Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Back to Cambodia

I wanted to stay in Thailand for Songkran (Thai New Year) but more on Songkran later. It falls on the same day that my visa was going to expire so I needed to extend my visa or get a new one. Phanom Rung is not really that far from Cambodia and you get a new Thai Visa if you leave and reenter the country. Since I was this close to the border I decided I would spend a night in Cambodia again and get a new Thai visa.

I caught a bus headed to Chanthaburi and figured I would go from there to Hat Lek which is the border town that I had entered Thailand about 2 months ago. I was sitting on the bus looking at the map trying to figure where I was on the bus journey and noticed we were in Aranya Prathet about half way to Chanthaburi. I said to myself hey look Aranya Prathet is a border town! I grabbed my bag and hopped off the bus even though I had paid for the ticket to Chanthaburi.

I caught a tuk tuk and was off to the border. I was able to get a visa for Cambodia at the border when entering from Vietnam so figured that would be no problem. It turned out this border will not issue a visa here but there are all these people that make there living by selling you a visa. There is some sort of consulate about 200 meters from the border and for 1200 Thai Bhat they will take your passport and go and get you a visa. It had only cost me about 750 Bhat when I had entered from Vietnam and also I did not really like turning over my passport to someone standing at the border. I kept saying that it was not that expensive at the border from Vietnam and they kept saying but that is a different border. They finally said we will take you to the consulate. I hopped on the back of a motorbike and off we went to the consulate. Someone was waiting outside the consulate and ask for 1200 Bhat again and I said no and went in and did it myself. The guy behind the counter only charged me 1000. It was still more than what I thought I should pay but felt better about giving my passport and money to a guy in a building that at least had an official looking sign outside that said Cambodia Consulate. I figured I would have to walk back to the border since I refused to pay the 1200 but the motorbike rider was still waiting for me and when I ask him how much to the border he said up to you. I gave him 50 Bhat at the border.

I walked across the border and it took a few minutes to exit Thailand and a few minutes to enter Cambodia. In the walk across this border you change sides of the road. Thailand is left hand drive and Cambodia is right. The side of the road is not all that changes when entering Cambodia at this border crossing. Poipet is the town on the Cambodia side of the border and it was a different side of Cambodia than I had seen when I was in Cambodia before. Poipet came across as really really poor and dirty. This was the most striking difference I had seen when crossing a border on this trip. It was a lot like going across the border between the US and Mexico in a place like Laredo. I had read bad things about using this border crossing when going from Thailand to Siem Riep but luckily this was as far into Cambodia as I was going. I found a hotel and spent the night but think I should have just turned around and walked back across the border on the same day.

The town was the dirtiest town that I have been to on this trip with trash everywhere. The main road down the center of town is a dirt road and I think all the money in this town really comes from the border with Thailand. I found something to eat and drink but tried not to get any Cambodia money and the little bit I did get in change I used prior to leaving. The Thai Bhat seemed to be the main currency here but I did not have enough small money so ending up pulling out a few US Dollars and did not have any problems using them.

The following morning I walked the other way across the border and received my visa so I could enjoy Thai New Year. I was also happy to be leaving Poipet behind.

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