Me in front of Ta Prohm (a.k.a. ‘Tomb Raider temple’)
I’ve been travelling now for one week and it has been amazing. I’ve already seen so much, experienced such a variety of things and I’m loving it! I decided to not linger very long in Bangkok, as I’ve visited Thailand a couple of years back. Instead, I wanted to move on to Cambodia directly. I bought a bus ticket for a direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. The border was absolutely chaotic and crazy though.
Kicked out of the bus with no information (scam #1)
After a couple hours of driving we stop at the border of Thailand to Cambodia. From here things get pretty confusing. The bus driver says we need to get out, but gives no other information whatsoever. Then another guy comes busting around the group saying we should hurry and get our visa at the office here. A guy is handing out forms. Part of the people from the bus takes off. I ask someone how much Thai Baht you need to pay for the Visa; 1600. I read that the Visa costs about 30 Dollar. This means that there is no way the Visa could cost more than 3×350 Baht (30 Euro). There is something fishy about the whole thing. My bus mate from Canada seems to think this first office is the only option, even after explaining to her that it doesn’t add up. She decides to pay the money. I decide to leave her behind and investigate the thing further before giving some random guy a lot of money (#1: avoided some weird visa scam).
A tree overgrowing Ta Prohm
I got in some random line
I walk to another bigger looking office. At this point our bus is gone, a few people are left at the first office and the rest of our group has disappeared to who knows where. I get into a huge line. There are no signs to point out what the line is for. I don’t even know if I’m in the right building. I ask the guy who seems to be managing the line: ‘is this the line for getting a visa?’ He doesn’t speak English. He gestures to the woman next to him. She says yes. I meet a fellow lost bus-mate, a Swedish girl, who looks as confused as how I feel. She says that she just made it through the whole line, but was sent back because she didn’t have a departure card. With the needed form in her hand now, she and I wait the line together now. When it’s finally my turn, the guy behind the counter stamps my passport and gives it back. Confused I ask him if this is my visa. He shakes his head. We walk on. There seems no turning back once you crossed this line, which was supposed to be the visa line but didn’t get me a visa.
Cows in front of Ta Kheo
No ATM (scam #2 and #3)
When we walk further, I finally see a sign with helpful information, the first one since I left the bus: “Visa upon arrival, 50 meters to the right”. For the record, this sign is placed on some dusty looking road with small shops, dirt, and street vendors everywhere. After almost walking into many other places that could have been the place, I think I recognise a building from my Internet research on taking a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. I’m correct, we have found the right building. Now I still need to find an ATM. Since almost everything in Cambodia is payed in US dollars for some reason, I thought it would be wiser to just withdrawal some cash from an ATM directly in dollars at the border. However, I can’t see an ATM anywhere. After asking around, walking in circles in the hot sun over the dusty site and being sent in about 4 different directions, I find out that there isn’t any ATM to be found on the whole site. Only 1 km further, but for that I would actually need to be through the Cambodian border. I do have some emergency Euros on me, which I try to find a money exchange office for. There is none. Oh wait, there is one. That one turns out to be this random shop that sells soft drinks and other stuff, and also seems to change money as an extra lucrative business. When I tell him I want to exchange my 50 euros to dollars, he seriously begins inserting all kind of formulas on his calculator. He turns the screen, and shows me: 51 Dollar. I tell him that’s the worst exchange rate ever. He just shakes his head. Desperate for a way to pay for my Visa though, I decide to take the money (#2: got ripped off at the exchange rate). After filling out some forms I get my Visa. There is a sign that reads 30 dollar + 100 Baht. I know that the latter amount is a bribe. It’s again a scam and I refuse to pay. Refusing was actually quite easy and I got away with not paying the extra amount (#3: avoided a bribe). I then find out that the first office I past was the Thai border where I got by stamp on departure.
I apparently still need another stamp (scam #4)
Now I have my visa, but still need to go to another small building where I get a stamp on arrival for the Cambodian border. By now, we waited for 2 hours in lines and walked around searching for money, buildings and process information. I enter the tiny building with a low roof and part of a tree growing inside with some miniature Hindu offerings or something blocking one of the 4 lines to the counter.
There a guy is collecting money and passports from the people in front of me in line. I overhead a guy saying ‘What am I paying for exactly?’ I then decide that I will 1. Not part with my passport and 2. Will not pay this guy any money, especially since whatever he’s doing seems to have no real function. The people who paid get a sticker on their shirt. Nobody know what it means or does, probably because it doesn’t mean anything. (#4: avoided paying a random guy money for no apparent reason).
After another long line I finally get my Cambodian stamp, find back my bus, find back the people who were in that bus, and enter Cambodia.
Walking up the path to Ankor Wat by Sunrise
I visited Siem Reap and got a three day pass to the immensely large temple complex. Some temples are over 1000 years old. It was so impressive to walk around and imagine how it would have been hundreds of years ago, when the place was filled with monks and painted in bright colours. I chose to visit some of the relatively smaller temples on the first two days (some of which are still an 800 meter walk to get from one side of the temple to the other side). On the third day, I biked with my new found travel companion Jen to Angkor Wat, the greatest one of them all, to see the sun rise up from behind. Angkor Wat is the biggest religious building on earth. Pictures do not do this sight any justice at all. I also enjoyed Ta Prohm a lot; it’s the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed. It has massive trees that are hundreds of years old growing over the ancient building. The temple of Bayon features impressive towers with large sculpted heads looking down on the people below. Just imagining how much work and craft went into the building of each and every temple is mind blowing. In the better preserved ones you can see stone carvings so detailed that they almost look like paintings. All in all it was impressive and I loved walking around and discovering how every temple was again completely different from the last one I visited.
I guess my posts will be a little bit less edited than normal during my travels. At the moment the mini laptop I borrowed is quite slow and Internet isn’t always accessible. Also, I don’t have any proper image editing software. This is the first moment in a week that I found some time to finally write some of my first experiences down. Sometimes I will post some pictures on my Facebook page more frequently, if you’re curious about some small travel updates in the meantime :)
How have you been? Experienced any fun adventures lately?
Bayon (in Angkor Thom)