Thursday 5 April, 2018
Day 8 / Pong Nam Ron to Pailin
[Missed Day 7? Read the previous post here]
Today we set out to cross the border into Cambodia. We are pretty tired from the previous day’s ride and conclude that it was definitely a smart idea to break the ride into two and not cycle all the way to Pailin from Chanthaburi, despite having to stay at Sai Bungalow. Before we set off I fill up our hydration packs at what would be the last water dispenser I find on the trip. Cambodia doesn’t seem to have the luxury like Thailand does.
Along the way we see some cyclists who we had spotted the other day. It looks like they have just had a rest stop and are continuing their ride as we pass their support vehicle. We overtake them not too far down the road as we make our final turn off towards the Cambodian border. It looks like there are four of them plus two local guides.
We get to the border and are a little confused where to go. We park our bikes to the side of a building and walk around the side but it’s empty. The cyclists have caught up and ride a little further so we follow. However we want to try and get ahead of them so we’re not held up behind their big group. Turns out they are also from Australia – there are four of them, one couple from the Gold Coast and one couple from NSW. They are planning to cycle from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I’m afraid to say we might have gotten a little cocky in knowing that we can do these bike tours self-supported now, but I think we’re just proud that we’ve been able to come this far on our own doing it for the first time, despite all the mishaps so far!
The line-up area is pretty chaotic but we line up behind the Departures window. We get our exit stamp from Thailand and try to figure out where go next. After asking a few different people we are told to leave the area and continue to the Cambodian side to get our entry stamp. So we go back to our bikes and head through the big gate to cross the border. We head through towards the counters on the Cambodian side and go to the Arrivals counter. The man looks at our passports and abruptly asks us “Visa?”. I say “Visa on arrival” and he points us to the next window. We head over and are given a form to fill out. The man asks us for a passport photo from each of us. I pull mine out as I always carry spares with me but Cheye doesn’t have one. The man says “200 baht” (about USD $6). I heard it was only supposed to be USD $2-3 for them to scan the photo from your passport so I ask “US dollars?”. He just repeats himself “200 baht”. I race to my bike to get the cash and hand it to him. Cambodia is corrupt like that and I’m not about to argue at the border crossing. He then takes his time processing the visa and says “1500 baht each” (about USD $45). I know they often inflate the actual rate, which is supposed to be USD $30 so I ask “How much in US dollars?” He tells me $35. I’m happy with that and pull out $70 for the two of us. He hands back the passports and we head back over to the Arrivals counter for the second time. As we wait for our passports to be processed, I noticed a bunch of dodgy looking guys standing around our bikes. I race over and see they are touching and having a play with some of the parts. One guy even has his hands on the handlebars and one leg up on the bike frame ready to jump on. I push through them and say “Excuse me!” and move the bike away from them back into my clear sight. I tell Cheye what’s happened and he does the same and moves his bike too. The guys wander off. We finally get our stamped passports and continue our journey on the bikes.
The first thing you notice when you cross the border is that you now cycle / drive on the right hand side instead of the left like in Thailand. The second thing you notice is the big casino to the side of the road. Apparently it’s a big thing for Thai locals to take trips across the border to spend the night at the casino before heading back across to the Thai side. Or there are a few hotels close by if they want to make a big night of it. We considered staying in one of the hotels last night but the three big hills took it out of us and I’m not sure what there would be to see at a border crossing town.
The next thing we notice is the highway traffic is nowhere near as chaotic as Thailand. We decide to cycle off the highway onto a dirt track for a bit, passing by local houses and spotting lots of kids running out to wave and say hello. That’s one thing we did not see at all in Thailand that I was expecting. Cheye says it’s because Thailand is no longer a poor country and while it’s good they have more money in their economy, money does change people and it’s quite evident.
We continue cycling until the dirt track rejoins the paved road. We decide to stay on the highway to avoid having to stop to check the map for all the turns on the back streets. The highways in Cambodia are more enjoyable to cycle with less traffic and easier to navigate. We eventually come to the town of Pailin and search for Sorpheas Meas Hotel but the location on map.me is incorrect. So we back track and find Pailin Ruby Guesthouse instead. We check in and chill out for a bit. The fan and air con in the room is strong so we decide to do some washing and strategically position the cupboard so we can hang out clothes in front of the fan. It looks a little odd but works a charm. As we figure out what to do for lunch Cheye looks up how to say hello and thank you in Khmer (‘suesday’ and ‘orkun’).
We go for wander to the local markets and do a lap. I have a Cambodian translation for ‘Vegetarian’, so I pull it out. I also have to remember to stop saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Thai and figure out how to say it in Khmer.
The first stall we come look like they are cooking omelettes under a large tent set up, so I go up to the man and show him the translation. He reads it and points to these ball shaped things that his wife is cooking over the fire. We say OK and take a seat. I also point to the omelette he is cooking filled with bean shoots, but he points to a container of beef specifying the dish contains meat. As we wait we watch another couple eating their omelette dish – it’s a traditional South East Asian dish I’ve had before where you rip off some of the bean shoot stuffed omelette, wrap it in some lettuce and herbs, and eat it with some of the dipping sauce. I know that some places will refuse to sell you something if you want to modify it, so I don’t even both trying to ask for a meatless version.
The big question is though what exactly we are going to receive for lunch! The man gives us our plate and it contains what looks like giant rice ball dumplings with chives and dipping sauce. And they’re delicious. So delicious we decide to order another batch for takeaway. The woman gives us a box containing twice as many as we got on our plate and the whole thing costs a measly $2. I also realise I need to stop using Thai Baht and start using US Dollars.
On the way back to the guesthouse we stop by the convenience store to grab some water. Now that we’re in Cambodia we notice there are no chain stores like 7-11 and more family run stores on the side of the road. I give the guy a $5 note and he gives me my change in Khmer Riel. It’s the first time I’ve seen this currency on this trip. People will generally use US currency for most transactions in Cambodia, but will give smaller change in Riel (USD $1 is equal to roughly 4000 riel). It takes me the entire trip to get my head around it, and it’s a bit annoying having to deal with two sets of currency, but I guess it’s better than being weighed down by coins. I find some of the smaller riel notes as useless as Mongolian Tugrug, which had a conversion rate of 1600 Tugrug to USD $1. A 100 riel note is worth about 2.5 cents.
We go for a wander to hunt down some dinner. We play it safe and plan to go to one of the more western restaurants down the road attached to the hotels. There is a market just down the road set up around a park and decide to walk via that. In the park is a giant inflatable slide decked out with cartoon characters (TMNT, Minions etc). We also start seeing lots of New Year decorations being sold for the celebrations coming up next week for Khmer New Year.
As we pass some of the food stalls, I see lots of dishes containing noodles and salad. I decide to pull out my trusty translation and see if they can make us something. The lady points to a few random things, so we decide to skip the restaurants and eat on the street instead.
We sit down and the locals can’t help but stare at Cheye, especially the kids and students. I guess they don’t often get white guys with a crazy cycling tan and intense beard sitting at their food stall. I’m always excited by the mystery of not knowing what we’re going to get for our meal. So when they lady brings the dishes out, I’m excited they she’s made a Cambodian style vermicelli salad. However…OMG, it was SO SPICY. For Cheye, who loves super-hot food, it was a 3/10 for spice. My heat tolerance has increased since travelling to India and Sri Lanka, but for me it was still so spicy! I’d love an ice cream right now…OMG, my mouth is burning. But it was so good. But so spicy!
Because Maps.me is built through user contributions, you do find some funny names for landmarks that are added to the maps. While looking at the map for Paillin, we come across something called Dream Palace Entertainment, which is supposed to be a bar / karaoke place. We decide to go for a walk and check it out. It’s not too far a walk but we reach it and disappointed to see that it’s closed. We continue walking back around through some local streets, past lots of cows and chickens wandering outside the properties. A young boy is holding a chicken outside his house – I’m not sure if he’s playing with it or about to sacrifice it for dinner but he seems happy either way.
We walk back via the market again and pass what looks like an ice cream stall. We stand their watching the girl make some dessert for a kid and Cheye decide to get one – it ends up being the BEST dessert of the entire trip (sticky rice with coconut & taro ice confection and shredded coconut).
It’s so good that we go back to buy one more each because I end up eating half of Cheye’s which he had bought for himself.
I think we had dreams of that dessert for the rest of the trip because we couldn’t find it again anywhere. OMG, I still dream about it today.