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Road Trip In Cambodia
I should have known really, as the journey from Phnom Penn to Siem Reap was by taxi, and my husband's view was that we were lucky to arrive at the hostel in one piece, actually to arrive at all. It was my dream to visit Cambodia, my special trip, so it was up to me to organize things. I wanted us to see as much of the country as possible, so a road trip seemed like the way to go. Apart from the fact that the taxi collecting us from the airport in Phnom Penn had no seatbelts, everything else seemed fine. For the first few miles that was, as we were getting out of the city. We did notice that there didn't seem to be any traffic lights or signs anywhere but as our driver slowed down at every junction it seemed ok. It was once we were on the open road that things turned hairy. He was overtaking without being able to see what was coming and either not seeing large trucks hurtling towards us or just ignoring them. There didn’t seem to be many other cars, it was either bicycles or large trucks piled high with all sorts of things. Just 5 hours later we arrived safe and sound if a little shaken at our lovely hostel.
After a wonderful few days in Siem Reap it was time to head back and I was determined not to fly. The journey to Poipet , we were told, was about 8 hours on a very potholed road but it did mean that the driver had to take it slower. The road turned out to be unpaved, just dirt really. At times the dust made visibility just a few feet in front of the car.
We passed many small dwellings made out of corrugated iron and farmers working in the fields. One large town we drove through didn't even have a name. It was lunch time but nothing we saw in passing the few market stalls induced us to stop. The lush green countryside was a pleasure to stare at as the miles ticked by. Eventually we arrived in Poipet, the border town. Our guide book said of this place that the only good thing about it was leaving it. I have to agree. It was a mixture of dingy hotels, gambling joints and people trying to cross the border. There wasn't exactly a dangerous feel more of a desperate one. As we only had a backpack each we had to keep fending off the guys with carts wanting to take our luggage over the border for us.
It was a short walk to the other side and once we got our leaving stamps from Cambodia in a dark and shabby little office we entered into another world as we walked into the air conditioned Thai immigration office.
Thinking that we could now enjoy a bit of a sit down in comfort on the 6 hour train journey to Bangkok we hailed a tuk tuk to take us the 10 minute ride to the station in Aranyaprathet. A little surprise awaited us as we saw the third class train with peeling paint and hard wooden bench seats. It was the only one available and I convinced my two daughters that it would add to the adventure. After bribing them with some sugary drinks from a vendor I went to buy tickets only to find out that the ticket office would only open in a couple of hours just before the train left.
Finally we were on our way, very slowly, this was no TGV! However we did get to see an enormous amount of the Thai countryside and to really feel like we were traveling. There were not many farangs (Thai for foreigner) on the train, just us and a chain smoking Belgian photographer with a huge old suitcase and some ancient Nikons. It was wonderful to surreptitiously watch the locals and see them getting out their picnics and snacks, just watching them live. Half way through the journey a woman got on with two huge baskets of food to sell. Everything looked very exotic but unrecognisable.
Arriving in Bangkok late that night we passed families virtually living on the train tracks. As the train only comes through once a week and travels very slowly they have dining tables set up between the tracks and just move them when a train comes. Looking out of the windows we saw rickety wooden shacks inches from the train with people sitting watching their flat screen TV’s as we passed.
As we stumbled off the train in Bangkok, more tired than we ever would have imagined I felt very privileged to have seen so much. It was hard doing it that way. If we had flown we would have been in bed hours ago, yesterday probably, but imagine what we would have missed.
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