Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Cambodia Border Crossing

I thought today would be a relitevly easy and uneventful day, since it was a travel day.  Wow, was I ever wrong.   Our day included traveling 13 1/2 hours, 3 different drivers, an act of faith,  blind night driving, lost camera, and more.

We met our taxi at 9 am and headed to the airport.  Our taxi driver was Joseph's friend, since Joseph's "taxi" was not allowed to take us to the airport, he arranged for someone else to give us a ride.  We check in, eat a little breakfast and proceed to get a little lost.  It's fine, we find our gate.  No big deal.  The flight to Bangkok takes about an hour and after we land and get our luggage we look for the driver who is supposed to meet us.  He is no where to be found.  This is our day's first dilemma.  We look around the meeting point   He's not here.  I sit down with the kids while Bill scours the airport.  I'm supposed to find free wifi to look up Kris's, the man we booked with, phone number.

After 15 minutes Bill returns.  No luck, but I'm connected to the Internet and find the emails that were sent.  That morning Kris had also sent us a "hot" number for the driver, his words not mine.  The number did not work, apparently it's not that hot.  I emailed Kris and told him we couldn't find his driver and had been looking.  Bill started looking into alternative ways to get to Cambodia.  Kris emailed back.  His driver was on the first floor, arrivals are on the second floor, and he was waiting at door eight, we are all the way on the opposite side.  After an hour and a half we finally meet our driver who does not speak any English and follow him to our van.  Not what I was expecting.  I'm pretty sure I saw ants crawling around.  I'm sure it will be fine though.

We drive three hours towards Cambodia.  We are almost there when he needs to get gas.  Right next to the highway there are two gas stations, literally right next to each other.  One is empty, the other
has a line of about fifty cars and they are not moving.  It seems only one pump is working.  Of course that's the line we get in.  Seriously?!  After sitting in this line for 15 minutes and not even inching
forward Bill asks why we don't go to the gas station next door.  It turns out the other station is twice
the cost.  Bill says he'll pay the difference.  Our driver gets on the phone then hands it to Bill.  Bill talks to someone at Kris's office and gets the okay for our driver to go to the other station as long as
we pay the difference.  To save at least an hour of our time, no problem.  We are quickly back on the road.

We come to the border and our driver pulls in a big dirt parking lot.  As soon as we park someone is opening our door.  He speaks English and tells us we must leave the van.  He says Mr. Kris sent him to help us cross the border, and then we will get a new van.  Um, okay.  We gather our things quickly and then sit down outside at a plastic table so he can fill out the necessary forms to get our visas.
Then he says, "Follow me."  So of course, we do.  It is so hot and humid and dirty and congested with cars, motorbikes, and tons of people.  We dodge traffic as we cross the street and walk along the road, (there are no side walks).  He tells us we must go through Thailand checkpoint by ourselves and he
will meet us on the other side.  So we follow the crowd of people and go through immigration.  The officer is not friendly but it goes well.  We find our guide on the other side.   Following him over a river that is filled with trash, children begging, people selling food that appears to have been sitting our for days, people honking, it's crowded, it's busy, its chaos.  He then helps us navigate to an outside restaurant, if you can call it that.  He tells us we need to give him the money for our Cambodian visas, plus our passports and he will go through the VIP line.  It is much faster, thirty minutes, and we won't have to wait in line, sometimes an hour.  I had read about this, so I felt it was legit, plus we had set it up with Kris, a man we meet on the internet, that someone would help us with the border crossing so we gave him about 6000 baht and all our passports.  I mean really, what could go wrong?  Bill asked if he should come to, but was told, no just wait here, I'll be back.  Talk about a leap of faith.  We were now standing in Cambodia, alone, and passport less.  Ava was worried and said she did not like this place.  She was felling very unsafe she said since a few people had come up and touched her face and hair.   I reassured her that it was fine and hoped I wasn't lying.

Thankfully thirty minutes later our guide came back with passports that now had Cambodian visas
inside.  Phew!!!  We weren't going to be stranded after all.  We followed our new friend through the
Cambodian checkpoint, which consisted of 2 soldiers sitting in plastic chairs.  A few words were
exchanged,  and we just walked by.  Very strange.  It was night now.  We were originally supposed to take a bus to our waiting van, but things had changed and our van was going to pick us up right there.  I almost get run over by a motorbike, but somehow we make it to the van.  They load our luggage, we pile in, say goodbye to our friend who helped us cross the border and take off on the scariest drive of our lives.  I'm not kidding!

The road that leads to Siem Reap is a main road, but this is Cambodia so all this means is that some of it is paved.  It is two lanes, but that means nothing to these drivers who constantly pass and and create a "third" lane in the middle of the road.  As if having multiple head on collisions isn't scary enough, our driver is speeding, and on at least one of his two cell phones at all times.  Oh and did I mention it is a stick shift, and no, he doesn't have a blue tooth.  It gets better, about 30 minutes from the border the road becomes an obstacle course with potholes easily 5 feet wide and 5 feet long.  Also there appears to be no road maintenance because some sections are literally dirt.  But wait, it gets  EVEN better, many vehicles don't have rear lights, even the big rigs, so as our driver is weaving in and out of traffic at 70mph we come up fast on these slow moving vehicles while creating a third passing lane and trying to avoid hitting the motorbikes as well.  The icing on the cake, there are NO SEATBELTS!!!!!   This went on for about three hours until we finally made it to Siem Reap by some miracle.

Can't wait to see what else Cambodia has in store for us!

1 comment:

linda grasso koones said...

Hey Danielle -

My mom just showed me your blog. So cool! Are you taking high resolution photos with a good SLR camera? If you are maybe you could do a little travel piece for VB magazine. We can discuss when you get back too.

Linda Grasso Koones