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Khmertrip – Stage 2: Poipet to Battambang

Monday, November 30th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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This is Michael, hailing from England on his first Cambodiatrip. He was in good humor, even two full hours after a tout disappeared with his 25 $ for the promised front seat in a shared taxi. He was helplessly stranded in downtown Poipet but hope has vanished for him. That was his second Siem Reap scam on this day, he came here with an early minivan from Khao Sarn Road, but the connection in Poipet he missed and they left him there, offered was a spot in tomorrows transport.

I informed him, that 25 $ exceeds monthly salaries of qualified workers here and he bid his task to get to Siem Reap today farewell. We told him about our plan to catch a ride to Battambang or at least Sisophon, dirt cheap for 3 $ or 12.000 Riels on the back of any roadworthy pickup-truck.

He was really enlightened when he learned that there are presumably direct and scheduled boats going from Battambang to Siem Reap, although Battambang is really out of any direct way to Siem Reap.

We got lucky and found such transport opportunity, finally hitting the road shortly after luchtime.

Stefan found a good use for his new headscarf, sitting on a pickup-bed, overloaded with sticky jam-like preserved fruits underneath us gave the flight instructor and college teacher (in his real life) a totally new horizon in traveling, especially with the horrendous road conditions between Poipet and Sisophon. Potholes is the wrong term because pots aren’t big enough!

The road remains to be in the sorriest condition of any transit route thinkable, even with the other national roads all being finished recently or under construction.

Wind in the face doesn’t bother me if it’s not laced with too much dust.

Michael, our trip buddy for this segment was amazed at the new blacktop road after Sisophon leading South to Battambang, his butt was not taking the treatment of the previous stretch of road anymore, so he said.

This is Battambangs main bus terminal, it also serves the shared taxi gangsters, that sell the passenger seat in the front twice and backseats at 25 % of the bench per head. Business as usual in Cambodia.

The big white building right near the terminal was also a guesthouse, we all checked in and needed a shower badly

The rooms were pretty basic but cleanliness of mattress and bedsheets were taken into very close inspection, the fan-room had a shower/toilet in a sideroom and two large wooden beds. The spider inside on the ventilation insect screen there was big enough to have had deserved to be named. Stefan and I decided to leave the light there on and alarm the other, if spidey disappeared from there in the night.

   

But before nightfall we ventured into Battambang and tried a variety of possible transports for us. The colonial buildings here on the riverside are quite impressive, the pics below show us on the typical cyclo here.

We opted for some waste of money and the benefits of motorized transport.

At this motorbike shop, we booked their only 2 Offroad bikes for the following day (above), 7 $ per 24 hours was reasonable for the 250 ccm Hondas offered.

Jewelry and woodcarvings are a speciality here, the carvings are brought here from many surrounding areas and are rather inexpensive.

Note that Stefan wears a grey shirt, it was indeed much brighter (and less smelly) than the white one he wore on the pickup!

Gas Stations fill by the bottle here, this is very common anywhere outside the Capital.

We couldn’t be much attracted by the street food here, but the salesladies gave us a lot of grins and smiles:

Dental problems could be helped 24 hours on any day, we were glad not to have any for sure!

The winner of the day was a moped-taxi with comfy trailer, we choose him to spent the rest of the night with us and tour us around.

 

Below we got stuck for dinner and wondered about the cannabis smell everywhere!

 

The “happy herbs” are known elsewhere as Marihuana or grass, but here they were kitchen herbs and reason for many to come to Cambodia. A big bag of maybe 500g was offered nearby for 5 $!

  

Khmertrip – Stage 1: Pathum to Poipet

Monday, November 30th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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The idea for this trip was born on Muang Ake Vista golf course in Pathum Thani, Thailand. Where Stefan and I were battling it out in immense heat. The game was tied after day 6. Seeking shelter from a monsoon storm on day 7, we got rained out and the course closed for the day. We both were a little tired of golfing (happens rarely!) and were drinking a bit in a watering hole, waiting for the course service with an electric cart to pick us up. I told Stefan about my recent trips to Cambodia and he grinned back widely.

It was always a dream for him to go there and experience that mystic, war torn country!

At that point in time, we didn’t exactly expect ourself to be sitting in a long haul government bus that same afternoon to the Cambodian border. We grabbed 2 old oversized black duffelbags and hit the road just after lunch at my house in Pathum Thani. The 4 o’clock afternoon bus did arrive there in Aranyaprathet just after 9 P.M. hours due to some heavy traffic and a punctured tire. We knew chances to cross were slim as can be, but we tried it and rented the services of a TukTuk at Aranyaprathet bus terminal to the border.

We arrived at the border post just after 22:00 hours, and they had just closed. The immigration dudes were already gone and “Black Sherrifs of the Special Border Police” made it no secret with their wielded machine guns, that trespassing might be hazardous to our heath and well being.

A nicer officer didn’t mind to pose for us crazy guys at all, right at the border we weren’t to cross before early morning tomorrow.

We slept that night in Aranyaprathet for 300 Baht air-conditioned at a local low budget hotel, which doubled as a “Shorttime-Hotel” for the many girls across the street from a noisy karaoke-parlor and their male sponsors.

We grabbed a good nights sleep, the last night in Thailand for a while, but by the first daylight, we were again hauling ourselves to the border. This time, we choose the local version of a stretched limo and we invited a Khmer girl to join us for the ride, she was working in Thailand somewhere and returning home for a family visit.

The ride was not too far, but definitively too far to walk. A good estimate would be around 5 KM distance.

The stretched limo owner was a bit hard to haggle with, but our Khmerlady was a natural born haggler. Real Khmers do beat even Jewish bankers or Armenian carpet dealers in this trade!

We arrived at the famed border market, which is called “Thalaad Rom Klau” here, Stefan decided to “upgrade” his garments with a set of Khmer headscarves and an old camouflaged BDU pants from an army-surplus dealer. My own fatigues proved so practical, he wanted to try it also.

In Cambodia, it is almost imperative to look like a “have-not-backpacker”, it saves you 50 % of the beggars and gets you the local’s prices in eateries and such. Stefan’s designer-label pants made it from here without any further usage back home again! What good white colored shirts are for in a dusty country, well he found that out too pretty quick.

Absolutely unreal, what kind of vehicles the traders use here! The even use them as public transport for people within the huge market.

My generous offer to Stefan to haul him the last half mile to Cambodia for a few six-packs of Diet Coke (and a bottle of booze) couldn’t really entice him. Khmer (that means Cambodian citizens) use these pushcarts to haul up to 12 people plus their cargoes!

Heavy pushcart traffic with immense loads between these countries are seen frequently.

We made it! Due to limited space in my passport, a 10 $ bakschisch convinced the officer to stick the new Visa over an older stamped Laos one to preserve my last free page in it.

Holy smokes, but besides the ever present pushcarts, this country appeared at first glimpse even more advanced than Thailand! This is untrue, but the casino owners love me for having said that

But that’s a common mistake. Just the casinos for wealthy gamblers in the zone between the actual borders were of some style and designed decently, the real Cambodia starts at the roundabout right after this.

Loads in your duffles need to be secured well from here, they were known to slice backpacks with razorblades here to steal some things of you and worse.

Myself with that infamous roundabout behind me. Here you need to repel touts of the worst variety for any further transport needs. Needless to say, nobody really wants to stay in sleaze-city Cambodia; and the mafia-style gouge every transport provider with hefty surcharges to use “their” roads and territory. Doubling the fares seemed a normality here for years, because of that. Other tricks and scams are well known here, lots of tourists come through here per day.

Getting out of Poipet is everyones top priority here, the smell, the dust, the beggars and those touts make a mix that makes one feeling uncomfortable. Stefan and I got finally rid of the notorious touts and that alone gave us the breath and courage to go on. If the Cambodian Government is serious about their tourism, they need to control these gangsters here in a much more efficient way! One rightfully can speak of Poipet as the a..hole of the country.

The loads hauled into Cambodia are plenty of food items, pushcarts must hold above half a metric ton or the equivalent of a pickup-truck.

Stay tuned for Stage 2 of this report (Poipet to Battambang), to follow soon here in SIAMPEDIA.