Monday, August 29, 2005

Our day in Cambodia

So finally I get to one of the more crazy parts of our trip... Our day in Cambodia :)

Everything started off pretty well. We were taking a $4 each bus ride (you couldn't actually get a more expensive, more comfortable trip short of flying there) from HCMC to Phnom Penh. We headed over to the tour office with lots of time to spare, inquired if we could use Vietnamese Dong to pay for the Visa, and then went and got out enough to cover the Visas. Jokingly, I told Mel to go and grab a tin of Pringles... Just in case we didn't get any other food today...

After a couple of hours on the bus we got to the border. Very dusty, very isolated, not particularly interesting as border crossings go (although they are building a ton of stuff around there). Just as we got off our bus our tour guide asked us if we had US Dollars or Cambodian Riel. Of course we looked at him as if he had three heads. Just 2 hours ago, they said that Dong was fine... He then informed us that we had to change the Dong to Riel... It was at this point, for the first time today, that my heart dropped. I realised that we took out enough money for one Visa, not two! Ahh well, we'll just go to an ATM... Ehh, no ATM's here mate. Credit Card?!? Similar response.... Hmmmm. First things first, we changed what we did have into Riel (which our guide said was enough for the Visa) and headed for the boarder.

Early in the day we met a few Irish people who were also travelling to Phnom Penh and who we also met in Nha Thrang... With this vital knowledge, we hurried along to the Vietnamese exit point, caught up with them and got a lend of $20 to cover one of the visas. Happy days, I though... By the time we got to paying for our Visa, the guy at the counter said we were about €6 short on Riel! Feckers! The damned, guide (T & M Brothers – I found this interesting site about them there now when I did a google - moral of the story, they are cheap but DON'T use them!) together with the “foreign exchange agent” ripped us off (an old woman with a fist full of cash). Feckers!!! Luckly we caught the Irish guys just before they left the border region. We were last through and very nearly got stuck in no mans land :) Anyway, after all this excitement, we were going to met the Irish guys (yeah, I realise I'm Irish, but that's what myself and Mel called them, so I'll continue to call them Irish Guys) once we got to Phnom Penh and get the money for them from an ATM.

Crossing the Mekong

... several hours later while reading the Lonely Planet Cambodia book, we realised that there is no ATM in Cambodia, there was no banks open (today was Saturday night) and basically, apart from some Yen I had – we had no money. When we got there we found a Western Union (that was closing in about 5 minutes)... we thought that our prayers were answered, but of course there was something wrong. The area on the back of my credit card had wiped off a bit and the VOID sign was visable. (It wiped off because of rubbing against other cards in my money belt). About 5 minutes of Irish charm, and we where leaving with $100 in our pockets :) It took my licence, passport, bank card and lots of friendliness, but in the end we got some money. Now our plan was to have some food (we only had Pringles all day), have a few drinks, and go out. A solid plan I thought...

We had a meal in a really nice restaurant where you sat outside and a band played for you – the portions were a bit small (especially after the day we had), but we consoled ourselves with lots of dessert. Next, we went off to a supermarket that had a 70cl bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka for $4.50 :) (Stoli was our drink of choice when we were in Vietnam in addition to a cocktail that Mel fell in love with... It was called “I love you” (It's something like this). We went back to our hotel, chatted to the people at the reception about good places to go out and had a few drinks while we got ready... We decided to go to the hip night club that was recommended by our hotel. Big place, good music and almost exclusivly locals. At about 10:30 we left our hotel, each of us on the back of a moped on the way to the niteclub... Normally this is the point where I start talking about the club, how crazy it was – mad music etc... Errrr, not this time... Both myself and Mel's last memories were sitting on the back of a moped driving through Phnom Penh at night... Our next memory was both of us sitting on the back of a moped, driving home from the club... 4 HOURS later! Neither of us remember what happened. (Although I reasonably sure nothing bad had happened to us – both of us where perfectly dressed (I was wearing white and cream linen which is hard to keep clean in the best of places), my money belt was full of money as well as everything else that should be there and we felt no other ill effects.... abduction by aliens is getting higher on my list of things that could have happened to us!).

So, fresh from our moped ride home (the guy dropped us right outside our hotel) I was going through the cash in my money belt to pay him ($2) and he lunged, grabbed my money and sped off into the night! OMG! I just couldn't believe what had just happened. It wasn't a huge amount of money, about $100 minus what we spent that evening- but OMG. I had not been robbed face to face before (I was burgled about 2 years ago when €2,300 of my stuff was nicked from my room in Dublin). There was a couple of people around who saw what happened and came over to help us – one of the locals said that he would take us to the police station and help us out... So we got onto the back of his moped and headed, again, into the night. It was actually quite fun. 3 people on the moped driving around Phnom Penh. We eventually got to one, but about 2-3 minutes of being in there, the guy decided that it wasn't good enough and told us to go to another police station. We hopped on and drove another bit. Eventually we got to "a better" police station and walked in to find 4 guys either lying on the floor or in a hammock, all in their underwear and looking more then a bit pissed off.

Unphased, we started to say what happened to us and they started writing a report. After about 20 minutes the guy asked me if I would recognise our assailant. I said I would and the guy helping us said that he would too, they talked a bit and it became apparent that this person was seen hanging around the nite club we went to. (Some proof that we went to the club :)). So the police man turned to me and said, “come with me”. He then walked to the back of the room, picked up one of the 8 AK47s (at least I think that's what it was – otherwise, something very similar), threw it over his shoulder and walked out the front door. I walked out, only to find him starting his bike... For the next one and a half hours we drove around Phnom Penh trying to find the robber. It was crazy!!! At least I got to see a lot of the city!

Luckily, we didn't find the guy... (I didn't want to know what was going to happen) and we sat for about another hour writing a report. They wanted our passport information so we had to go back to the hotel to get it... It was 5am, so when we got to our room – Mel said that she was too tired (both of us where annihilated at this point) and I went back with them. Another hour later, they dropped me home.

We both woke at around 12 the next day and headed down to get the police report – we picked it up and had to sign it with our thumb print! It was gas!!! The report is great and we will no doubt frame it at some point. The only thing that I can recognise in it is our names and our passport numbers! After we got the report, we had breakfast and we looked at a sign above the reception...

Bangkok $115

Hmmmmmm, we asked when the next flight was, and they said in two and a half hours, we booked it there and then with the idea that we would be in Samui the next day. From here on out, things went smoothly :)

Leaving Cambodia so quickly needs a little explanation... Everyone there, apart from the guy who robbed us, was amazing! The people were really friendly and it hasn't been hit as bad with mass tourism as Vietnam or Thailand. I want to, and no doubt will, return there in the next couple of years to explore. The people were really friendly and I actually met people who didn't want to sell me something. (One of my gripes about Vietnam is that everyone we talked to inevitably wanted to sell us something... Everyone!)

Another thing that I wanted to do was recover from our travelling and spend a relaxing week on a beach with my sweet heart. We weren't really going to get to do that in Cambodia as we would have travelled north to Siem Reap... so flying to Bangkok wasn't as mad an idea as it sounds...

The flight from Cambodia was grand. We flew with Bangkok Airways which are amazing...

Myself and Mel in Phnom Penh airport

The last week of our trip was a little less crazy, but I'll get to it on yet another post. (The final one about my trip, I think...)

1 comment:

Paul, Ellen, Eva, Orlaith and Finn said...

You may have had a short visit, but it sounds like it was interesting.. also gives you the excuse to go back and look for the motorbike guy