Today was the day when all of the three mega joint familiarisation trips would meet up at Baan Had Lek crossing point to cross from Thailand into Cambodia. After being separated early Monday, it would be great to catch up with the guys who went on the soft adventure route and share tales of Thai wonderment.
This was the first time I’d see the coast on this trip, and it was definitely worth the wait. Maybe it was the excitement at heading to a different country, but when I got off our little coach to join up with the others, there was a tangible feel of intrepid explorer about me. I’d finally have a stamp in my passport Laura didn’t have. If I didn’t need the thing for another six years I’d deffo cut it out.
For readers who have flown to the States and back, you know what homeland security is like. It’s a long, laborious process that is super organised, almost to identify the naughty children who step out of line and give them a full cavity search.
Not here. Not. Here. The phrase ‘it’s like herding cats’ is one I love, and one that was applicable to the border crossing. There were people everywhere, queueing up left right and centre for I don’t know what. The queue reminded me of being in the post office, except in searing heat.
What made the experience even more surreal is the sheer amount of stuff you can buy between the two border posts. The development of the ASEAN region will rely upon greater trade links between countries like Thailand and Cambodia, and the volume of traffic – both agriculture and goods – was incredible. On the way to the crossing itself Suree explained how the road was being developed to accommodate more traffic between the two countries, and I could see why.
After dinner at the amazing Koh Kong Resort literally on the beach, it was time for our mammoth trek to the coastal province of Sihanoukville. We were warned the journey might take a little while, and it give me the chance to reflect on the journey so far.
From what i gather, most tourists fly into Bangkok or Phuket and take internal flights where possible. Yes backpackers do things differently, but this wasn’t a backpacking trip. Our Thailand trip had racked up some 750 kilometers since Monday morning, which is a lot in four days. If you’re travel sick or motion sick, you may as well hire a donkey when you reach the airport, because road travel will not be for you. The train network isn’t advanced in the slightest. What the coach does give you is greater flexibility. If you want a coffee stop, you can. If you see a roadside village you like the look of, stop and get out. That’s the only way you’re going to immerse yourself in local life, the biggest attraction of visiting Thailand.
I was warned that the impending flight back from Phnom Penh would be like a flying washing machine with propellers, but this did not materialise. So I get why road transport would be the best mode of transport. Use the flights or train network available for journeys that would last more than five hours in a car. A flight is definitely more comfortable, but you don’t come to this part of the world if you want comfort. I mean, you literally have to squat over a hole in the floor to use the toilet. No toilet paper, no flush. Just a bucket of water. No no. Comfort not included.
The one advantage flying does have is the lack of cows that roam the roads wild and free. It didn’t take long for me to be convinced our driver was a maniac. He spent more time beeping at livestock to get out of the road than he did paying attention.
As night began to draw in and we arrived at the Moon Julie Resort in Sihanoukville, we were greeted by a posy of representatives who had followed us down from the welcome party in Bangkok to join Cambodian counterparts. Dancing happened, but so did a buffet. Coach travel can either make you hungry, angry hungry or not even remotely hungry, but true to form I was starving. After loading up on the delicious food and watching what I thought was ‘terrible travel karaoke’, we headed out into town. My highlight was being sat be the ocean watching a thunder and lightning storm roll in.
The one lasting impression I’ll take away from this day is how dirty it was. Miles and miles of rubbish were piled up by the roadside. It made me glad I was taking malaria tablets, and I bet no-one has ever uttered those words before. Our reps and those with local knowledge believe Cambodia is where Thailand was around 15 years ago. It is a real shame because there is so much room for potential, but they have a lot of work to do to bring it up to scratch. Having said that, look at how popular Thailand is. Never say never.