Overland into Cambodia. Part I
PART 1 OF 3;
Hindsight is 20/20. If that's the case, foresight is, by default, blurry. Seems that blurry vision led us to the decision to travel overland into Cambodia. Most tourists fly into Siam Reap to visit Angkor Wat. Not knowing any better and strapped for cash, my buddy and I decided to make the journey by road. Looking back, I'm not sure if I would do it the same way again......... then again maybe I would.
I was visiting Thailand for a month with an open itinerary, a healthy sense of adventure, and a reliable like-minded friend. Traveling light, we were calling our plays day by day, hour by hour. Our appetite for adventure had been whet by a week plus of non-stop eye-opening experiences in the north of the country. Along the Burmese border the country was wild feeling. Thick forested hills incised with rivers, more green foliage than a spinach field. There was tension along the border and tourists were staying away. Jeeps overloaded with men and guns could occasionally be glimpsed moving with intent. I wouldn't say the vibe was "oppressive". I could just tell something was up. There was energy in the air. We set out on a trek with a local guide. Our intentions were to get out there....waay out there, and we told him as much. He listened. Four days later we re-emerged from the jungle exhausted and floored. We had encountered only a local hunter, a village of 5 bamboo huts and more leaches than I care to remember. Our eyes were wide and the fire stoked. This was the type of adventure we were looking for. We wanted more....
Back in Bangkok, wandering Khoa San road, Chris and I kept seeing amazing photos of Angkor Wat posted in the windows of various Tourist Offices. Angkor looked exotic, intricate, almost otherworldly, like some alien beehive temple, a true marvel of man. I had seen Nat Geo programs about places like this. Plus, visiting Cambodia seemed like another worthy adventure, a journey to a far away place, an unknown culture. Why wouldn't we go? No reason not to. Someone knew what lay across the Thai border but we certainly didn't. We decided to go east into Cambodia We committed by handing over our passports and the expected cash to the Tourist Office agent. She was a nice woman; sincere and professional. She spoke very good english and explained the process to us; pay a visa fee, get our passports approved and stamped by the Cambodian consulate then catch a flight to Siam Reap. The plan sounded great except the "catch a flight" part. Budget travelers look for the affordable alternative. The advertisement in her window, the one with the amazing photos, mentioned the possibility of an overland route, by motor vehicle. We pressed her on this. She hedged a bit. Her reluctance to book us overland was obvious. We stood strong. She consented. The next obstacle was the part about handing over our passports for the consulate approval and stamp to allow us access into Cambodia. We hedged a bit. At least four times, she assured us our passports were safe. The badge pinned to her lapel, denoting her name and job title, looked genuine enough. What's not to trust? She stood strong. We consented.
Chris and I wandered out into the humid Kho San sidewalk wondering if we had just made the quintessential naive tourist mistake; letting a stranger take not only our passports but also a size-able chunk of our cash. We passed the next two days wandering around Bangkok, drinking Elephant Beers in sidewalk bars. Masses of humanity bustled about in the citified humid air, scooters swarmed like buzzing hornets. The oddities of Kho San Rd were a good distraction from what was really on our minds, the possibility of being ripped off. Thankfully, we met our agent at the agreed upon time. She handed our passports back; stamped and approved. We had been granted entry. Also, our faith in the integrity of strangers, other humans so different from us yet so alike, was reinforced. We were told to meet our van on the corner at 7:00 the next morning. No problem. That night, of course, we drank more beers in celebration.