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Cambodge- That's French for Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Friday, 30 March 2012 | Views [603] | Comments [3]

Cambodge- That's French for Cambodia

Bangkok to Siem Reap- Another border crossing tale? For a few days in Bangkok we had been busily researching ways to get across the border to Cambodia. It seemed the best way for us was to cross at Aranya Prathet/ Poipet. Unfortunately this had garnered a reputation as one of the worst border crossings in sth east asia for scams, rip-offs and general unpleasantness.


Being the non worriers we are, it didn't really matter to us. Aghh not really. We had spent hours on the net researching all possible scams and coming up with one liners, back up plans and kung fu skills in order to get through unscathed. As the borders are separated over a 6 km divide, most of the scams occur after leaving thailand and before arriving in Cambodia.

Scams include:
1) Rikshaws taking you to a faux visa office! Offices set up (fake uniforms and all) to gank travelers out of money for fake visas. Ouch
2) Forcing you to change money into Cambodian Riel before the border at archaic rates. They would say it was illegal to enter Cambodia without Riel and say the minimum amount to change was $100.

3) Being charged extra for your visa. This was actual government officials asking for extra cash.
4) Overpriced bus charge by monopolised transport service in Poipet
So naturally we were apprehensive about the days 12 hour journey. This apprehension wasn't made any less when I slept through the alarm and we missed our early morning train either. Never mind- we'll get the bus. Thai immigration was sweet (no hippie signs) , and, in a first for me, the lady that was stamping my passport was talking on her mobile phone. Classic.

After Thai imigration we put our battle armour on and prepared for the shit storm that lay ahead. We walked around a corner expecting to find a long road ahead and dodgy rickshaws calling out their best price. Instead we had a nice young Cambodian guy lead us directly to a Cambodian visa office that looked really official. In my head thoughts ran like this: this is easy, perhaps too easy, that kid was nice and seemed trustworthy, perhaps too trustworthy and this office is the most official looking place in Sth East Asia- it must be a scam, where is the 6km walk? Where are the dodgy money changers and the nasty scam artists?

We started filling out our forms as I voiced my 'what if this is a scam?' concern to Beth.
"Andrew, if this is a scam and they have gone to the effort of building a visa office, an immigration hall, a quarantine room, and a customs window, and have bought matching official uniforms then they deserve our money for a job well done."
And so as easy as that we filled in our forms and paid our 20 dollars for our visa (cough cough, not before we paid a small little bribe to have them issued, apologies go out to all the backpackers who have fought tooth and nail not to pay the bribe but the immigration guy was all smiles and ""really sir this is not a bribe it is official" . And it was only $3.) and after dodging some dirty looks from people in the line we were outta there and into Cambodia. Get In!

What I failed to mention in my last blog was that in reaching Bangkok we had officially joined the gringo/backpacker trail of South East Asia. We knew this by the fact that the bus from poipet to Siem Reap was only filled with whities- not one local! We feel it is only fair that if by chance you are in this part of the world you will be able to recognise and categorize the different sorts of backpacker.

Look out for our book coming out soon titled What Backpacker's That? How to Identify and Catagorize Travelers in South East Asia.


Here's a little taste to get you started.

1) The Ïm solely here to get as drunk as possible backpacker.
Other names: Flashpacker
Age: 18-23 yrs and occasionally single men upwards of 29/30

This type see little more than awesome cheap bars and will often be found mingling with their kind on beaches and central avenues. They are usually sporting small beer/pad thai/curry bellies as they are often in control of their nutritional in take for the first time in their lives.

Appearance: Men will normally be found wearing board shorts of a loud nature, thongs, aviators and some form of beer printed t-shirt or singlet. Females tend to wear as little clothing as possible, especially in countries when this is culturally insensitive/inappropriate. Both sport cracking tans and have novelty wristbands.

Habitat: Bars, clubs, beaches, internet cafes uploading drunk photos of themselves, walking aimlessly around streets, markets and minimarts are also a favourite hang out. Occasionally you will find them at a monumental temple (ankor wat) because they were told by their mothers not to miss this or they'll be cross.
Usually not found in travel agents or bus stops as pre-arranged tours pick them up from their hostels.

General comment: Usually a good bunch who spend lots, are the most likely to get scammed and sick, and the most likely not to care about either. Avoid approaching when they are in a loud bunch, during mating season, or early mornings as they can sometimes get territorial and very occasionally violent.

2)  The Jaded Traveler

Age: 23-33


Appearance:
Usually long pants and certainly more culturally sensitive than the drunk youths. They may occasionally have the dirty hippie look but tend to stick to thai fisherman pants and Jesus/strap on sandals.
Habitat: This group is found most places arguing over the price of everything, getting angry they aren't paying local prices, admiring their incredibly good photographs of little street children, and getting cross their bus hasn't left at 3.pm when it should have.

General comment:
Can be a nice bunch but perhaps it's time for a stint at home? Never approach at a cash register or a bus stop. Can be easily approached in a bar for pleasant conversation about 'óff the beaten track' places.

3)  I'm not a backpacker, I live here

Age:
This individual can cross the age barrier but tends to be the male species of 26 and above. Female English teachers of 25 + also fit this category,

Appearance:
Their attire can be anything and so be careful as they tend to prey on unsuspecting victims for conversation. This usually occurs at border crossings where the drunk youths are more vulnerable to local advice. Look out for local local t-shirts such as government political party attire or t shirts which say they work for a local NGO.

Natural habitat
:
Usually found in the local local 'önly cool backpackers know about this bar' kinda place. Will often be found in internet cafes doing research on how to prolong their stay and will seldom be found hanging out at lonely planet recommended anything.

General comment:

A good natured soul who may have lost their direction along the way. Perhaps partaken in the life of reilly for too long but this generalisation can often be proved wrong. When approaching this specimen for good local information always have a good conversation get out clause because these ones can talk the house down.

4) The hyper culturally sensitive, do-gooder, vegetarian, volunteer, environmentally friendly type backpacker 
Age: 25-38
Attire:
Normal clothes from home in an attempt to fit in and not stand out. Women will cover up at all costs in order to appear as though they are not insulting the local customs. Unlikely to be seen in thai fishermen pants and will generally only wear board shorts and a singlet on a beach. 
Natural Habitat:
You'll often find this lot in the local fruit and veg market watching out for their food miles, keeping down on plastic containers and getting to know the 'real' local people. You also find them in internet cafes writing blogs about 'hilarious' border crossings. 
Other places found include temples and famous buildings, but they will be riding their bike to save the planet and save money on their meticulously kept budget. You will not find this type in a backpacker hostels because they will attempt to find local home-stays in order to keep their money in the local economy. 
General comment:When not feeling guilty about everything, this group is a nice bunch who are generally good natured. They may get defensive if they are categorised as any other backpacker and so be careful on approach. Often heard saying "ï'm not her to see white people" and "does this cafe give its proceeds to local community causes?"
5)  Ïm on a journey man..Im here to find myself backpacker 
Age: 18-60

Don't be fooled by there beautiful plumage and harmonious cry- underneath they're usually quite similar to a combination of the youthful drunks, jaded backpacker and the i've been here too long.
Appearance:
Quite easy to spot as most have long hair, whilst the men sport fantastic facial hair. Both sexes will usually don loose clothing with religious or spiritual symbols on them such as the 'OM' symbol. Most will have tattered wrist bands, each one signifying a different stage in their self journey, or containing meanings usually to do with discovery or out of body experiences.
Quite often this type will have changed their name from John to Breeze or Jane to Sand. Occasionally they may wear t-shirts of other people who've also gone on self discovery journeys like Che Guevara. 
Natural Habitats: 
The beach, the mountains or a yoga retreat.
General comment.:
Avoid this mob at all costs at breakfast time as you may be coerced into a conversation about spirituality that is just not necessary for 8.00 in the morning. Beyond these conversations about spiritual force and nature, however, you will find a good natured soul full of fun and good stories. Ask about their wristbands at your own peril.
6) Ïve been away too long backpacker
Age: 30+ 
This species is different from the jaded backpacker in that although they are not jaded, it just seems as though they should have gone home 10 years earlier. 
Appearance: Can be a mixture of Thai pant, beer themed t shirt or anything really. However, usually has an ingrained tan made up of part sun and part dirt. 
They may be accompanied by a local boy/girlfriend or if that's not working for them they will have attached themselves to a wide-eyed-first-time-drunk-fresh-off-the-boat who is cashed up, has shampoo and is willing to listen to some 'real' advice about traveling. 
Look for slightly crossed or unfocused eyes, or a slightly jittery countenance. 
Habitat: Anywhere and everywhere, but usually have found themselves on a beach, maybe selling home woven bracelets or playing a guitar. 
General comment :
Can be super hilarious as they often have amazing 'Ï tried to ride a holy cow in India' stories, which are great for a laugh. Will spurn all talk of home, family or work. DO NOT ASK how he funds his trip and when he is going home unless you really want to know! 
A sub species of this genus is the 60 year old dorm youth hosteler. Do not ask why he isn't staying in a hotel or where his wife is. 
 
Anyway!!!
Siem Reap- Cambodia

Is it ever really worth walking around a dusty town at 8.00pm at night tired and hungry looking for the perfect hostel? Yes it is. We had stumbled around for 30 minutes and before one could say "we should have stopped at the last one" we had found the Golden Village. A little out of Siam Reap, it was an amazing hotel that had wonderful staff, free internet and cheap cheap rooms that were clean and stink free.

Finding a good room in a town is always a good start and the golden village provided a great start to what was one of our best stops thus far.
Siam Reap for me has emerged as one of the most well run and organised towns which revolve around a temple in South East Asia. Often towns that have world heritage listed monuments of epic proportions can be too busy, too expensive or too jaded from pushy tourists. Siam Reap has none of that. Although Angkor Wat manages to bring in 7000 tourists a day, the town still manages to exude a sense of calm and has maintained an identity in some ways away from tourism. 
On top of this it manages to cater for everyone that is there. The ever growing backpackers scene means that local home stays, back packer hostels and travel agents are always seemingly full and busy whilst there are enough high end places to cover for the millions of Japanese and Chinese huge group tours who come whirl-winding their way around, spending much needed money which seems like it is filtering down into the local economy. The Borobudur and the Indonesian Government could learn much from the Siam Reap model. 
Angkor Wat. Day 1 
Whether we mean to or not we always seem to do things in the wrong order. Most people set out for the temples at dawn or dusk to avoid the heat and so it was surprise from the hotel operator that we wanted to cycle to the temples at 11.00am, just as it was tipping  over the 30 degree mark. 
"Na, we'll be right, it's not even that hot."
We hopped onto our free hotel bikes but not before, of course, I gave them the full Victorian Government Bike Education Certificate road worthy check. As a fully qualified bike ed instructor I take bikes and their safety seriously. You'll be pleased to know that they failed 15 of the 18 tests and so we were right to go: one brake, pumped tires and a temperamental bell. 
The bikes we hired were old school 70's choppers with low seats and high handle bars. I choose red and it had a bad ass dinker seat on that back which was pink and said flower! Awesome! As we rode off down the street I felt like I was in an episode of 'the Wonder Years goes to Cambodia', gaily singing Joe Cockers "what would you do if I sang out a tune" whilst narrowly avoiding noodle stands and skinny cats. 
It's 6km to the Angkor temple complex and once you get in there the surrounding temples go for miles and miles. In what seemed like a good idea at the time we decided to have a crack at the long circuit, picking up the temples we thought looked cool and passing up the other (uncool!) ones. So in 35 degree heat we smashed it around virtually empty temples. And what epic temples they were. You may remember them from such epic Oscar winning movies such as Indiana Jones or my personal favourite Tomb Raider. 12th Century stone monuments, huge heads that follow you as you walk and freakin incredible trees with roots the size of houses who have taken up permanent residence in and around the stone bricks. One temple after the other where even the smallest would create a stupor in Australia and England and where they are often over looked cause of the magnitude and beauty of the bigger ones. We trudged on, helped out by the shrieking cat cries of "water, cold water, coke, noodle, condom," all shop owners desperate for a mid afternoon sale. And then... we hit the wall. Fair enough too. We cycled the last 10km home and skipped the sun set on Angkor Wat, already annoyed by huge tour buses and classic bike bum awareness. I'm only glad i''m not riding my bike across America, but then who would be crazy enough to do that?

Anchor Wat- day 2
Missed the alarm and so missed sunrise.
Made up for it by cycling out for sunset which was nice- packed with a billion people but still nice.

Anchor Wat- day 3
Made it for Sunrise and was pleasantly happy this was the last day on the bikes for a while cause our bums were red raw.
Sunrise was super dooper. Totally radical. That's all I got on that.

We finished off Siem Reap with another cooking course. We teamed up with another Aussie guy who was a real gem (most of us are) and cooked up a storm. Firing out of the pan: coconut amok fish, spring rolls, mango salad, fried chicken curry and this coconut pumpkin thingo which put my faith back in pumpkin. 

In an ammusing note for me but not for Cambodia, soon Siem Reap might not be the only place that you can go to visit Angkor Wat. That's right, India has decided to built an exact  replica of Angkor Wat in its country! Hilairous. That's like Australia deciding to build an exact replica of the Eiffel tower in Melbourne (oh wait..). In a country where Angkor Wat is the symbol for so much and is on their national flag, you can understand the outrage of the Cambodians. India doesn't seem to really care. Watch this space.


Sihanouk Ville

With some hectic days behind us, and over 60km of riding in our legs, we thought we deserved a well earned rest. And so off to the coast we headed and landed in what may have been the last quiet beach in all of South East Asia.

Otres beach contains water that is a minimum of 30 degrees. It has a handful of low key beach huts and restaurants that line the kinda golden sand. More importantly, it doesn't have many people- well at least not at this time of the year. Perfect. Glass of Cambodian draught, 50 cents. WTF.

Better get their fast kids cause in two years time this beach will be Ko Samui.

Highlights:
Drinking, eating, reading, swimming, drinking, eating, reading, listening to ipod, and hanging out with some incredibly cool Aussies called Mike and Danni who owned the bar we lived in.

Kampot
We must thank my wife Beth for us making it to Kampot, this charming little ex French colonial town on the river. If it were up to me we'd definitely still be at Otres beach eating fresh squid barbequed at your feet while sitting on a banana lounger. In saying that, i was glad to be dragged away from the allure of the beach to see what was decaying in an old French town.

Highlights include:
- their main town monument was an enormous Durian. That's right, the fruit that stinks like urine and tastes like cream cheese. hmmmm nice one!
- Being told there was no hiking in the area and then finding our own guide, getting on some bikes and hitting up a half day walk through some very cool jungle slash forest that was being illegally forested. Highlight within a highlight was stopping off at old mama's house for a drink and being awkwardly given a bowl of sweet gruel avec ants. Eat it!

"Um Beth are we supposed to eat the ants in the bowl?"
"I don't know, ask the guide?"
"Um excuse me Booner, this sweet stuff is lovely but are we supposed to eat the 15 or so ants crawling through it?"
"Ants? No, don't be stupid, of course you don't eat the ants, you pick them out with your spoon."

"Yup, awesome, but just in case you all wanted to know, I ate a few and they didn't seem that bad, but ill just scrape the other ones out."
(aside to Beth) "Are we going to have to pay for this?"

"Andrew, don't be such a tight arse."

For the record we didn't have to pay. Cambodians are just so wicked. 


Phnom Penh

The capital of this great nation and not a bad little stop off.

Highlights include:
Great river walks
Wicked market food which included freshly rolled spring rolls, fresh veg noodle soup, coconut dumplings dipped in chilli and condensed milk sauce, bbqd squid- delicious. Barbequed bananas- not as great. And some more of that Asian style dessert which includes fruit, gelatin, weird stuff, weird sauce, noodles, beans, corn, condensed milk and ice- stupendous stuff.

The killing fields. Such a sad place but beautifully done and very peaceful in its own way.
And so that does it for Cambodia. In a final note, what we have both found to be so humbling is the nature of the Cambodian people. It can be such a sweeping cliche to walk away from any country saying "oh the people are so lovely and kind" but in this case we find no other words.

This country has gone through more shit in the last 40 years than begs belief. Not just the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot-0 who incidentally wiped out over a 1/4 of their population- but the pounding they received at the hands of both the North Americans and Vietnamese in a war that can only be described as dumbfound confusing and horrible.

Here is a statistic to think about. In 1979 after the Pol Pot regime was ousted only 300 Cambodians with a higher education were left in the country. (Henry Kamm, Cambodia)

The statistics like this go on and on, and most places you can quite clearly see the effects of corruption, greed, selfishness and poor government. However, remarkably the people continue to smile and are wonderfully good natured and nice. Maybe that's because I'm buying stuff off them and what do I really know, but in my eyes all of them rock the KAZBAR. We hope to be back next year to do some NGO work (checkout What Backpacker's That? to find out what we'll be wearing, eating, and reading, and where we'll be hanging.).

Off to get a night bus to Siagon. whatever. no biggy

Love love

Comments

1

I just laughed innapropriately on the train. Several times.

  Dan Mar 30, 2012 7:59 AM

2

Keep writing...loving it as we are off to vietnam and Cambodia in august!!

  Jane Richardson Mar 30, 2012 6:28 PM

3

Chopper bikes are no good for long distances. Form above function. Keep writing, I love reading it Para.

  lucy Apr 12, 2012 9:44 PM

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