The plan today was to get from Battambang in Cambodia back to Bangkok in Thailand going a different way from our entry into Cambodia, via Pailin and the border crossing at Phum Psar Prum (called Ban Pakkad on the Thailand side). This would involve at least 2 taxis (one each side of the border) and a bus. In the event it involved 2 taxis and 3 different drivers before we had even left Battambang!
With some difficulty the Paris Hotel (bit off dump but what can you expect for US$11?) found us a taxi to take us the 90km or so to the border. Well, the driver started off by heading in the wrong direction to another part of town where he passed us over to another taxi and driver. He then proceeded to drive us to a gathering area and we were concerned he was going to pick up other passengers. Apparently in a share taxi they expect four adults to sit on the back seat of a saloon car and two to share the passenger seat. Not my idea of fun for 90km but if you are on a limited budget as backpackers are you can do the journey for as little as US$5. In the end we were only paying US$15 each for the comfort of the whole taxi!
After a discussion with the 'boss' another driver was assigned to us in this car. All very mysterious but apparently legitimate and we were underway.
We weren't sad to leave Battambang behind. It is a bit of a scruffy city. There are a few sites to see, such as a temple and cave where further killing took place by the Khmer Rouge, but the city itself is disappointing. There was a powercut this morning across the city which only goes to reaffirm what I said yesterday about the shortage of electricity generally in this area. The cafe owner where we had breakfast said it happens from time to time.
There were two weddings taking place in the vicinity. The guests were gathering at one right opposite our hotel window as we awoke. Chairs covered in gold coloured silk were laid out in front of a shop premises on the pavement. Then at about 8am all the guests lined up in the street with their gifts of fruit baskets, ladies first followed by the men. None were especially smartly dressed; just tidy clean clothes! They then processed down the street to where the ceremony was to take place. An interesting unexpected bonus insight into their culture.
Well, we made the border and had a simple and speedy transfer back into Thailand apart from the usual form filling. As a tip to anyone doing such a trip with multi-border crossings in SE Asia, make sure you have some spare photocopies of your passport and a few passport pictures as you are likely to need them.
Then on the Thailand side we picked up a taxi to take us a further 80km to Chanthaburi for a fare of 1,100 baht or just over £22. Not bad. All in all it has cost us about US$49 each to travel overland from Bangkok to Phnom Penh (approx 500km) and almost the same back by a different route.
We were impressed by Cambodia. It was in it's own way very different from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Obviously the recent past has left scars such as the lack of a railway system, but they are healing and on the evidence we have seen are a happy nation finally at peace with itself and opening up fast to tourists. Since 1998 they have had a 40% increase in tourists year on year which explains the readiness for the younger generation to be so keen to learn English as they realise that if they want to share in the spoils that tourism brings that they need to embrace it. We found they loved to talk to us and when they discovered we were from England they quote football, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Lubbly Jubbly!
One further astonishing fact that I picked up from their daily newspaper was that in rural areas which is most of the country 66% of the people do not have access to a toilet. They use the fields or dig a hole near to their house. The government has a target to get 100% access to a toilet by 2025. That puts Europe's problem into a different perspective doesn't it?
Another interesting dimension to the country is their use of the US$. Almost all transactions are made in US$ and priced this way but as they don't use cents for transactions involving part of a dollar they will give you their own currency, the Riel in change. Sometimes prices are quoted in Riel so you have to ask what the US$ price is if you want to pay in dollars. This can lead to using the two currencies in the one transaction so you need to use the mathematical part of your brain to work it all out!
Now back in Thailand for the third time on this trip and our fifth time to Bangkok we have to prepare for the fact that our trip is nearly over.