Crossing to Cambodia - Weeks 4 & 5
Time Was Ticking By In Thailand...
Tuesday 26th February 2019
After landing in Bangkok all those weeks ago, from seeing the Buddhist way of life & temples, to trying Thai food and Chang and Singha beers. From feeding the elephants to experiencing true Thai living in its purest form, my passport stamp reminded me it was nearly time to move again.I flew back from Chiang Mai to Pattaya, where I had left the bulk of my luggage. I spent a few more days there chilling out, went to the beach a few times and managed to get a little trip to the cinema in too.
Posting Stuff Home Like The Old DaysOne thing I learned pretty early on in my trip to South East Asia was that some of the clothes I brought with me were unnecessary. Rather than throwing away good clothes, I decided to post them home along with some Thai souvenirs (Oh..interesting fact; you can buy pepper spray in Thailand. Some of the street stalls sell it! I didn’t buy.)
A pair of runners, a hoodie, a light jacket, and some souvenirs all boxed up and ready to ship cost me about 1300 Thai Baht, for a 2 week delivery time, with a tracking number. The package arrived after 7 working days, all intact. I sent this through the main post office in Pattaya and bought the box to package it across the road from the post office.
Cambodia CallsBack to Bangkok again! I took a bus from Jomtien back to Bangkok Airport (I have still yet to visit Bangkok city!!!). The bus was 120 Bht. My flight was at 11.20am to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.
I had heard stories about how crazy and sometimes corrupt the Cambodian Visa-on-arrival system can be but for me, it seemed pretty smooth. You fill out some forms that you get on your inbound flight, or you can get them again in the Visa area anyway. You then arrive at the Visa desk and present your passport along with your visa fee of $30USD and a passport photo. Then you move to the next queue where you wait for them to process your application. You collect your passport stamped and are sent on your merry way! Then just collect your luggage and off you go. No BS!
So if you are making the trip, here is my experience of the Cambodian Visa process:
1pm: Filled out the Visa Forms and waited in queue 1.
1.06pm: Handed in my passport, passport photo and Visa Forms.
1.08pm: Moved to queue 2 and paid the Visa fee of $30 USD.
1.10pm: Moved to queue 3 and waited for maybe 5 minutes to collect my stamped passport.
1.15pm: Collected my Visa-stamped passport and headed for the luggage belt!
Total time: 15 minutes!
Sim cards in Cambodia. Oh And The Money…I knew that I would need a new sim card for Cambodia, so I got one at the airport. I went for the second largest network, Smart. It cost $13 and lasted for the month with unlimited data on a 4.5G connection which was ideal for Instagram posting, Google Maps and the odd data text. The other phone networks are Metfone, which is the largest network there and then Cellcard which comes in 3rd place. There’s also another small network called QB but haven’t heard much about it and am guessing the coverage isn’t as good. I found the coverage very good and had no issues with data limits.
I had heard that they accept US Dollars in Cambodia but I didn’t realise to what extent. So I took out some USD from an ATM to be ready. The main currency and pricing on everything is $USD, which was a bit weird and a shock for me. Cambodia also has its own currency, the Riel (KHR). The Riel rate is about 4,040 to 1 US Dollar (4,040:1). When you pay for something in US Dollars, you get back your change in Riel. This takes a few days to get used to, making sure that you weren’t shortchanged and because the currency value is pretty worthless, you end up with lots of these notes which are only good for tips or tiny purchases.
Tuk-tuk!!!Unlike what I had experienced in Thailand, the popular public transport option in Cambodia is the famous tuk-tuk. There’s a great app called Pass App (link to pass App) you can use to book a Tuk-Tuk and the prices are fixed once you book it. They’re well priced too, usually a bit faster and a little safer than a rickshaw or rickety old motorcycle. I shared a tuk-tuk with Marie, a French girl I met on the flight from Thailand, so that was handy for getting into the city fairly near my hostel and I learned a few tips from Marie about getting around.
Bong Bong, Billabong.
Enroute in my tuk-tuk, I scouted the travel apps like Traveloka and trip.com to find somewhere decent, fairly priced and that looked like it would be lively but not too crazy. Boom! Billabong.
I booked it online for 3 nights at $5USD a pop. Billabong has a good pool, with sun loungers around with a good bar and restaurant. The hostel is clean, safe with lockers in the rooms and the showers are good too. They can also arrange day trips for you, bus transfers to the islands and borders and even get your visas processed if you need to! Billabong is well located, within walking distance to the Cambodian National Museum, the Palace and the river. More on Billabong here (Billabong link). I met a nice American girl Briana there.
What To Do In Phnom Penh?Being the capital city of Cambodia, you’d think there would be many things to do. However, I found that there were only a few key attractions in the city that appealed to me so two or three days might be enough if you’re tight for time. So, I firstly set off for some food. I found a great place near Billabong, called Anne Thai with $2 meals including tea. Sorted! For more on Cambodian tourist attractions, go here.
Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) & Genocidal MuseumI booked a tuk-tuk on Pass App to Choeung Ek, approx 30 minutes from Phnom Penh City. Some of the roads in Cambodia are pretty bad, like dirt tracks and gravel. Being a developing country, things like infrastructure, education and governing are quite behind. This was evident in the massive dumping into rivers and streams I witnessed on my way to Choeng Ek. Absolutely appalling.
When I got there, my tuk-tuk driver said he would wait. I didn’t know how long I’d be but I agreed. What the heck. I got my entry ticket and audio headset (would highly recommend the headset guide) and entered. Having visited Auzwich in Poland before, I was somewhat prepared for what I would/should expect (as much as one can be prepared). However, Choeng Ek had more of a profound effect on me for two reasons. Firstly, the time frame we are talking about was only in the late 70’s and secondly, the fact that rags of clothing/garments and bone fragments of the poor victims of the Khmer Rouge and Paul Pot regime still surface in the ground after heavy rainfall. Some of which I saw myself.As much as three million people perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge Regime from 1974 to 1979. What’s also worrying is that this political party was recognised as the official number one party in Cambodia (government), which held a seat at the United Nations until 2008!!! Crazy and utterly shocking.
As a mark of respect for those who died in the killing fields, I didn’t take too many photos. From the ones I did take, please see below.
After an hour and a half of walking around and listening to the audio guide, I was ready to leave and go to the next point of interest, which was also linked to the killing fields, S-21 Prison.
Around 2.15pm we headed back towards the city. S-21 was originally a school. There were tiny cells, maybe a 1 metre wide. Appalling conditions for prisoners. Many vivid photographs, original beds, torture methods, utensils, and weapons were on display here, giving a really chilling account of what happened here, again not so long ago in the history of the country. On the upper levels of the prison, there is barbed wire fencing on the balconies. This prevented prisoners from committing suicide.
From time to time, surviving prisoners of S-21 give special talks at S-21, what is now a very important reminder of the past to not only foreign visitors but to the people of Cambodia (known as Khmer people).
Other attractions in the city of Phnom Penh include the Cambodian National Museum, and the Royal Palace. I visited the Museum and was well impressed. You can easily spend a couple of hours here as there is so much history and artifacts on display, particularly about Buddhism and its role in Cambodia. Again, you need to get the audio guide here which gives you a sequential walk-thru guide to what's before your eyes. The entry fee was a little expensive at $15 including an audio guide.
The Night Bus to Siem ReapAfter three days in the capital, it was time to pack up and go. I had heard a lot about the famous or infamous night buses in South East Asia. It was finally time to hop aboard one and see what all the fuss was about! My new friend Briana and I headed for the popular Siem Reap, home of the amazing Angkor Wat and many other magnificent Wats. Getting a night bus is an experience to say the least. If you are over 6 foot tall forget about having a comfy sleep! I wasn’t too bad but had to sleep with legs slightly bent, and even managed to get maybe 3 hours sleep on the 7 hour journey. The cost was only $9 and the hostel arranged the booking for us. Siem Reap here we come!