Every day that I spent in Cambodia has a special memory attached to it. It has been one of the best trips I have had in a long time and one of the biggest reasons for that was my companion, Lauren. We used to make the most of everyday that we spent in the country. It used to rain everyday and we spent most of our time sitting in different bars, drinking and playing pool. The evenings were spent bar crawling and dancing. We both decided to leave town on the same day as she had a few more days left in the country and had bought a ticket to travel to another city. I bought a direct ticket from Sihanoukville to Bangkok. It was going to be a long journey in a minivan. Different cars were supposed to pick us up early in the morning for our different destinations.
As I have mentioned in my earlier post, there are multiple overland border checkpoints between Cambodia and Thailand and one of them is the Hat Lek/Koh Kong border. I opted for that route since the Hat Lek checkpoint has a visa-on-arrival facility, which I needed. My journey was to be broken into two parts: part one from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong and part two from Hat Lek to Bangkok post crossing the border. Hat Lek (Thailand) and Koh Kong (Cambodia) are two towns located on different sides of the border. I bought the ticket all the way from Sihanoukville to Bangkok for 33$.
Sihanoukville to Koh Kong:
The ride from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong was on a pleasant morning with a light drizzle washing over our windows as the mountains and the greenery around us made for an extremely scenic trip. The passengers rode in complete silence and I had the chance to sit back and think about all the good times I had had in the past week. With only a couple of stops on the way, we reached the Koh Rong border in about 5 hours. Being a road trip in which I, of all people was involved, things obviously couldn’t go smoothly. I myself was quite surprised that everything had worked out so well this far but I had thought too soon and the real adventure was about to begin.
We met the travel company’s representative at the Koh Kong border and he guided us to the Cambodian checkpoint for the exit stamp first. He explained the process of getting to the Thai checkpoint and about the contact person waiting for us on the other side. The other passengers were all European and walked by without a hassle. Being an Indian, I needed a visa-on-arrival for Thailand and asked him for guidance. He said that if I had a photo, a photocopy of the return ticket and 1000 Bhatt, I could easily get the visa. I had no reason to doubt him and got my exit stamp from Cambodian checkpoint.
Crossing the Border:
The twist in the tale came just as I crossed the ‘no man’s land’ between the two countries and reached the Thai checkpoint. The officer told me that I needed a photocopy of my passport. Although I know that it is a very basic requirement to carry along with
you at all times, I for some reason, didn’t have it at that moment. On further enquiry, I got to know that the only photocopy shop around was 5 km away…situated in Cambodia. Since I had already checked out from Cambodia, I wouldn’t be allowed to go in again. The next thing I knew was that I was back in the no man’s land with two backpacks and it had started to rain. Such a dramatic turn of events! Anyone in his or her right mind would have started freaking out about the situation in hand but I just started smiling without a reason. It felt like my wait had finally come to an end and I didn’t have to worry anymore as I was already screwed in the worst way possible.
But as they say, if there is a problem, there has to be a solution. It turned out that my mistake wasn’t an uncommon one and the clerk at the Thai checkpoint was used to dealing with such situations all the time.
I was wracking my brain, trying to think of a solution when there was a light tap on my shoulder. It was a local guy who said that he had been sent by the clerk to help me out (not for free, of course!). He said that he would get me a photocopy for 5$. I was desperate enough to have paid 20$ for it. He showed up thirty minutes later with a smug look on his face. He dramatically whispered that he had done some “setting” at the Cambodian border that would allow me to step into the country for a brief 20 minutes. I agreed immediately and the two of us re-entered Cambodia. There was a car waiting for us on the other side. We got in and drove to the shop, which was, located about 4 kms away. When I returned to the Thai border, the clerk asked me how had I gotten the copy in a surprising tone. I smiled at his apparent act and thanked him for sending the guy to help me out. He gave a loud laugh and told that I was simply in a rollercoaster of luck that day. He hadn’t sent anybody to help me and the guy had actually lied to me about having a “setting” at the border. He had actually taken me to Cambodia illegally, just to make 5$. I laughed and thanked god for the crazy day.
Hat Lek To Bangkok:
This part was the longest part of my trip. In the tedious time it had taken me to cross the border, the bus I was supposed to get on had left without me. I showed my ticket to one of the guys standing there and he asked me to wait there and that the next bus to Bangkok in an hour. I finally realised how the process of the cross-border traveling works. The travel agents in Sihanoukville send everyone travelling to Thailand in a single bus till Koh Kong. Once the people cross the border and make it to the other side, they separate the passengers according to their specific destinations. It made complete sense since a direct bus would mean that there couldn’t be different stops for different cities along the way. I got into a minivan in an hour and had to change it once more along the way. After many many hurdles, I finally reached the Bangkok airport at about 12 am. I had been on the road from 7 am to 12 am. It had been one hell of a road trip with a million twists and turns (literally!). There couldn’t have been a more adventurous ending to my Cambodia trip and I was glad to have an interesting tale to tell.