|Monday 7th October
We are at reception for a 7.45 pick up, by 8.20 we are still waiting, this is the latest they have been. An Aussie couple we have seen before are also waiting, they are also booked on the bus. Like us they have no idea what time we are supposed to be at the bus depot by, or even the time we are leaving. All we know is we are being picked up and taken to the bus depot. Tony has emailed Bella at the tour company, but she has been away on holiday, and is due back today according to the auto reply. Tony phones the hotline, and tells the tour office we are still waiting, along with Shane and Joanne. We are told not to worry, we are the last pick up and we are not due to be collected until 8.30 (so why the hell were we told to be waiting at 7.50?)
About 15 minutes later we are collected, and told to “follow me”, walking down to the end of the street where we wait… and wait. It is 9am before we are picked up by a luxury (cough) limousine bus. Our seats are allocated, so at least we get to sit together. There are a few spare seats, so we can move around a bit. Shane moves towards the back a bit, and Cynthea also swaps seats. They moved because they were on the aisle seat, and were uncomfortable sitting on the seat recline leaver, especially as it had no cover over it!
It takes us around two hours to get to the border, the roads are not too bad to travel on, but some of the driving is a bit hairy! We are told the fee to process our passports is US$35 ($55) each, and they ask for all our passports as well. Bloody rip off bastards. The actual fee is $25, but if we buck the “system” we get left behind. Jeff was telling us that a couple on his bus told them they were ripping everyone off, and would do it themselves. But there was a “delay” is processing, and the bus “had” to leave without them. By sheer chance there was a couple of people with motorbikes who could take them to the bus for a small fortune. They had no choice but to pay up, and luckily the motorbikes didn’t have to go far, because the bus was stopped at a café just along the road. Hmmmm.
We told Shane and Jo what the deal was, and that we would be paying their little fiddle, they are not happy either and Shane doesn’t want to pay the extra, Joanne makes him, haha. Actually not so little a fiddle, 12 people on a bus and they make US$120 for a few moments work. They probably had to share the loot with the guards at the border crossing, but still a nice little earner. We have about half an hour here, passing through immigration to leave Vietnam, then hop back on the bus for a few metres. Collect our passports from the bus staff, get our Cambodia visa, and reboard our “luxury” bus. We stop at a café a few metres down the road, it is pretty rough, and we don’t eat here, but we do grab a beer and a soda. We have to watch them, Shane paid a US$1 for his beer, but they charged Tony US$2 for his until Cynthea spoke up.
The two countries are very different. Cambodia has a distinctly poor and broken look here. The road is hard packed dirt, and a water truck drives up and down keeping the dust down. Tony messages Jeff to tell him we are through, and Jeff asks if they have fixed the road yet. That will be a no, looks like it has been like that for some time then.
It is no cooler, we have 31 degrees at noon, but at least the bus has air con. The first few kilometres of road are rough as guts, but it soon improves. From what Jeff tells us they must be rebuilding the road back towards the border crossing, instead of starting at the border crossing where we gain our first impressions. In many aspects the countries are very similar in culture. We are still driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and we see that they have arrows at roundabouts telling you which direction to take, similar to what we saw in Vietnam. No doubt a few foreigners get confused (like we would!).
We arrive in Phnom Phen a bit after 4pm, arriving at what is nothing more than a bit of a car park! We have to ask if this is the bus station we get off at, or are we going to another. Nope, this is it fellas, everyone off, haha. A driver is there for us, but not Shane and Joanne. We ask if he is also taking Shane and Joanne, and are told no, he is here for Mr Anthony. Yep, that’s me says Tony, and he tells Tony to follow him. Tony says there should be someone here for Shane as well.
Shane says bugger this, we are coming with you anyway. Cynthea is at the car, and the driver asks her where are our friends, he is here to pick up Mr Anthony and three others. Sigh.
The King Grand Boutique is nice, another big room, with a big bed, and a big shower. We are on the first floor, and look out over the swimming pool and breakfast area. There is a lack of power points again, so jug gets boiled in the bathroom. There is a second pool by the bar on the roof, the water is a lot warmer in this one. We have nice views on the roof, generally not as smoggy or hazy as Hanoi, but a there is lot of smoke over by the temple. We overlook a huge park, and as it gets dark the locals come out to play. Exercise, Tai Chi, football, and most accompanied by loud music.
Tony goes for a walk around at night, but forgets to take the camera. Traffic rules appear to be the same as Vietnam, Tony has to wait a while to see what the locals do. He is standing by a vendor cart wondering what the glass bottles of yellow Coke, then the penny drops, scooter fuel. (It had been a long day). At another he is shocked (and shouldn’t be by now!) to see liquid being poured from a teapot into one of those small “singlet” bags that we used use for groceries. The customer slings it over the handle bars and drives off, hopefully a smoker doesn’t flick his ciggy butt in that direction…
Tony finds a supermarket, everything is priced in USD, and they will also take a credit card. That is handy to know, because our cash supplies are limited, and it is expensive to get more, but shops that take cards are few and far between. We also find it VERY hard to keep track of spending when using cash, and we hate having wallets bulging with what turns out to be bugger all value. In Cambodia if you pay in cash you have two options, US$ or KHR, the local Riel. US$1 is worth around 4000 riel. It is a bit complicated for us to work out at the beginning, they prefer US$, but beware – they will not accept notes older than 2000, nor will they take a torn or dirty note. Even the slightest tear in a note gets it rejected, so we carefully check every note we get, sometimes the odd one slips through though. Tony and Shane have some heated arguments with shopkeepers over this rule, particularly when the bastards sneak it into your change. Worse is if you have just received the money from an ATM (they dispense US$). We do not know the reason for this rule, staff will say “it comes out of my pocket if I take it”, and tell us we have to go to a money changer, who will change it free of charge. Well FFS, if that is the case, why can these bloody people not do that themselves. In the end we are fighting a losing battle, and we will have the opportunity to spend US$ in other countries. It sounds nasty, but the thought processes we use for problem solving just do not seem to exist here.
So the way cash works here, is you pay in either currency (but they prefer US). If you use US$, you will get change in US notes, up to the point where you would use coins for the remainder, and as US coins are not used here anything under $1 is converted to riel. What a bloody rigamarole, haha. Pay in riel, and they reluctantly accept it.