Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Corruption and potholes in Cambodia

Hi there,

We've only just written to you, but we had a very eventful day yesterday travelling from Bangkok to here in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and we wanted to tell you all about it. The day started with us waking up at 3.30 am, and catching a bus to the main bus terminal we we could catch a bus to the Cambodian border. We got to the bus station at 5 am ready to catch the 5.25 bus, which we then discovered no longer existed, so we had to buy tickets for the one at 6.30 am. The bus finally left 30 minutes late, and we trundled through the Thai countryside, with several visits inside the bus by the Thai police and army, getting out all the Cambodian passengers and replacing them with others that they brought from their offices - all very weird!

We finally got to the border crossing (at Aranyaprathet to get to Poipet at Cambodia) and had to ignore several people telling us things like we have to buy the Cambodian visas at the Thai side for about double the price, and that we have to change our Thai Baht to US Dollars before leaving the country (at very poor rates).

Getting through Thai immigration was fine, but once we were through to the no-man's-land between the countries is when the fun began in earnest! We wanted to get the Cambodian visa on arrival because we had found out in Thailand that you could get it for just US$20, and we would have had to pay US$35 for it in Bangkok. However, the Cambodian border officials were not quite so keen to let us have it for just $20. We were "helped" by a whole host of friendly locals and also officials, who could all help us pay way over $20, to varying degrees. It was quite an eye opener to have officials in uniforms all so openly corrupt! There was even a sign saying the tourist visa costs $20, but still they gave us different lies to try to explain, the best being that the sign was to give us the prices for a visa in the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok!

Despite all their insistence and us being passed around 6 different border officials, we were not prepared to pay the various "taxes and charges" and said we wanted receipts for any extras they demanded, and so eventually I guess they decided we were getting too annoying (and might put the other tourist off), and they let us into the country for $20 (which is what they should do anyway). Unfortunately, everyone else we saw at immigration and have met since have paid various amounts for their vises, much over $20, and unfortunately this will only encourage the border officials to keep on overcharging unsuspecting tourists. We have to say we were quite proud of ourselves!

So finally we were on Cambodian soil! And soil it was, the roads were unsurfaced, and the recent rains meant that everywhere was covered in red mud, and because the roads resemble the craters of the moon, that also meant huge puddles / small lakes.

We joined forces with a Russian couple and decided to get a taxi to Siem Reap. After a bit of haggling over the price, we set off on what turned out to be a 4 hour assault of the senses! The journey was on roads that shook and threw us around the back of the rather unsuitable Toyota Camry saloon, we should have been in a landrover / tractor / moonbuggy. As we finally arrived at the outskirts of Siem Reap, we had to get out of the taxi and into a tuk tuk for our "free transfer" to a hotel. This in South East Asian travel terms means that they'll give you the hard sell on a hotel / guesthouse that will pay them to bring them tourists. You see, here the tuk tuk drivers buy tourists from taxi drivers, that's nice isn't it. So another small bit of strong discussion later, we were taken to the guesthouse of our choice, with the hard sell on tours of the temples of Angkor Wat instead.

But all's well that ends well, by the (late) evening we were in our lovely guesthouse by the river sitting at the bar having local yummy Angkor beer. The beer is quite cheap as well at $0.50 a pint, and our guesthouse (Shadow of Angkor) is lovely and clean, so we're very happy here. Today we have been recovering from getting here, so we haven't tackled the amazing Angkor Wat temples yet, we'll need 3 days and a tuk tuk to get around them all.

By the way, this isn't the only eventful and demanding travelling we've done lately, we just decided you might be bored of reading about it after Sumatra, but yesterday was so hard core we just had to share it with you.

That's all for now, we've got to go as it's happy hour again!

Lots of love,
Jenni & Dan


Anonymous said...

You two are so brave. I would be afraid that the corrupt officials just might decide to "detain" me for a while to encourage me to part with my money! What an eye opener all this is for you and how tame life will be back in jolly old England. Your photos are spectacular we all enjoy them so much. Ben and Lisa are currently in Mexico so we have monster dog for a week. Chris went racing last week and lived to tell the tale! Gage and Hayden are both walking and growing every day. Everyone is well - except for Ben's back - but he's on the mend. Love to you always. Rosemary

Nick & Ce said...

Arguing with uniformed officials eh? ... did you ever read Midnight Express?

Sounds like Cambodia is just the place for me to find out how good the "terrain response" system (Freelander2) really is!

I'm doing another LR off-road experience on Friday (a freebee), though I'm not sure that Kent will provide quite the same challenge!

Anonymous said...

Oottepa te urheita ja tiukkoina pysyny siellä rajalla, hui! Anna kiittää IHANASTA mekosta (se on kyllä valitettavasti liian pieni mutta tosi ihana :)), taitaa 1-vuotiaat siellä päin olla eri koko-kaliiperia... Voi kun olisittekin täällä juhlimassa meidän kanssa, sekä huomenna että sitten 1-v kekkereillä viikon päästä. Anna melkein kävelee ja osaa sanoa "kissa" ja "lamppu" :). Haleja!!! Kati & Co

ivanko said...

Hey-hey! It's the Russian couple :) We spent several days in Phnom Penh, met one of Ira's aqueintances living there, bought a lot of souvenirs on "Russian" and "Central" markets and visited the National museum. Then we took a bus to Kampot (we're here now), and will try and get a share-taxi to Sihanukville tomorrow morning. In Kampot we rented a motorbike and went to Kep to swim in the sea. On return we found a very nice restaurant - Rusty Keyhole, run by Kristian and his wife. The food is not very cheap but we took one "special" for $3.5 for two and almost fought for it - very delicious ;)
Also we took a day tour to Bokor National park - a lot of fun - abandoned buildings are gloomy but there's a great view of the jungle from the mountain top. We also walked 1 km through the jungle so if you take this tour then please dress appropriately. We rode there at the back of a pick-up truck via a much worse road than one we went with you... ("massage included") :) Still fun. The jungles are great. Additionally they provided an hour boat trip, very picturesque.

So, e-mail to us if there's any chance to come across in Sihanukvill in the next few days.
And... have a great journey!!

Ivan and Irina

Anonymous said...

Hey, come to Malaysia: No corruption visible and extremely cheap accomodation available. Even the bier might be available from the fridge, with less than 0,5US$...
Take care, and don't get into any problems with officials.
See you soon, V&T

Sorrel and Laura said...

hi dan and jen
my six weeks is almost up and your only half way through! i am impressed by your stamina!!! i guess the changing culture and environment is keeping you on your toes as well as inspiring you curiosity.
hope cambodia is going well now you are away from the boarders, i have a friend with family out there let me know if you need any contacts xxxxx lots a love sorrel
almost on her way home