Flashback: Culture Shock and Cambodia

We were pushed inside to a gorgeous air – conditioned room, given visa forms and asked for 40USD.

18.03.12     Cambodia

its not a far away country, but I’ve had my culture shock for the month. Leaving Khao San Road at 7am, we didn’t arrive in Siem Reap until 8pm. Our original first leg of the 30 minutes to the bus station [by public bus], Mor Chit, ended up clocking close to 2 hours due to an uncounted-for Buddhist holiday! It rerouted the original journey for a massive tour around Northern Bangkok 🙂 Had we known that was only the beginning…

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An empty Thai Bus.

The actual bus station & ticketing was pretty standard. The adventure definitely started at the Cambodian Border- its a life that I definitely wasn’t expecting to be pushed into our faces.

It was literally as though you could see green grass on the Thai side and dirt roads on the Cambodian. It was the first land border that I would cross in Asia and I didn’t think I would see such starch differences in the two countries. The entire area seemed to be an unorganised Market and somewhere in the middle was a bridge and a border. Even half an hour a tourist bus would show up and everyone took their chances. We had read about the famous visa scam in the LP guide to South East Asia, and knew (to some extent) what to expect.

From the bus station, six of us were crammed into a overly eager Tuk-Tuk and taken to a pristine white, in the middle of nowhere, building. We realised that something was wrong when we couldn’t see the other half of the border. We were pushed inside to a gorgeous air – conditioned room, given visa forms and asked for 40USD. No stamps or paperwork were to be given in return, just a receipt and a lighter wallet. Although the air conditioning was enough for us to stay put for a quick minute, we were sitting on an uncomfortable gut-feeling. There was no border security in sight. Two other travellers got wind of the possible scam and decided to organise lunch. We left the air conditioning and had a quick team meeting outside. Re-reading the LP guide then and there, we realised that the visa scam was organised to a T.

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A Tight Fit? Six Backpackers & Luggage.

We literally had no idea where we were, and how far from the actual border we were. The orginal Tuk Tuk driver lady decided she wasn’t available any more. Now we were going to be walking where ever we needed to get. Heading back onto the main road and turning right, 150m in front of us (in the middle of the crazy Market) was buildings that looked like they had seen better days. Well-used and full of people, it had the vibe of a border.

…people trying everything on- eventually it boils down to a few relaxed security checking passports through a small plastic window- America’s VOA it isn’t! The next mission led us through to the actual customs for those walking across. Looking out the window and you’ll probably see caged birds and buggies of product (where’s their visa?)

After a few minutes later, we saw signs for Immigration and people in battered security shirts. It was a slight improvement but atleast the gut-feeling were slightly eased. After going through Thai Immigration and being stamped out, the procedure was relatively straight forward. We picked up immigration forms for Cambodia, filled them out and went into a large room with some security guards. Our entry stamp cost 2USD (the bribe as some like to call it- but 2USD was better then 40USD!) but we were on our way.

Outside the Cambodian immigration, there were more buses waiting to take us to Siem Reap. After properly proving that he was indeed government officiated we jumped on and continued our journey. Free as well? Such ironies!

The last leg was Poipet to Siem Reap- for the fact the straight road was once in “shocking condition” I can’t imagine what it would of looked it! Although it is sealed, we shared the road with everything that moved- animals, carts, buses and family vans. Its still a slow journey- something most countries should be able to half! Once we rocked up to our digs for the night we took a look around the town- welcome to the NEON CITY!

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Asia and a Newbie.

Starting when I came to Europe at 18, never having ever visited any part of it and on a one-way ticket, my desire for travel has always been a fire burning under my passport. Although I thought I would come to Europe and travel around (never had travelled, and never read a guide-book), life took a short turn when I went back to university. In February 2012 I booked another one-way ticket, this time to Thailand.

“ For this trip- South-east Asia, Australia, and possibly South America, could be thrown into the impulsive category. My decision to join my best friend was over the bar @ Metro, Balmers Herberge. It’s somewhere I haven’t travelled before; while backpacking will probably kick my ass (although I did bring my Swiss Army knife, Nivea and my own cutlery). I’m looking forward to it like no other!”– 23.02.2012

Looking back at my first ever backpacking diary entry, I laughed. I have no idea why I thought Nivea would be useful! My newly purchased Eagle Creek Truist 55L weighed in at around 15kg. Never has my bag weighed so much since. Most of the clothing that I had packed was quickly swapped with bargain from Khao San Road purchases. My winter Vans were donated to a taxi driver. In exchange for my enthusiasm, Bangkok was kind enough to give me some heat rash for the first few days. For the next three months, we travelled around Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Western Australia.

Its funny though, because I never felt nervous- always excited. It never really occurred to me what kind of culture or people who I would come across, and if I would like South-east Asia or not. I didn’t think about the variety of toilets I would use, or if it mattered how clean the bed was. I never thought for a second that I may not like the food. It just felt like the right thing to do at the time. I have no idea what I would be doing right now, if I hadn’t gone Asia. I learnt so much about my relationship with my boyfriend and, especially, how I like to travel. I certainly don’t need much material goods to feel content. And content does not mean settling. I loved every minute.

So what did Asia teach me? Travelling is about time; how you spend it, how you appreciate it and that’s it’s not unlimited. There is only one first impression. How you react to it, what you learn from it- is for you to decide. Split-second decisions could, and did, potentially change the course of my trip. Travelling with my boyfriend has definitely showed me that slowing down doesn’t mean you will miss anything- you’ll probably notice more.

I always feel a bit chuffed while having this strange sense of excitement whenever I travel with my passport. One of the resonating memories I have of any airport was when I was flying out of BSL (to Edinburgh) and a small Australian girl asked her mum why the gentlemen standing in front of them didn’t have a passport. He was flying with just his ID card and as with the Schengen Area, he wasn’t required to collect customs stamps. The young girl had never seen this- even to her, travel meant the excitment of a passport. Even though I live in Europe and could also travel with just my ID card, I like using my passport 🙂 Hopefully its only a few more months before I get to use mine again!