitting out US dollars.

We had a relaxing morning hanging out around the hotel, it got pretty hot during the day and we did not want to wander out into it. Still resting up from the long journey yesterday.

By 2.30 we had no choice but to walk the short distance into the market area because we all needed food! Yet it was an hour later when we were finally seated and being served food. On the way we had to find an ATM which was easy enough there are plenty around and they do still give only US dollars. We then found a money exchange to get some local riels to have also. But we were to to find out that everywhere quotes and takes US dollars.

Lunch was at a place called the Golden Coconut where we tried a few local dishes - I had lok lak beef US$3.00 (which Dolly said tasted like old leather) welcome to Cambodia where the beef is probably old water buffalo. But I thought the sauce was yummy anyway which is made with a combination of lime juice, sea salt & black Kampot pepper. This is a common dish here in Cambodia and can be served with different meats of choice. I remembered it from our last visit and liked it then also.

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After eating we browsed around a few shops and some of the market before finding a nice pub on the corner that was perfect for people watching and happened to be serving 75c draft beers. We sat there for a couple of hours watching the passing tourists and locals go up and down the busy street as we enjoyed a few very cold beers.

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We made a move again about 6.30 when we ventured over the river to the Siem Reap Art Centre Night Market, which was hundreds of stalls selling pretty much the same stuff as in the day market. What was noticeable was the lack of tourists buying anything. Because there are not many buyer around it makes the sellers even more attentive to the point where they are a bit annoying and it get tiresome when someone pounces on you the second you look in the general direction of their merchandise. Guess they are all trying to make a living.

Slowly we make our way back to the direction of our hotel, stopping again to have some dinner. The place we chose turned out to be the same place as where we had lunch, just a different location, must be a franchise. This time Lyn & I shared a squid dish, a clam, dish and a baked potato. Here the draft beer was only 50c and our meal was a total of US$7! Still not bad. Robyn had a sweet and sour pork meal with a shake for US$4, Dolly chose not to eat she was not hungry and is still feeling a little off colour so she opted for a 30 minute foot massage for US$2.

All happy we headed back to our hotel via the smelly canal, I had a quick jump in the pool to cool off, but we were all in bed fairly early as tomorrow is another day. Robyn and Dolly are visiting the temples tomorrow, leaving early enough to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Lyn & I have chosen not to go see them again, as we did last time, but we may hire bicycles and go for a bit of a spin around town if its not too hot. Foreigners cannot hire motor bikes here in Siem Reap otherwise we would be on a motorised bike tomorrow.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 09:45 Archived in Cambodia

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