Cambodia welcomes me with a lot of dust and sultry heat. The city of Poipet, just behind the border with Thailand, is full of noise and traffic, dusty, and very confusing thanks to the many billboards and street vendors lined up right on the roadside. Whispering mopeds everywhere, sometimes making their way in the opposite direction, honking cars and trucks, which roll relatively slowly but make their way steadfastly.
The entry formalities took much longer than I expected, but we also arrived at the border at lunchtime, which was perhaps a bad time. Although all four counters in the small immigration barrack on the Cambodian side were open. Not all border guards on duty were equally motivated, so it took about three quarters of an hour before the entry stamp with a 30-day permit was finally stamped into my passport.
By the way, it makes no difference, whether you already have a visa on your passport or whether you still have to go to the visa office, that you will pass on your way through no man’s land anyway. Sticking in this Visa on arrival is quick, currently costs US $ 30, and one way or the other you always have to fill out an immigration form and have it stamped. Even if you arrive with an electronic visa. This e-Visa has no advantage; you have to bring it with you on a printout and it keeps everyone waiting because the officer has to scan the barcode of this printout and to do this he has to leave his desk and scan and put it down at a separate work station.
A few Spaniards stood in front of me in my queue, for whom the quite comfortable official had accumulated a few extra minutes just by processing the many e-visas.
But getting impatient doesn’t help at this point, and it was shady in the barrack and bearable thanks to the many fans.
In Poipet I have to orientate myself first, although the road only leads straight. The richness of the impressions and the warmth of the early afternoon are tiring. We have to drive around 2.5 kilometers into the city to my favorite hotel. I stayed there two years ago and it hasn’t changed. Only the attached small restaurant is no longer in operation, which is a shame, because on the small veranda you could sit undisturbed by the traffic in the evening. The rooms with balconies are on the side facing away from the main street and in the afternoon heat the quickly washed laundry dries until the evening.
There are enough restaurants in the vicinity of the Ly Heng Chhay Hotel, as we will see later on a short exploration tour. But first I want to get myself some money and the second most important step today is to get a SIM card with enough data for the next few weeks. There are some banks with imaginative names and with ATM and the ATM I choose unfortunately only tallers US dollars which I exchange at the nearest money changer for Cambodian Riel, which of course can only be a losing deal.
We’ll get a SIM card with a 30-day validity and a data volume that I would never use in a month at home, for $ 9 each. The young lady in the SMART Mobile store is very competent and helpful in setting up the card.
Later in the evening we sit in a Khmer restaurant, which apparently is only visited by locals. There is delicious grilled squid and a raw food plate cooled with ice cubes, in addition we order fried rice with vegetables and Thai beer. The locals do the same.
The power goes out briefly and it is long dark outside. After a short time, a few ‘fireflies’ light up in the large, high restaurant, people light up on the tables with their smartphones. I have my headlamp with me for such situations, but it is now in the hotel, so far there was no need for it in Thailand. However, the interruption lasts only a few minutes, during which traffic outside works with the vehicle headlights through dust and haze.
The last quarter in Thailand, on the outskirts of the village of Khlong Hat, was again a very nice example of simple but well-kept bungalows, which are integrated into a kind of nursery outside the thoroughfare. The manager did not do a long discussion when we got there in the early afternoon and greeted us with the price of the room – “you get a room for 600 baht” without even having asked. A clean room in a quiet environment. Practical that the lady also is able to cook and at least conjures up a rice pan with vegetables for us in the evening.
The last two day trips in Thailand were also fun. The mountainous landscape in the southern half of the province of Sa Kaeo offers a different variety for the eye than the coastal regions can. Wooded mountain slopes, karst landscapes and agricultural areas, mainly sugar cane and occasionally smaller rubber plantations. However, there was suddenly a new problem with Maik’s bike, which had fallen over in a bike rack the day before in Ban Nam Ron, at the local café at the petrol station. We hadn’t seen how that could happen, only that it was suddenly there. But now a spoke has apparently loosened overnight and the whole rim is warped. That looks worse than it is, but Maik can now only use the brake on the front wheel to a limited extent. There are no problems when driving.
About 20 km north of Ban Nam Ron, colorful tents and something like a folk festival could be seen and heard on a monastery site off road 317. As if a stadium announcer was making announcements, a loud voice boomed from a loudspeaker on the premises. Maybe a sporting event? When we curiously put down the bikes below the tents, we were immediately addressed and invited to eat and try the food out. Fruit and drinks are served at some tables, fresh pineapples and colored water ice on thin wooden sticks; grilling somewhere. A friendly gentleman tries to talk to us.
The reason for the Sunday party is apparently the joint construction of the monastery building. The roof is just being covered and several piles of roof tiles in two different colors lie under one of the colorful tents in front of the building, which is still under construction. Everyone can participate with donations and dedicate individual roof tiles, or just sign. After the friendly invitation and the delicious pineapple, we also donate and so it happens that one of the orange colored stones now bears my name.
We do not stay long, because what we saved the route the day before, we have to make up today, to Khlong Hat it will be about 75 kilometers. The wavy road profile suits us a little, because it mainly leads us downhill and often the bike runs by itself.
In Soi Dao we prefer the lunch break after about 35 km because the breakfast in Ban Nam Ron was so spartan. I’ve been hungry for a long time and know from my own experience what it means to eat too little on such a trip. But I can also quickly convince Maik, and we also want to look for a bicycle workshop here that can process the imbalance in its front rim. However, that fails because on Sunday at least in the province, many shops remain closed. Even later we pass a bicycle workshop in a beautiful landscape, which the owner has locked and left and where the neighbor cannot help us to find him (although he seems to live there).
So there was nothing left but to wait until today and just before the border, because the city of Aranya Prathet is big enough to find several bicycle dealers and we are ultimately lucky there and find a well-trained and equipped two-wheeler mechanic who takes the time immediately to help Maik. Then the front rim is almost like new again and we don’t have to worry about it any more.
On the route from Khlong Hat to Aranya Prathet, which sometimes runs quite close to the border with Cambodia, there are checkpoints by the police at almost every major intersection, which were all occupied, but without us being stopped.
Here in Cambodia we immediately notice the somewhat reserved behavior of people towards us strangers and the much less consideration for road traffic. The basic situation is obviously different, because poverty is already evident in the side streets, houses are neglected and rubbish is everywhere, it is cooked on the street on an open fire and the quality of the surface of these side streets (if any) is sometimes catastrophic.
We’ll see tomorrow how the national road 5 develops towards the east, this road actually leads almost straight down to Phnom Phen. Because of the rim problem, I had decided not to take any further detours to Siem Reap, where the journey for Maik ends, then.