Overland into Cambodia. Part II
Feb/12/2012 12:35 Filed in: Travel Stories
It was a tidy mini-bus that met us the following morning. As the van slowed curbside, I could see three or four silhouettes inside. After morning pleasantries were exchanged with the driver, the slider door opened and we climbed in. Four travelers nodded and smiled. They looked rested and ready. Our night had started with Elephant beers and evolved into Thai Whiskey. Chris and I had traded a good nights sleep for a few too many hours of bar talk and some fit full rest. Such is life. We settled into our places with our packs on the floor between our knees. Despite our groggy heads and the Bangkok traffic, we were excited. The adventure was just beginning.
The drive east from Bangkok to the Cambodian Border was easy. The Thai country side moved by at 70km/h. We had no hassles and the ride, while beautiful, was fairly uneventful. Our fellow mini-bus riders represented distant spots across the globe, mostly Europe. I remember overhearing someone speaking German and an Italian man. An asian couple slept in the seat furthest back. We were sitting next to Jim, a young Englishman. For better or worse , all our fates were intertwined. The itinerary involved a few transfers and hand-offs, most of which was to take place at the border. Our tourist agent had explained that no vehicles were allowed to pass through that particular border. Aranyaprathet, the border town in Thailand was the first stop. We made it a quick stop; fuel and the toilet. Then it was on to the Rongklua border market. Thats the place where everything seemed to change.
It was the huge carts and the men pulling them that caught my attention. Pull carts with cargo piled ten or more feet high were being dragged by groups of ten to twenty men. Dutifully, the men strained against the weight of the cart as they pulled toward the border. Occasionally, a small man would be perched atop the load in order to equally balance the weight over the two cart wheels, quick to move if the load shifted. The whole scene was so basic and rudimentary it looked primitive, as if time had stopped. I had never seen anything like this. I stared. This was the way people had been trading for centuries. Only in this day and age where I am from we see cargo being moved by truck, crane, or forklift. At Rangklua everything was being moved by man. Incredible!
Rongklua was bustling with market business. Thais and Cambodians hurried about in the heat and dirt selling, trading, yelling. Huge 18-wheelers were pulling in, parking. I saw a constant flow of tires beneath the dust that hung thick in the humid air. As soon as the brake was set, the cargo doors swung open and the unloaders went to work. The contents of the truck were skillfully packed onto a waiting pull cart. When the command was given, the pulling began. Pure man-power. The timeless element left the greatest impression. Take the 18-wheelers out of the picture and what was left was an ageless scene held over from centuries long past.
Liberated from the mini-van we made our way toward the border crossing at Poipet on foot. Our mini-bus driver led, we followed. At the country line we met a Cambodian gentlemen, he wore some type of uniform, not exactly military, but official looking none the less. They spoke, shook hands and that was that. No introductions were made, no english was spoken. It was obvious we were to now follow our new friend. We did. Our agent in Bangkok had told us what to expect. Threading our way through the throngs of merchants, traders, buyers and thieves, we slid through the gates at Poipet and stepped into Cambodia. I couldn't really tell the difference. It was the same scene, the same hustle. Without much effort we found ourselves waiting outside a single story building. The official inside checked passport and tourist visas from each of us, one at a time. Twenty minutes later we were stamped and cleared. Welcome to Cambodia.