For my second trip abroad , I had thought of visiting four countries in eight days. On my list were Singapore, Malaysia , Cambodia and Thailand. You might ask why eight days only. Well , there were several things to take into consideration such as availability of vacation leaves , money , and transportation .Then I thought eight days in four countries sounded like "Amazing Race". In such a short period I wouldn't have enough time to explore much of each country. I might even spend half of the time on the road or on a plane as I would proceed from one destination to the next.
I dropped Singapore and Malaysia from the list as Thailand and Cambodia for me had more to offer. I had been wanting to visit the world-famous Angkor Wat and I had been curious why everyone is raving about Thailand.
After a heated deliberation with....myself , I picked June as the best time to travel because of the cheap airline tickets on sale .The downside though was that it's one of the hottest months in Southeast Asia. This time, I had second thoughts about inviting my friend Anna because I didn't think she could keep up with me. It would be for a little more than a week and I didn't think she had the stamina for it.Then again who would take my pictures? Anna had to join me , I decided. Tickets were booked way ahead of our trip (we bought them in March).
Our departure time from NAIA 3 was at 9:45 pm.We arrived in Bangkok at 11PM (midnight Manila time as the Philippines is an hour ahead). The flight attendant announced that we had landed at the "Suwanaphoom Airport" (Bangkok Airport). SUWANAPHOOM? How in the world did it become Suwanaphoom when it's spelled as S-U-V-A-R-N-A-B-H-U-M-I?
We decided to just stay in the airport for a few hours as we would be heading to Cambodia early the following morning anyway. We settled at a corner hoping to get some sleep but there was enough distractions that we remained awake. At their airport we felt like we're still in NAIA because the Thai look like Filipinos , unless they open their mouths, you wouldn't think that they're of a different nationality.
We left the airport at 3:20 AM and headed to Mo Chit Bus Station.We took a cab (no other options in the wee hours of the morning) , it cost 450 baht, quite expensive compared to Manila's rate.From the Mo Chit station we would be taking a bus to the Thai-Cambodian border. It didn't take so long for us to reach the station as it was early in the morning (before the rush hour) so we were spared from the dreaded Bangkok traffic (which I heard could be worse than Manila's traffic at times). We bought our tickets for the first trip to Aranyaprathet at 4:30am, it cost 212 Baht. Aranyaprathet is the Thai side of the Thai-Cambodian border. On the same bus were two Filipino Musicians who spoke Cebuano.Before we left I rushed to a 7-11 store and bought four bottled water, a liter each. Yes, I carried four liters of drinking water to Cambodia. It's better to be safe than sorry as I had no idea what Cambodia was like. I was afraid nobody sold bottled water there.The trip was uneventful. I attempted to catch up on my sleep but my position wasn't conducive for sleeping. We traveled across the countryside of Thailand and if not for the signage in Thai and the temples that we passed by I would have thought that we're just driving through a province in the Philippines. The sights were familiar. One noticeable difference though was the road. It's very wide , flat and no sharp turns , making our trip really smooth. I also noticed that the Thais love digging out canals. On one side of the highway was a canal, a few meters wide that flows from Bangkok to the border.
After four and a half hours we reached Aranyaprathet. We saw hordes of people getting in and out of the border. It was such an amazing sight. I felt like I was watching a scene from a movie depicting Burma or Vietnam as the people were pulling their carts loaded with goods.
After clearing the Thai Immigration , a young man approached us. At that point I was being alert . Anyone coming up to us could be a scammer. I'd been warned about all sorts of scams in that part of the world. I forgot the man's name but he seemed nice, he was smiling all the time and was very engaging. According to him he worked for the transportation group in Cambodia. He acted as our guide.He took us to the Cambodian Immigration on the other side of the border which is part of Poipet, a place in Cambodia known for its casinos. The young man patiently waited for us until our passports got stamped, (lucky for us we didn't need a cambodia visa)then he asked us to get on a free bus that took us to a terminal maybe fifteen minutes away from the border. From there , we'd be taking a taxi to Siem Reap where the Ancient Angkor Wat is located.While on the bus , the young man regaled us with stories and was giving us tips. When he learned that we were Filipinos (there were only four of us including the two musicians) he asked us if we knew Justin and Julianne. We looked at each other puzzled, then I reckoned that he must be referring to Filipino actors. I'd read somewhere that ABS-CBN's soaps are syndicated abroad even to far flung Ghana in Africa.Apparently Justin and Juliane are the actors name on the show as we hadn't heard of anyone famous in the Philippines that go by those names. According to him it's widely watched in Cambodia and its time slot was 7pm (unfortunately we would be exploring the market at that time).
We arrived at an almost empty terminal. We exchanged some of our bills to Cambodian riels.Although dollars are accepted in Cambodia I had read that it wouldn't be wise to pay everything in dollars as the exchange rate is constant at 1 USD : 4000 riels. I didn't get it but I heeded the advise.The taxi to Siem Reap was expensive, we paid $40 or P2000. We decided not to travel by bus because we could not afford to waste time waiting for the bus to be filled (we really wanted to get to Siem Reap at noontime). Arriving early would give us time to explore the market.It was only Anna and I in the taxi as the musicians were heading to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Contrary to what I'd read, the road to Siem Reap is now as impressive as the ones in Thailand. Lucky for us the construction of the new highway had been completed before our trip. What used to be a four-hour ride through a dusty road from the border to Siem Reap had been reduced to two and a half hours.Along the way I saw haystacks that dotted the vast plains.Also, in each community that we passed by I couldn't help but admire those elaborate arches , usually painted in gold, that welcome visitors. They reminded me of their counterparts back home, a simpler version, that also greet visitors to each barangay.
I asked the driver to take us to Jasmine Lodge when we reach Siem Reap (Jasmine Lodge was my guesthouse of choice since I'd read nice reviews about it . I really did a lot of research on transportation, food and especially accommodation so as not to waste time and money (so please excuse me if I keep on repeating that I'd read something from somewhere).The driver pretended he didn't understand me, " No speaking English", he uttered. BASTARD!, of course he spoke English and even if he didn't Jasmine Lodge should at least ring a bell.
As we were approaching the city center we passed by a number of posh hotels.The sight was quite different from the Siem Reap that I'd imagined. Moments later the driver pulled over in front of a building and a shirtless man came up to us while putting his shirt back on. " Hi I'm Lucky ", he introduced himself. I'm not good with names but later you'll find out why I remember this one. "Where are you from?", he asked . I noticed a signage that had the word "tourism" on it so I thought the man was connected with the Department of Tourism in Cambodia. " The taxis are only allowed up to this point , a tuktuk will take you to your hotel or guesthouse", he explained. "Don't worry it's for free", he further assured us. We hopped on to the tuktuk ( their version of the tricycle in the Philippines which according to many is named after the sound it makes) and told the driver to take us to Jasmine Lodge.Lucky acted as a guide while we're driving through streets lined with guesthouses. He's in his twenties and he spoke good English. After probably ten minutes we stopped in front of a three-storey building that looked like a guesthouse. Lucky and the driver ushered us into the reception. I was about to ask them if we were already at Jasmine Lodge when I saw a sign that says "Banana Leaf Guesthouse". Did they think we were illiterate? "This is not Jasmine Lodge", I complained ( At this point Anna had a little participation , maybe she was thinking of her boyfriend back home). "Yeah" , he replied quickly "but the owner of Jasmine Lodge bought this place." hmmm. Very smart. I insisted that they take us to the real Jasmine Lodge. I told them we would come back if we didn't like it there.While we're checking out the real Jasmine Lodge , Lucky and the driver waited outside. The nerve! Of course, I did ask the person at the reception about the real story and I found out that Lucky was lying indeed. I went back to the scammers and gave them a dollar which is the regular fare for a tuktuk ride in Siem Reap. "You lied to me ", Lucky said after I'd told him that we're staying at Jasmine." You're the one who lied to me I retorted. I walked away and went to our room.
We got a room at the ground floor,a double air-conditioned room with two king-size beds. The bathroom was spotless and it had a cold and hot shower.There was also a spacious closet,cable tv and on top of it all were free breakfasts and internet, all for US$13 or US$6.50 per person/night. Despite what had happened I thought we're off to a good start. I also booked the tuktuk for our Angkor tour at the guesthouse. We paid US$12 for a whole day tour. I told the guy who booked us to tell the driver to pick us up at 4:30AM so we could catch the sunrise at the Angkor Wat. After making all the arrangements the first thing that we wanted to do was to freshen up after a long trip.
After taking shower (one at a time of course) Anna and I were both dog-tired so we decided to take a quick nap but before that we had to sort out our paper bills . In less than 24 hours we got hold of pesos, dollars, bahts and riels . It got really confusing.