So we're off to Cambodia today!
It's a bit of a detour from our trek to Chiang Mai, but this was originally on our SE Asia bucket list, just that we ran out of steam last year. We're a bit conflicted, because although we really want to see Cambodia, we're not sure if we're up to touring and sightseeing quite so soon after our Europe burnout.
But on the other hand we did buy motorcycles in Thailand expressly for the purposes of being able to ride to other countries, so there's a bit of pressure to make use of the bikes while we have them...
Our last stop in Thailand, check out our funky digs
We've stationed ourselves in Prasat, about 45 minutes away from the Cambodian border, to prepare for our crossing. As is customary, we try to do all border crossings early in the morning when we're fresh and the weather is cool, but also to give ourselves plenty of time in case anything goes wrong, and in the case of Cambodia, plenty of things *could* go wrong:
There's an air of nervous tension between us because of all the research we've done. Cambodia is one of the most difficult countries to ride into. On the forums and on social media, there are so many reports of corrupt border officials giving overland travelers a hard time, denying them entry despite having all the correct paperwork. And in the worse cases, horror stories of vehicles trapped in the No Man's Land between countries - unable to get into Cambodia or re-enter Thailand again, predatory officials offering the owners paltry sums to take their vehicles away.
They specifically target the non-ASEAN riders with foreign-plated vehicles. Having Thai bikes should alleviate most of the pitfalls. At least that's what we're hoping...
How do you prepare for crossing into Cambodia? Well, first you have to modify your motorcycle...
Riding with Daytime Running Lights is illegal in Cambodia, so I have to pull the fuse to the headlights
I've read that the Cambodian police pull over non-Cambodian motorcycles and fine them on the spot (ask for bribes) for having Daytime Running Lights. We're just trying to mitigate any problems beforehand and try not to give anyone any reason to stop us.
I just have to remember to plug the fuse back in again if we're going to be riding at night...
The main overland crossing is at Poipet, on the highway between Bangkok and Siem Reap. At that crossing, we've heard of officials insisting on a Carnet de Passage (Cambodia is not a Carnet country) and requiring a special permit from the government offices in Phnom Penh. Some travelers have had to leave their vehicles on the Thai side, take a bus to the capital to apply for and wait for this permit and then return to the border...
So we chose this smaller, rural crossing of O'Smach in the north because we've read that the Cambodian officials here were more lax about letting foreign vehicles through. It' a bit out of the way from the main highway, but again... forewarned is forearmed. It's a bit frustrating and unnerving to enter a country where the rules change from crossing to crossing, as well as day to day. Timely information has never been so important. The Internet has been a boon to overland travelers.
Still, even with all the research we've done, I am plenty anxious as we approach the cluster of buildings that mark the border between Thailand and Cambodia.
We park the bikes and go through the overly-familiar process of getting ourselves and our bikes out of one country and into the other:
Step 1) Stamp ourselves out of Thailand
Step 2) Export our motorcycles out of Thailand
Step 3) Stamp ourselves into Cambodia
Step 4) Import our motorcycles into Cambodia
Step 1 was dead easy. The Thai border officer quickly checked to make sure we hadn't over-stayed our visa and with a swift KA-CHUNK, our passports were marked with an exit stamp.
Sorry, no pictures. We were nervous enough as it was, didn't want to give anyone a reason to stop or deny us entry!
Okay, Step 2: Getting our bikes exported out of Thailand. This shouldn't be a problem, we did it in Malaysia, the process is simple.
So, here's an additional tip I read about getting into Cambodia: tell the border guys that you're only going to stay in the province that you enter in at. So if you enter in Siem Reap province, tell them you're only going to the city of Siem Reap, because otherwise you'll need a vehicle permit to drive to another province, like Sihanoukville. Which means leaving your vehicle here and traveling by bus to the capital to get that permit...
So that's what we did. But unfortunately we told this to *THE WRONG SIDE*. The Thai customs official asked where we were riding to. "Siem Reap", I replied confidently, my well-rehearsed lie rolling off my tongue like honey. We were planning on going much farther than Siem Reap.
The Thai official typed some stuff out on his computer, printed out a vehicle exportation form -- you're only allowed to take out a Thai vehicle out of Thailand for a month, it's a bit of weird rule...
Before we left the booth, I checked the form
A couple of things immediately stood out.
First, our tiny CRF250Ls have grown in size. They're listed as CRF1000As. We now have Honda Africa Twins! Sweet! :)
Second, we were only given two weeks export permission. What? Normally we're allowed to be out of the country for a month!
I questioned the Thai official, "Is this right? Only two weeks? Why not 30 days, like before?"
He replied, "You are only going to Siem Reap. Not far. Only two weeks."
NOOOOO!! I was so worried about getting into Cambodia, I was not expecting to be screwed by the Thai side exiting Thailand!!!! Why did I tell the Thai official we were only going to Siem Reap? He didn't care how far we went inside Cambodia?!?! DAMMMIT!!!!!
I tried arguing for the usual 30 days, but the official wouldn't budge. Now we'd have to rush through the whole of Cambodia in two weeks. We don't rush. It's not what we do. Plus we are still travel fatigued. Suddenly, this whole Cambodia side-trip didn't seem like such a good idea. But it was too late. Us and our motorcycles were already stamped out of Thailand. We were in between countries, in No Man's Land.
We trudged over, dejected, to get our visa-on-arrival at the Cambodian office. Step 3. The guy at the office overcharged us $37 for a $30 visa. I read about this. You can put up a fuss and after a lot of time and hassle, they will eventually charge you the right amount. A real proper scam they pull on *everybody* that passes through.
I think it evens says $30USD right on the visa itself...SMH
But at that point, we didn't care. We were too crushed by our two-week limitation imposed by Thai customs. Whatever.
I glanced at the new visa glued inside our passport, stating that we are allowed to stay for 30 days. *sigh* Unfortunately our bikes are only allowed out of Thailand for 14 days. :(
Anyway, the real hard part was now here. Step 4: Getting our motorcycles imported into Cambodia.
We gathered all of our vehicle papers and the Thai exportation letter to bring to the customs office. Filled out the importation form and made sure everything was sorted and in order and handed the neat pile to the Cambodian official working behind the counter. He didn't even look up at us or come out to look at the bikes. Just glanced at the papers and waved us through. No fees. No questions about where we were going. No additional paperwork.
What? Just like that? All that worry and we were just let in like that?
Okay! Suddenly our moods lifted and we felt much better. Especially riding quickly away with O'Smach getting further and further away in our mirrors. We were in a brand new country! We're excited, once again! Such a roller-coaster of emotions...
Putting some distance between us and the border, just in case they realized they were supposed to give us more of a hassle getting in
Oh yeah, they drive on the right-hand-side in Cambodia. So much switching in the last year, our brains are getting a bit frazzled.
But still, being in a new country is always exciting because we're interested in seeing what will be different than the place we just left.
One thing remained the same. We still can't read the squiggly Cambodian script (Khmer). It looked exactly like Thai script to us...
So we continue to be illiterate in Cambodia.
12 kms into Cambodia and I still can't believe how easily we got in
I guess sometimes it pays to do your research. Next time, we'll have to tell the Thai customs guys we are going ALL OVER CAMBODIA AND SE ASIA! Give us the 30 days!
We pass by what looks to be the official vehicle of rural Cambodia. So many of these on the road
It's just basically a trailer attached to an engine. 100% function, 0% form
Neda stops to readjust the plastic bottles inside her seat cushion. It's not really working out well for her...
Thankfully, Siem Reap is only two and a half hours away from the border. And we take lots of photo stops.
The northern route cuts through the marshlands, lots of crops here and animals graze not too far from the road. Neda tries to get an ox's attention...
"Why are you throwing rocks at me, human?"
Just kidding!!!! She was just throwing rocks into the marshes. She's actually quite an animal lover.
Because most of them are quite tasty...
We pass through several small villages on the way south
The standard of living is definitely lower than Thailand. A lot less industrial, at least up here in the north. Our "big bikes" are getting lots of stares and a few Cambodian kids (mainly the boys) give us the thumbs up as we ride by.
We stop to watch these fishermen
They were casting their nets into the marshes and then diving in to collect their catch. Neat stuff.
One guy found it very amusing that I was taking pictures of him fishing. I smiled and waved. He gave me a look that I think in Cambodia might be the equivalent of "SMH" and then went back to what he was doing...
And then we found a larger body of water and tons of fishermen there. I wonder what they were catching.
Speaking of which, we were getting hungry. It was a long day and we wanted to reward ourselves with a nice sit-down meal in an air-conditioned restaurant. Treat ourselves!
Villages turned into larger buildings, tractor-engines turned into cars, in no time we found ourselves swallowed up in the big city of Siem Reap.
A lot of people think Thai traffic is chaotic. Cambodia is worse. Motorcycles get much less respect on the road here. Cars whiz past with no room to spare, expecting you to get out of their way. But the biggest difference from Thailand: honking. I did not notice how restrained Thai drivers were with their horns. Not so in Cambodia. Everybody beeps here. It wasn't as bad as India, but definitely a big change from where we just came from!
We pulled into the first touristy restaurant we saw in Siem Reap. We were in the mood for seafood after watching all the fishermen earlier on. When we sat down to look at the menus, we realized that despite all the research we had done on how to get into Cambodia, we actually didn't bother finding our what currency they use here. The stuff looked pretty cheap, 30-50 something for a meal. If the currency is like the Thai Baht, that's like $1-$2 for a plate. Not bad. We asked the waiter what the exchange rate was. He told us everything on the menu was priced in US dollars.
Excuse me? $30USD for a plate of seafood in Cambodia?!?
This was the first restaurant we went to in this country, so we weren't sure what to expect. Cambodia had already ripped us off for the Visa, we were *NOT* paying $30USD/plate for food. We've never paid $30 for food anywhere in SE Asia!
We beat a hasty retreat back out into the streets of Siem Reap. At least we learned that they use USD here, so we don't have to exchange currency. Is Cambodia really that expensive though?
We rode further into town. Close to our hotel, we stopped at a shopping mall with air conditioning. :)
Ahhhh, air conditioning....
Inside the mall, we found one of those family restaurant chains, like a Kelseys or Applebys. Very western, but we didn't care. It was cool inside and it had nice comfy booths where we could spread out all of our gear. A quick check on their prices revealed that Cambodia is not that expensive. Food costs a bit more than Chiang Mai, around Phuket prices... It was like $10 each for a nice sit-down meal. I suspected we were paying more for the air-conditioning! Street food would probably be less than half that.
I can't believe that first restaurant. Probably tried to sucker in the tourists who stop at the first restaurant they find in Siem Reap. Crazy!
We did splash out on a nice and fancy hotel for our first couple of nights in Siem Reap though. You can tell how nice it is by the welcome tray they serve you when you check in.
Welcome tray = nice hotel
After checking into our hotel, we ride around Siem Reap in the evening to pick up some groceries
And... I forgot to plug in the fuse for the headlights for night riding.
Very unnerving riding around the dim back streets of Siem Reap, lit only by the lights of the stalls on the side of the road.
Gotta be more diligent about that fuse.
After relaxing in our hotel room for the day, we venture out into the haze of the late afternoon to explore Siem Reap when the weather is not so hot
Pub street is *the* backpackers destination in Siem Reap. Lots of hostels, diners, pubs and nightclubs all in one place here
Grabbing some drinks and doing some people-watching from a restaurant right on Pub Street
We are really liking the Angkor Beer, named after the Angkor Watt temples just outside of town. We also tried the "Cambodia" brand beer, but didn't like that too much. So far, Cambodian beer is better than Thai beer! But not as good as BeerLaowDark...
So refreshing on a hot day!
Haha. Batman Rickshaw
Trying some Cambodian food
Walking around the streets of Siem Reap
Tomorrow we hit the temples!