Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Kingdom of Cambodia

The day had arrived that I would be starting a new series of adventures in a new country, Cambodia. Fai came to pick me up from the guesthouse to take me to the Poipet border, a place that I very much despise. It was here we had to say our goodbyes and I told her I would see her in a months time, I was now on my own about to embark on the unknown yet again. No sooner had I said my goodbyes that I was approached by someone saying "hello sir you going Cambodia today sir" I just gave a big smile and ignored him wondering how many more times I would be asked similar questions by these con men, to my huge suprise though this was the only one. As you know I have been to this border once before and had a nightmare sorting everything as well as getting ripped off but as I knew now exactly where to go it was a very smooth process. I went to the offcial place to buy my visa and paid the correct fee of $20. The official then pointed to a bit of paper that said $20 + 100 baht, I smiled and politely lauged with him that I wasnt going to pay the addtional money (that was only going to go in his pocket) and it worked. He looked a bit grumpy and I thought this might mean I'd have to wait longer but within 10 minutes I got my passport back, visa in place. I now just had to que for an hour at the gate to cross and there I was officially in Cambodia. From the Poipet border I took the free shuttle bus to the bus staion and shared a taxi with some Russians I'd met in the que,  it was $12 each for the three hour journey and jesus was it sketchy. I cant even count how many times he used the horn but it was several dozen times at least. After surving the taxi to Siem Reap I had to then take a tuk tuk to my pre booked guesthouse "Tropical Breeze" which had a huge very clean room, more like a hotel.

My first impression of Cambodia is that it is very diffrent to Thailand. It is very dirty and dusty, the traffic is chaotic, the streets are poorly lit and there are a lot of street kids here begging. What would you expect though from a country which has suffered such a horrible history including genocide only three decades ago, I am not complaining by any means but it is a lot take in. Not only do I have to adapt to this but I now have to get to grips with a new currency, to make things trickier they use both thier own Riel but more commonly the USD and as there are no cents in circulation if you need change from a dollar its given in Riel, it requires a good mental arithmetic to make sure you're not being fobbed off. My brain has been wired to Baht over the past few months so I have to do many calulations to work out what the price of something is in Baht then I know if its a good deal or not.

The first evening in Siem Reap I just stayed at the guesthouse, I arrived after dark and I wasnt up for taking to the streets on my own just yet. By staying at the guesthouse I ended up meeting a French guy and two German guys which was a bit of a weight of my shoulders, the following morning they headed out on the trips they had booked while I took myself for a walk to explore. The location of where im staying is just 5-10 minutes from the old market and pub street so it was easy to find, whilst walking through the market I couldn't belive it when I bumped into a Japanese group I had met one night in Streetlamp (Ayutthaya),  we went for some beers and they came back to my guesthouse to play pool. Come five or six pm the french guy and the german guys were back and the Japanese guys had to leave to watch the sunset at Angkor Wat. They started on the Angkor beer with me and before we knew it we were all drunk and ready to head to pub street which as the name suggests is full of bars. We stopped off at a restaurant first for something to eat and I noticed frog and crocodile on the menu, of course I decided on the frog BBQ for my tea. If you want to know what it tastes like (without trying to sound cliché) it did taste like chicken, seriously,  it was kind of a mix between chicken and steak as it had quite a chewy texture,  it was delicious. When we got to pub street it was very busy and very well lit up,  we ended up choosing a cool bar with swinging seats where we got truly hammered and I got up to sing with the three girls who were there singing to backing tracks, it went down well and one of the customers put a request in for me to sing Robbies "Angels" so of course not to be rude I did, it was great fun. The bar was closing and my friends wanted to head back but I was keen to stay on and find another place that was still open, afterwards though I thought it probably wasnt a good idea but they'd already gone so I got in a tuk tuk and asked him to take me to my guesthouse, at this point though I had very little money on me just a few thousand Riel (about a dollar) and he said it was enough, problem was though he didnt take me to the guesthouse...

Now the following story is about how I narrowly avoided being robbed on my first night out in Cambodia. Instead of the driver taking me back we ended up at one of his friends house's for which I was now very worried.  I asked him what he was doing and he told me to come inside quickly, he just needed to get something and then he would drive me back, I knew the driver knew I had no money so I thought it was quite possible he did just need to see someone quickly. It was strange though when he told me to come with him, I declined but he insisted so we ended up on the porch of a house where his friend was very drunk.  We talked for about 10 minutes and all seemed ok until his friend asked for some money, I told him I didnt have any and then he started to get angry, I asked my driver to please take me home and I walked back over to the tuk tuk, the driver followed but his friend wasnt happy for me to leave,  he demanded some money and whilst following us he threw a glass bottle in my direction, all of a sudden I knew I was in real danger.  I had no idea where I was, the road to his house had no streetlights and if I was to run I would have to deal with the dog who was guarding the gate to his house so running was not an option. It was then I came up with my life saving story, I reminded the driver I only had little money on me and if he drives off quickly now I would pick him as my guide for Ankgor Wat and would offer him $40 for it, this of course was highly appealing to him so it was now in his interest to keep me safe to get my business later. Now of course I had no intention of doing this but he didnt know that, we passed the gate with the dog and got on the main road, problem was though his friend who also owned a tuk tuk got into his to try and chase, luckily as he was so drunk he was not able to catch us. When I recognised where I was I gave the driver a fictitious guesthouse name and just told him to drop me a few places down so he did not know where I stayed. I gave him what money I had and made it back to my guesthouse alive, you can not even imagine the relief running through my body. What did suck though was that when I got to my room I realised I had lost my key and reception was closed so I found some cushions on the balcony and made up a bed in the corridor. It was a good laugh for the other guests who discovered me in the morning but I felt like death when I woke.

So there you have it, on just one night out I realised that Cambodia is a very poor country and contains some desperate people. The lesson of the story is to ensure I do not go out on my own again, I'm sure not everyone is out to rob you but there obviously are people here that will.

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