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the aspara bas relief at angkor monuments

Fear and loathing in Cambodia (29.06.01 - 06.07.01)

Part one: From Poipet to Siem Reap

by Peng

Don't believe what most guidebooks say about the hell-ride from the Thailand border of Aranyaprathet to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I can only say that their accounts are massively exaggerated. That is, unless you choose to tuck yourself at the back of a minivan, or worse still on a pick-up truck together with at least six other backpackers and do the whole journey from Bangkok all the way to Siem Reap (within the vicinity of Angkor) in a day.

As claimed by some of the tour agents operating at Khaosan Road, Bangkok, they offer a straight trip for 600 or 650 baht (I asked another tour operator just around Hualumphong Railway Station and she quoted 800 baht), the transport leaving at 7am, reaching Siem Reap at 6pm.

But speaking to people who have actually done the trip easily justify my point of not going for this deal. They reached Siem Reap at 9pm, completely depleted.

Instead, we broke the journey up. We took the third class commuter train from Hualumphong (which left at around 1pm, 48 baht) and stayed one night at Aranyaprathet.

No doubt you have nothing much to do there, but it's still a nice town to replenish supplies before heading into Cambodia proper. Siam Guesthouse, 300 meters away from the railway station (turn left onto the main road after you come out of the station), is new and cheap (one single for 150 baht), and gives out a basic map to navigate you to some grub. Significantly populated by Chinese descendents, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to speak my native tongue with a shopkeeper in town.

The catch to breaking up the trip is finding transport once you reach Poipet to Siem Reap. It really pays if you are in a group. By the time we (the three stooges from Singapore) were at the Cambodian customs, we were joined by a 65-year-old Washington-based German named Gunter, two Norwegian girls and a San Francisco-based Japanese named Sugimasa.

While waiting for the others to pass through the customs, Gunter came up with a brilliant idea to have me sneak pass the few touts cornering us, to see whether we can find a better bargain somewhere. Suddenly, a young Cambodian man rushed up to me and asked me where I was going. I lied, saying I just wanted to loiter around the market. Of course, he knew I was full of bullshit, and I knew he would know. But then, he begun his mad ranting in barely comprehensible English. 'Heroin' was the word that I caught him repeating.

I told him I did not do heroin. Again, he rambled on agitatedly and I finally made out the gist.

He meant to tell me there were a lot of Cambodians on heroin and I should stick with him to be safe. I figured he would say anything to earn my fare. Meanwhile, another Cambodian offered to take me to Siem Reap on a minivan at a cheaper rate. The two guys started abusing (I think) each other.

After being 'ushered' back to the group at the customs, we managed to do the trip in four hours for USD$5 each. There were two more Japanese tucked into the minivan with us who had paid USD$26 together. Gunter remarked that the Japanese does not have any concept of budget travel.

a dilapidated building in siem reap

Part two: It's tiring to travel in Cambodia

Part three: Selected excerpts of my conversations with gunter

Part four: Off the rocks

Part five: The worst boat trip of your life

Part six: A final word

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