Border Crossing: Southeast Asia

The train to the Cambodian border was loud, full, uncomfortable, and dusty enough to destroy a pair of contacts. To describe it another way, it was exactly perfect.

The wind blowing in from the open windows was arid and drying. If you had the misfortune to be in the sun (Jenn was a trooper for the first several hours), then the wind blew past you, leaving the air around your face to be stagnant and oven blasted by solar energy.

But the scenery! While it wasn't mountainous, coastal, or otherwise "classically" picturesque, it was a world away from Bangkok, which was a welcome change. Kilometers of farmlands and railside ditches sheltered hundreds of birds. I felt a kinship with the birds that we startled from their grassy refuges. Unlike the cattle that barely raised a bovine eyelid to our thundering passage, the birds were clearly visitors to this area. Nothing else could explain their surprise at this most predictable of disturbances, a twice daily train. My sympathies to the avian astonishment.

The clouds played beautifully over the fields. The sunset backlit the trees and brought glorious relief from the heat of the day. Our railroad-station lunch was long behind us, and the coming of night brought hunger and a desperation for cleanliness (one that would become commonplace in this part of the world).

Arriving in the border city of Aranyaprathet, we stumbled into what remains one of the best hotels that we've found. Cheap and gorgeous, this was a full service, western-amenity-equipped business run at Thai prices. It had a pool, tile floors, killer air conditioning, and cost as much as a hostel in Bangkok for a private room. Score.

And it even had pretty flowers!

In the morning, we tried to go on a run before crossing the border. The Cambodian heat, rumored to be debilitating, was potent, even before 8 am. Sweating and heat-addled, we lounged in the pool before hiking the few kilometers to Cambodia.

The border crossing is famous for its hi-jinks, so we were prepared to do battle with crooked cops, fake visas, and smiling con artists. Perhaps it was our early arrival (most tourists don't cross the border until the morning train from Bangkok wheels in around noon), but our crossing was disappointingly simple. We were asked to pay a small "service fee" (read: bribe) for our visas, which we refused. After much cajoling and stern looks from the men in uniform handling our passports, we were asked to "sit down." We had read about this, and were prepared to sit in our little time out for up to an hour in an attempt to erode our resolve. For whatever reason, they only made us sit for about 4 minutes before gruffly handing back our passports with visas in perfect order. Small victories.

With this, we were on our way to Siem Reap, home of some of the largest temples in the world.

Also, a note. I am, of course, behind on my blogging. Because of this, I'll probably sacrifice some storytelling in favor of logging photos instead. We'll call them... "phlog posts" (you read it here first). The brevity will probably be a good practice for me, anyhow.




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