So Cambodia is up next, I had been warned by Craig that the border crossing was a bit of a con and easier to do it yourself. So we did, we queued for the boats back over to the mainland and managed to hop on one before they ran out of space and left people stranded on the island. It was a free for all scramble to get on a boat. Then we hopped on the bus to the border, seemed easy so far. Well, at the border, where you must have dollars and small bills to help, you pay a dollar to leave Laos (assuming you find the right window to do this and make sure you do as at the Cambodia border they’ll send you back. Luckily, that didn’t happen to us). Then proceed to walk along ‘no man’s land’ to a gazebo, yes really! Where you have the pleasure of paying a dollar to say you don’t have ebola. I tried to by-pass this bit but no such luck. Then across the road are two huts, go to the furthest one for the actual visa and pay for that ($40). Then head out to the other hut and pay a dollar for, actually I’m not sure what was for, I think for them to stamp the visa with ‘USED’. But Ole, the sneak, managed to save a dollar there somehow. And boom, that’s how you get into Cambodia. On the other side we had already booked a mini bus to take us to Siem Reap but via Strung Treng. It didn’t take us long to find the guy and get our ticket and after a bit of refreshment in the roadside tent, we were on our way to Strung Treng. Obviously, nothing can go without some form of hitch so some guy gets arsey with this couple saying they hadn’t paid and we pulled up in the middle of nowhere and an argument breaks out and they are told to get off the bus. Fair play, they stood their ground and said ‘no, we’ve paid’ and on we go. Whilst we had tickets, we hadn’t actually paid at this point so I was a tad nervous they’d try this on us. But no and we made it to Strung Treng.
First impressions on Cambodia, it’s dusty! Strung Treng was especially dusty, we went and found an ATM to get the local currency and so we could pay for the minibus. I had never realised that Cambodia has adopted the US dollar as their main currency with their actual currency, Riel, playing the small change element. This is going to get complex trying to work this one out. Couple hours later we jump aboard the next minibus and off we go to Siem Reap. I was delighted to find some steamed buns at a roadside stall, closest thing I’m going to get to my beloved sausage rolls in Asia. But man are they tasty, Ole…not a fan so I grabbed it and scoffed it. Pulling into the bus station in Siem Reap provided some entertainment, first we all fought with the driver saying we had booked to city centre not 10km out, he responded by unloading our bags. Then the tuk tuk drivers tried to rip you off but we managed to get a decent price of $1 each. But at the hostel, as another guy joined our tuk tuk but wanted a different drop off, the lads and the driver more or less got into a fight about doing a second drop and he even threatened with ‘I know where you’re staying’. Well actually, if you won’t drop the other guy off at where he is staying then you don’t. Here we are at Bun Kao Guesthouse a whole 15 hours after leaving Don Det. We checked in and the place seemed decent before heading out for a much deserved KFC, a few beers down the infamous Pub Street, very lively, and a stroll around the night market before crashing for the night.
The next day we explored Siem Reap and hired some bikes to see a bit of everything. I also dropped off my passport to get a Vietnamese visa, should have bared in mind it was their new year celebrations and was a total waste of time and didn’t happen despite them keeping my passport for a day. Exploring Siem Reap by bike was a brilliant way of doing it and a bargain at a few $ for 2 days. Cycling down the main, busy, dusty roads was an eye opener. Vehicles and pedestrians come at you from all directions; scooters pretty much clip you as they go past. But once out the busy areas and, wow, you a contrasted Siem Reap from the touristy parts like Pub Street, which is fab for lunch, to the slums that some people are forced to live in, literally amongst a pile of rubbish. Can’t be denied though, Siem Reap is a cool city, although we had to hide at the hostel for the heat of the day. Angkor Wat does a sunset deal where you can buy a day ticket the night before at 5pm allowing you to do the sunset and then the whole of the following day. We cycled up, queued for our tickets and off we went to find the mystical Angkor Wat. We bought a couple of Angkor beers and meandered around this amazing historical building. It’s only a shame the sunset from it wasn’t quite as impressive as I had expected but pleased to say I drank my Angkor beer on the steps of the impressive Angkor Wat. Time to cycle back, get change adopt Stephen from the dorm room and hit up Pub Street with Warren and Jen who were also in town. All I can say, Pub Street is a messy night and totally worth it, especially ending the night in the Angkor What? Bar.
The following day was meant to spent exploring Angkor Wat, but Ole, Stephen and myself woke up with some cracking hangovers. Obviously, first things first a greasy breakfast and then we all hopped on the bikes and went to Angkor Wat. Exercise, heat of the day and a hangover are a deadly combo. We went and explored the various temples that was on offer to see including Bayon Temple with its numerous carved faces everywhere, which I found more impressive than Angkor Wat itself. Then we sweeped round ancient ruins of; Baphuon Temple, Phimeanakas Terrace, the Terrace of Elephants, then on to Takeo, where we stumbled on an unconventional ice cream man. So a couple of dollars buys you an ice cream baguette with condensed milk and sprinkles and it was pretty good I have to say. And then we finished on the Indiana Jones temple – Ta Prohm where trees are slowly growing all over the temples for a cool and eerie effect. Compared to most people, we nailed the Angkor Wat complex in a few hours, hangover must have taken some effect but we saw everything we needed and wanted to without it being a temple overkill. So once back and cleaned up, I had located a Costa Coffee and being a Brit and a fan of these guys we hot footed it down for a cool coffee, before stumbling on a fancy restaurant, where for $15 each we got 2 glasses red wine, fillet steak, bread, chips, sauce and veg. Result and a damn fine steak! The evening was spent strolling about the night market where I insisted on buying a hammock, not that it will get much use in England’s weather. The following and final day in Siem Reap saw Ole leave and Stephen and I mooching about doing very little other than exploring the markets, introducing the French man to Costa Coffee and spending the final evening around Pub Street for a Mexican and some more beers.
Time to see what the small, less touristy town of Battambang has to offer.