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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

All itchy again!

Hi from Bangkok where bedbugs have been having a great meal out of me! For some reason they haven't been going for Dan, the pharmacist thought it may be because he smells! After this he's bought a new wardrobe.

We've had a great time here, shopping is very good and cheap compared to a lot of other places we've been to, and things are so cool and funky here, we just can't resist.

So a quick update on the rest of our trip in Lombok. We headed to Kuta on the South coast for a few days, and it had some just amazing beaches, we think they were the best we've seen anywhere! Pure white sand and turquoise water, and the beaches were miles long and absolutely deserted. The only thing that having a deserted beach to yourself means is that there's no other tourists! And having no others means it can get a bit lonely... I'm exaggerating, there were others, but they were all surfers. The surf there is world class, and people come from all over the world to surf. Dan had a go as well one day on a point break, and discovered there are lots of muscles in his shoulders he should have, but didn't! Anyway, he had a great time.

We're now in Bangkok, and planning to go to Cambodia tomorrow or the next day. We've put LOTS of new photos on flickr, so please click on the right and marvel at our old adventures!!! Pictures from our new adventures also coming soon, promise! :)

Everyone in Finland, please buy the first issue of MeNaiset magazine in November, because they're writing an 8 page story of the 30th Birthday party our group of friends is having this week's Saturday! We wish we were there!!!

Got to go, they're closing the Internet cafe and throwing us out onto the streets of Bangkok... I think we'll head for a beer to congratulate ourselves on all the photo work we've just done.

Thank you for all your funny comments!

Jenni & Dan