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June 4, 2007

Ancient temples and butt aching travels

On March 7th I took the bus to the Cambodian border. Well, almost to the border. Had to take a short tuk tuk ride the rest of the way. I crossed the border on foot into the tacky gambling town, Poipet, pausing only to pick up a few other foreigners along the way. For the next 6 or so hours, we were the best of friends. We bonded together to help each other through customs and to negotiate a taxi to Siem Reap. We made sure we all had a place to sleep that night and had enough to eat. I've had some amazing experiences with perfect strangers. Everyone I met in my South East Asia travels had stories of instant friends doing things that old friends might hesitate to do. One person I spoke to had all of his money stolen from the hotel safe in Myanmar. Since there were no bank machines, he realized his travels in the country were immediately over, but he didn't even have enough money to get himself out of the country. Four people he had met the night before pooled their money and donated enough cash to keep his travels going a while longer. In the spirit of the same instant comradery I was able to get myself safely and cheaply to my destination.

Initially, The drivers wanted insane amounts of money to get us to our destination. We had to hang around for about 2 hours before a reasonable rate was offered and a driver was agreed upon. The road to Siem Reap is dirt road with potholes so big you could hide a small car in them. The road veers in all sorts of interesting directions to avoid the giant crater-like holes and sometimes the lane the you were driving in suddenly doesn't exist anymore. To make things a little more interesting, our driver was driving a Thai car, so the driver's seat was on the wrong side of the road for the country we were in.

It was an insane trip. Word on the street is that the road has been kept in disrepair for so long because a certain airline was paying off the Cambodian government not to seal it. That way more tourists would be forced to fly. Not this tourist though! I took the bum aching journey and lived to tell the tail (oops, I mean tale). No thanks to the police officer who wouldn't let us go without getting a cut from the driver, or our driver who started falling asleep behind the wheel. Luckily we found an outdoor eatery and jacked our driver up on caffeine for the rest of the journey.

FYI: There is a highway currently in the process of being sealed from the border to Siem Reap thanks to the Thai government's contributions. The Thais are hoping to increase tourism and trade between the countries.

The purpose of going to Siem Reap was to visit Angkor Wat, which I did get up early the next morning to go and visit. I'm not going to explain the significance of the ruins. There are enough websites dedicated to the topic already, but if you want to do a little research there is some good info here, here and here.