Khmertrip – Stage 6: Bullet-boat back to the Thai border

Written by Frank on December 1st, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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This wonderful trip came to an end after a well deserved relax time. Stefan can not only double as any action film hero now, he’s also enjoying sea breezes in a hammock by the ocean and can be the ultimate chillout-dude. Us two had some sort of championship in this over the final days but we couldn’t decide on a winner, we may have to reschedule this tournament.

We chose the costlier but awesome bullet-boat transfer for the return trip, although minibuses were already plying the roads between Sihanoukville and Koh Kong. But the good old bullet-boats still are doing their daily runs as well. Alex did us a final favor and ferried us to the pier in his minivan. That was great and saved us the trouble of dealing with the notoriously overcharging motorcycle taxi dudes, which are called “motodups” by the way here.

The bullet-boats were moored alongside a long, wooden pier in the far  northern district of town. A wooden hut on the right doubles a immigration shack. Cargoes for Koh Kong and island stops on the way were hauled by sweating workers in glistening midday-heat. They were using small two-wheeled carts to move their goods. 12:30 was the scheduled departure time.

This is the only set of doors on the hull. Inside there, you have air conditioning, diesel fumes, some on-board entertainment by Khmer dubbed Thai Karaoke tunes. Through these hatches all passengers enter the vessel and all of their belongings go inside there too.

We knew the tricks of the trade here and arrived early to reserve us the VIP Stargazer lounge on the very top of the boat, well geared up for this ride of 4 to 5 hours.

Right in the leeward side of the boats windfoil we camped and secured all luggage held in those ugly big black bags by chaining it tight to some steel structure here, we ended up with the pole positions here! Upholstery downstairs is aged vinyl over sorry frames, they will get the true sardine-in-a-can feeling there once we’re underway. A merciless Cambodian sun grilled us there for the time being, but once the sleek bullet-boat held it’s hundred-something passengers we sailed for Koh Kong, the obvious 20 or 50 standee tickets for extra profit not accounted for! I don’t want to elaborate about the vomiting and noise level inside, we were dandy with our wooden seatboards and steel structures to cling to. The boat is propelled by some giant diesel engine and reaches a notable speed in these protected and shallow waters. The sights were outstanding, lonely pristine beaches and occasional fishing huts dot the shores to the left and right, the boat’s captain choose the risky inland waterway between small islands and the mainland, once he cleared the bay of Kampong Som. Other nautical traffic is rare here, but some skippers are afraid of the huge patches of silt and sand that tides, monsoons and currents deploy in what was thought to be deep water. Bullet-boats have a tendency to stop vigorously, once they hit one of these in full speed. It happened 8 or 10 years ago on the inland route, when a bullet-boat I was traveling on, hit a large silt patches and catapulted all unsecured outdoor cargo and also passengers into the water.

Our ride was smooth and free of such stunts, but if anything happened to the ferry, we would have had a good chance to make it to the shore.

Stops were few and in the second half of the journey only. Before the ferry was secured at piers, some deboarded using thin boards and gangways. See the grandmother below, she barely made it, but some dude from the boat crew had mercy and guided her off. The piers were always full to the brim with bystanders doing nothing, just standing in everybody’s way!

The small walkway on the outer hull was quite a challenge, when we took turns to get ice cold Coca-Cola Cans to prevent dehydration along the journey. The rail ended 10 feet before you needed to climb a rounded metal hull with no footholds.

Nothing compared to what we were up to next:


The final arrival at the concrete pier of Koh Kong was a true horror scenario in itself. Hundreds of touts of the worst variety all wanted their slice of the tourist cake, only the biggest and toughest on board were able to secure the space needed to deboard and set a foot on the concrete ashore. Elbowing and shoving touts away, is the only option and way off the ferry here, at this stage. A nightmare for small and peaceful minded travelers without real Cambodia experience. Above photo shows George from Arkansas, shortly before he lost control and began yelling at the aggressive touts and shoved some around because their quick fingers were on his property too often, which he had strapped tight onto his body! People that cast shadows stand a better chance to succeed in their tasks, talk seems to be useless. Strength is helpful.

Stefan walked sideways, hitting a few hats off the tout’s heads with his padlocked down duffle bag and pushing for the shore. We made it fairly quick and would have fallen quickly for the next scam, if some experience from older trips wouldn’t have told us better.

“Taxi Thaiborder” claims the pickup truck and wants to haul a full load for a minimum of 5 $ per head to the border. Nobody stays in Koh Kong, their underage “chicken-farms” (brothels) or other questionable establishments did not tickle our fancy nor that of most fellow foreigners on board. We all wanted nothing, but to get out here right now in one piece.

The 5 $ minimum charge (rain, late arrivals or else may raise that anytime!) is a big ripoff in itself! The ride is only 4 to 5 km long and the mafiosis pocket healthy profits here. Sunnyboy style backpackers and their female companions have finally deboarded the ferry and feel safe on the truck in this ocean of madness. Stefan and me took the adventure a step further and set off on foot, leaving the pier, we were not going to leave Cambodia with another ripoff transport!

Leave any pier, bus terminal or airport, before checking into any other local transport in Southeast Asia. You will be overcharged and tricked at these locations for sure.

At a gas station, not far from the pier, we located a motodup and challenged him. 5 single 1-$ bills waved in his face, made him accept the task. Two big fellows plus a big black bag each to be hauled on his moped across the bridge to the border. He was a real stuntman and watched in awe as we strapped our belongings to the frame. One bag between his legs and one in the front of the moped! Us two squeezing on the one remaining seat and off we went. Must have sure looked somewhat funny to bystanders.

The ride was really quick, after the driver found out how to balance his payload. Long before all rip-off tourists arrive by pickup at 5 $ a head (they won’t leave the pier if one chance is left to squeeze one more in). 2 for 5 $ for the express ride, sounded like a much better deal to us .

The Immigration hut was crowded. Besides us, they handle all arrivals from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville by minibus and shared private Taxi. All seem to be in a rush to get out of the Koh Kong madness. We were ahead of the bullet-boat crowd and wanted to keep it that way well into Trat, Thailand.

A final little Cambodian beggarkid was made happy, when Stefan donated his leftover emergency ratios in candy and bags of instant noodle soup to him. Stefan will have many stories to tell, if he decides one day to do so. For me that was a noteworthy trip and so contrary to our golfing and other experiences, I hope he gets done with his big plan to become a commercial pilot trainer for airlines soon, so he has the time again to stroll somewhere around with me. Aviation is his thing and he will give up his college teaching once he has all required qualifications to teach commercial pilots. I wish him much luck and hope, that my Austrian friend finds time again for some golfing or traveling fun together.

 

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