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Crossing

Posted by: Updated: July 20, 2010 - 5:22 PM

Getting to the bus station was simple enough, despite my hangover (The drinking helped me sleep, at least that's my excuse.).  Once there, I quickly determined that this would take some time (in the end, six hours).  The central bus station looks like the grand stand at the state fair on opening day, except that there are three levels and five times as many people.  Again, little to no signage in English and again I am carrying my backpack in 90 degree heat with 98 percent humidity (the building is not sealed although there is a weak air conditioning system).  After shuttling back and forth between the varying information booths on the 1st and 3rd floors, I finally am able to locate a ticket to the border.  Unfortunately, the bus does not leave until 3pm (meaning 4pm) and the bus ride is 4 hours.  The problem with this is that the visa office at the border closes at 5pm so there is no way I can cross to Cambodia tonight.  Again, I resort to my candy-giving and monkey-pointing in order to determine my bus (They all look the same and again contain no English description.). 

What has most impressed of the people of Asia is their patience.  My guidebook describes it as "Saving Face" and states that there is no greater shame in society than losing one's temper.  Thus during my 6 hour layover not one person raises their voice or pushes in line.  In fact, all around me, people are laughing or playing with their children.  Everyone smiles at me and some even take it upon themselves to try their English and help me. 

Finally, the bus pulls away.  At this point, I am about 50% sure that I am on the right bus, but at least we're moving and that's progress.  When we arrive in Aranya Prathet which is the Thai bordertown across from Cambodia, it's 9:30pm, pitch black, and I am the only westerner, in, what I guess one could call a town (my guidebook makes no mention of Aranya Prathet, save to mark it on the map).  At the mercy of my tuk-tuk driver, I am taken to a hostel of his choosing, where I try to force down some lukewarm noodles and shrimp before a shower and bed.  The next day I reach the border. 

Cambodia's customs office is a log cabin with its face cut off like a cross section.  There is one officer "inside" the three-walled structure.  He speaks good English and helps me with all the forms.  The officer becomes my handler and follows me all the way through the border and into Cambodia (I don't how customers officers are allowed to just walk across borders, but they are.).  All in all, I check in with about 3 offices, handing each different forms that say the same thing.  Finally, we make it to the other side.  My understanding was that I would be catching a bus to Siem Reap but since I happen to the only visitor that day (the others had been smart enough to flee Thailand days prior), I am put on the back of a moto.  Normally, riding two-deep on a small motorcycle is no problem.  However, it is a different story when wearing a giant backpack that outweighs the bike.  My thought as we shoot through oncoming traffic (if we stopped we would probably tip over) was that 'If I am to fall, try to land on the backpack.'.  While I am concentrating on my center of gravity, Cambodians carrying entire families plus the year's harvest on their bicycles whiz by without so much as a glance (I have seen a family of six comfortably seated on a motorcycle smaller than a dirt bike).  After twenty minutes of fun, I am deposited at another bus station and I make my connection to Siem Reap.

Aranya Prathet

Aranya Prathet

 

My Hotel

My Hotel

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