Friday, 22 January 2010

Bye Bye Bangkok!

...and "Hello Cambodia!" (again...)
Consider Bangkok well and truly ‘done’! On the day following the temple marathon, we managed to get a day rover ticket on the Sky Train, fitting in lunch with Scott and Kathy near Nana station (see you both in Arizona soon!!), a trip to the Burmese Embassy, a sortie to the Qantas representatives, a visit to the Patpong post office to send things back home, not to mention a fantastic evening walk and street food extravaganza with Alisdair. The day after it was time for waterborne transportation, taking the express boat up to explore the Khao San Road area. Simon managed to get a hair cut to look like a Buddhist monk, whilst the intrepid pair had a spooky blast from the past. There in the middle of Khao San Road itself was the very same dodgy Indian fortune-teller we had met last year at Janpath in New Delhi. This year he had two black eyes… After a quick exit (again) it was time to relax and prepare for a big journey, deep into the heart of rural Cambodia. Will it match our experiences in Bangladesh, and will it live up to the expectations set up in Sihanoukville last week?

We cannot even begin to tell you how much will power was required to pull ourselves out of bed at 5am this morning! But it was difficult, especially after getting to sleep at 2am due to last minute packing. But it was all worth it!
A taxi had been arranged to take us to Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station where we were to hop on a train for 6 hours in order to arrive at the Cambodian Border in Poipet.
The taxi ride across Bangkok was wonderful as the city was still wrapped in the darkness of night, allowing the miscellaneous lights from the skyscrapers gleefully to radiate dim glows of slumber. There was by no means a complete standstill in the city at this hour but, when compared to the inescapable blockade of traffic congestion by day, it seemed almost silent.
Catching the train towards the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet was simpler than we expected. We approached the booth to request our tickets and before we knew it, we had embarked on a 6-hour train journey for a whopping 48 Baht each! This equates to roughly 95p. We had come very well prepared for our journey with ham and chilli sandwiches we made the day before, plus extra goodies from the Seven Eleven market, which included a bread bun with sweet kidney bean paste filling, an orange flavoured Swiss roll, banana muffins, biscuits and croissants! We feasted like kings as you can tell!
On arrival at Aranyaprathet, we were approached by tuk tuk drivers trying to rip us off; but after some negotiation we managed to complete the final leg of the journey towards the border. But wait for it! During transit we thought it odd to find ourselves taking a slight detour to a dodgy looking Cambodian Visa stand. Fortunately we were already clued up on this scam where they tell people that they must buy their visa at this point for $35. We politely rejected and told them that we wished to make a beeline for the Cambodian border crossing where we could pick up the visa for $25, and to their disappointment that is exactly what happened! Our visas were sorted in a flash and through into Cambodia we went. We took a free shuttle bus to the nearby bus station and met up with some other travellers with whom we caught a minibus to Siem Reap.
Our hunger levels had peaked on arrival, so after checking in at the Popular Hostel we headed straight for the night market. It’s probably a safe gamble to say that it is not streetlights that bring Siem Reap to life at night, but rather the night markets that sell souvenirs and local foods! We stopped for a Vietnamese style noodle soup (Pho) and then we headed to a popular food court, which had plastic tables and chairs beneath a tarpaulin shelter. The twinkling of the hanging light bulbs, the crowds and most of all the marvellous cook with her huge sizzling wok of delights created an atmosphere that told us that we really are in the heart of South East Asia. It was here that we wolfed down rice, chicken and noodle salads with vegetables. We did not hesitate on the addition of chillies either! Luckily we had soothing coconut shakes to rescue our palettes from the inferno! This honestly was the best meal we have had on this trip so far!

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