...and the Real Fun Begins!

Third Stop: Siem Reap, Cambodia

After flying from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, we were Cambodia-bound to see the Angkor Wat Temples. At this point there were no more flights in our itinerary until we've crossed the border to Thailand; hence the real fun (or not) of backpacking began here.

After we had retrieved Patricia's lost luggage (as told from my previous entry), we rented an airport taxi right away to go to the bus station which would bring us to the Cambodian border; however, since it was holiday week in Vietnam in celebration of Chinese New Year, the bus company was closed for the day. And on top of that, the bus bound for Cambodia the next day was already fully booked. We had no choice but to rent the airport taxi all the way to the Vietnam border (Moc Bai).

When we arrived at the border, taxi drivers ambushed us, offering rental of their Camry taxis starting at 100usd! We've read about these kinds of stories from other backpackers' blogs and we knew better. We went straight to the immigration's and experienced the most blatant case of bribery between a local and an immigration officer. In the office, there was no proper queue - only groups of people gathered in front and looking over the shoulder of the officer encoding the exiting tourists' information. I saw locals just placing their passports on top of the others and a man who cut in the line in front of me shoved a couple of passports with dollar bills inserted! I was aghast! I took out my Frommers' guide and exclaimed "Oh zoi oi!", which means "Oh my gosh!" Unfortunately, that only gave the people some sort of a quick entertainment.

But having come from a third world nation myself, I somehow understood where these people are coming from - the opportunities to earn (properly or not) that the tourists bring them must be maximized. After a few minutes, we were able to pass through and were on our way to the bus station. The taxi drivers were tailing us all this time. We kept on walking and they kept on bargaining. The offer dropped to 80usd now, but we still ignored them. Until finally they offered 60usd from Moc Bai, Vietnam to Phnom Penh. I suggested 45usd instead, and they all shouted in unison: NOOOOOOOw (No)! This was funny. If I only took a picture of how they reacted, with toothless gum showing...! Harharhar.

The girls and their suitors...heheeh

After arriving at Phnom Penh, we went straight to the bus station to book our trip to Siem Reap the next day. They offered us a hotel for 20usd a night, and we took it not knowing how huge the mosquitoes were inside the room! Ack!

We woke up early to catch the 9am bus trip. It was uneventful though - we were sitting our butts off for five hours just looking out the window to see how ghetto Cambodia is. If I could compare it to a province in the Philippines, I would say Tarlac or Leyte. It also has some rice fields and mostly hectares of dry land. We had stop-overs in between which gave us the opportunity to see the type of food the Cambodians eat. . .

Fried Crickets, anyone?
If they had better food to eat, do you think they would still devour poor, endangered, innocent turtles? :-'(

Finally, after the long bus ride, we have arrived! This is our very first tuk-tuk ride....
The tuk-tuks are makeshift taxis/motorized rickshaws, so to speak. They are vehicles that can seat three or more people (with provisions for their backpacks) with a motorbike attached in front. The tuk-tuks are the most popular means of transportation in this country - for the tourists, that is.This tuk-tuk would finally take us to our hotel so we could wash up and leave our belongings as we go sight-seeing around Angkor Wat (Sanskrit for City Temple). We walked a long distance from the entrance of a big stretch of land and vast moat where the famous temples stand, and paid a hefty amount - 20usd just for a day pass. But we were awed at the detailed artistry and possibly the long toil that the laborers (Khmers under King Sryavarman' rule) put in to be able to build a long-standing complex architecture.
I don't have much to say about this tour, because I'm not really a fan of Hindu & Buddhist temples. The intricate wall carvings, or what they called as bas-reliefs even brought chills. Add it to the fact the sun was at its hottest while we were there - around 35-36 degrees. It was unfortunate I did not have any cap or umbrella so after a few minutes of walking, I was almost about ready to faint.
Fourth Stop: Bangkok, Thailand

After just four hours of being in the Khmer soil, we were on our feet again ready to cross yet another border - Poipet to Aranyaprathet.

But before we totally leave Cambodia behind, I must write about this observation with a tinge of envy: Despite the hot weather and despite the poverty in this country, all taxi/tuk-tuk drivers here are wearing decent clothing – button-down, collared shirts and professional slacks. Drivers commissioned to drop tourists at the Angkor Wat gates are even required to wear vests. Not only that, they also have the perfect English accent!

These motorbike drivers provide the first encounter the tourists will have with the people of this country, which in turn gives an initial reflection of its culture and its locals’ character. It hurts to say, but how I wish that our drivers in Manila would turn out to be like what they have in Cambodia – respectful, good communicators, and dressed with dignity – no wifebeaters or muscle shirts can be seen here.

During our nth taxi ride, traffic jam was becoming more and more apparent. This was how we knew that we were reaching Thailand. Before riding our transfer, Pat and I decided to sneak out and buy the birthday girl, Roxy some flowers. The bouquet only cost 1usd! We asked our motorbike driver to hand it over to Roxy, but when he saw her, he went straight past her looking on the other side! Talk about surprises...

I love the pink taxis in BKK! . .

Our Bangkok trip was short and sweet - it was all about photographing temples, pigging-out, and night shopping! Okay, and some cute finds....

Too bad that we didn't have the time to go to the real malls like Paragon and the rest, but we shall return! The food here is yummy and inexpensive!

We were almost at the end of our trip but if there was one thing that we had taken notice of with extreme gratitude was the fact that God's hand was upon us all throughout. Despite the horror stories we read in blogs and the potential danger that travelling with no men or guardians brings, nothing bad, or even close to being bad, ever happened to us. God had even brought us "angels" that took care of us while on the way - Kelly & the rest, the hotel persons in Hanoi who offered assistance above and beyond the call of duty; our taxi drivers who kept their focus on the almost pitch-black roads; and pleasant, hospitable, nameless people who put the good times into our FUN! We were really favored upon.

Fifth Stop: Phuket, Thailand

To be continued in the third part of my backpacking kwento series . . . ;-)


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