Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Of course it is ridiculous to drive into a new country at 2:30 in the afternoon and offer up any kind of assessment at 9:30 pm, especially since all I have seen so far is the three hours in the front seat of a Toyota Camry, one shower in the Riverview Guesthouse, one dinner in the night market,and one hour in the touristy gift shop zone (three tee shirts with cutesy local products and sayings-Ankor Beer, Danger Land Mines!-, two silk scarves, one cotton shirt- Siem Riep is obviously the Camden of Cambodia). I am doing a thoroughly unresearched driveby of the world famous Khmer ruins nearby, strictly on the premise that You can't be this close to Ankor Wat and not somehow go see it.). This has entailed a series of missed bus connections and overpaying, yet on the other hand, traveling sans Lonely Planet or any real idea of my routes or methods is invigorating and liberating. I have made up for my monetary mistakes by not eating as much-one, three dollar meal in the last 24 hours,and some gaffes have had happy consequences: I missed the 2pm air con bus to Mukdahan which meant I missed the connecting bus to Surin,but that meant a long overdue visit to Rambo where I got to see his new digs and his new office, and I got to meet his subordinates and see police photos of a recent Metamphetamines bust which included having to kill an armed and shooting dealer. Always great to see my great Thai friend-People ask me if I feel badly for this guy and I say 'No! He is destroying the social fabric of my country and he made a greedy choice!  I was only sorry his lovely wife Jenny was in Bangkok. Anyhoo, 5 hour bus to Surin and then a 1 hour mini van to the border Our motto: Always seeking to set a new world record for most people in a van with the same cubic volume of a telephone booth. I started back in NKP getting my passport stamped for reentering Thailand - 3800 bht- which if one fails to do one must reapply for a work visa all over again-  Thai Immigration motto: We love stamping your passport and filling out paper-as long as you pay for it. It was immediately nerve wracking approaching the border outpost, which is really in the middle of nowwhere but crowded nonetheless with two swanky casino-hotels. And a nice woman asked why I was using this crossing when the one closer to Bangkok has buses that go all the way. I looked into the blank dry distance of Cambodia- my first glimpse of a new country in six months, and my heart sank. This is where the supply/demand economics came into play since I had no sooner set foot to pavement (the last I would see for two hours of driving) than I was greeted by a young man with excellent English. He literally shepherded me from window to window and then negotiated a ride. Had I arrived in the am I could have shared the Camry ride 5 ways and would have spent 500 bht. As is was I could have been stuck there or had to pay the full 2500 bht the driver makes with a full car. We settled on 1500 ouch! and he could pick up as many people as he could on the way.This involved a lot of furious phone calling, but only one young woman rider who went most of the way with us. The change from Thailand to Cambodia was notable beyond the fact that the road was not paved. Notably less prosperity and notably more poverty. The equivalent of a fancy SUV in Thailand was our Camry- a smattering of these along the route- the Thai car was the Cambodian moped-and the Thai moped was in fact the Cambodian bicycle- lots more of these.And actually on the route I came in on there were fewer of everything.And very few concrete box houses. Very rustic slab wood raised small boxes, and many poor people eating the dust clouds produced by our Toyota. Entering Siem Riep was therefore all the more shocking since this really is a world class attraction.Huge expensive hotels with signs in Korean,Chinese, English and other languages. Streets jammed with international faces. It is more expensive than some places in Thailand,but still quite reasonable. I settled on the first place my driver took me to-lovely rooms with a fan-12$.And everyone uses us dollars here which feels very strange.Tomorrow I do a guided tour of the park starting at 5am,sharing my tuk tuk with a real cockney English couple- very nice. They just spent the week volunteering in an orphanage.It is hard being back to ground zero with the local language, but here everyone's English is very serviceable.And the Cambodian people are very very sweet.Different than the Thais, but with so little time here I am sure I will not   be able to gauge how. But a place I want to delve into more deeply? Yes. Just crossing that border gave me a little lift to my sail (I am tearing through Patrick O'Brian so I am half in Cambodia and half on the high seas in the Napoleonic era). The world is so vast, so infinitely interesting, and I feel the sand in my own hourglass slipping below so very quickly...

No comments:

Post a Comment