(written by Nancy)
We had a great breakfast at the hotel today – baguettes, fried eggs, fruit and nice strong Laos coffee, at a table shared with Henry and Sandra. It was hard to get moving – sitting on the deck overlooking the Mekong River can be a bit addictive. Finally, after packing up and changing some of our kip at the hotel we set off.
Our first stop was just about three kilometres down the road at the Khone Phapheng Falls. We paid the 20,000K each to go in to view the falls. It was pretty impressive – they are not very high falls but the water really barrels down the rocks. The sound was quite loud as well – this is the dry season so I can’t imagine what it must look like in the wet season.
After the falls we had another 10k or so until we hit the Laos-Cambodia border. On the Cambodian side they were building a very large fancy building with big gates to go through. It was still under construction so we detoured around it and headed to a little hut on the other side, where a group of men dressed in green army wear were hanging out. We went up to the window and handed over our passports and waited for instructions. Sure enough, the request came to pay US$2 each to exit the country. So, we handed over our cash and rode under the gate and about 500metres until we were waived over by two guys sitting under an umbrella that read ‘Cambodian Quarantine Services’. We filled out some forms, paid another US$1 each to have our temperature checked and were given a clean bill of health – well, clean enough to get into Cambodia anyway.
Okay, first step on Cambodia side done. Next we were pointed over to another hut for visa on arrival, where we filled out the forms and were requested to pay the visa fee in Thai baht or kip, in numbers that didn’t quite equate to what we thought the US$ fee should be. Oh well, we needed to get rid of our kip so we handed it over. We received our passports with our 30-day Cambodian visa back. But, not so fast. From that hut we had to go about 10 metres further to another little hut to get a stamp on the visa they just issued. Another US$2 each for that stamp. And finally, we were allowed to formally enter the country of Cambodia, our 6th country so far on this trip. All up it cost roughly two times what sources on the internet said a 30 day visa should cost. We are not certain how many of our little “fees” were part of the normal process or something the locals guys cooked up. Anyway, we are in Cambodia and everyone at the border was smiling when we rode on.
From the border we had just under 60k or so to ride to get to the first town of any substance, Stung Treng. The road was very quiet almost the whole way into Stung Treng – only a few houses here and there. The houses were very small little huts and did not seem to have any electricity running to them, though there were power lines running along the road. The fields on either side of the road did not appear to be cultivated though there was the odd collection of cows and water buffalo. We did hear ‘hellos’ from the kids and the adults when we passed by huts that were occupied.
We rode quite a ways looking for some place to get a cold drink but couldn’t see any powered coolers like we the ones which helped us in Laos. We finally stopped to get something to drink at a little store (shack really). We now have a whole new language and new money to figure out and this was our first practice. I said cold drink, mimed drinking something and one of the older ladies came over and opened a very large non-powered cooler/esky – sure enough there were cold drinks on ice. Who needs electricity? After a bit of drawing numbers in the dust we figured out how much they wanted for the drinks. We did not have any riels but we did have US$1 dollar bills, which they were very happy to take. It looks like the exchange rate is about 4000 Cambodian riel to US$1.
We finally got into town about 12:30 and made our way to the central town area where there were hotels and guesthouses. We checked out the Riverside Guesthouse – it seemed okay, the fellows at the front desk speak English pretty well so we went ahead and got a room. The only downside is dragging the bags upstairs – very few elevators in Asia. The guesthouse also has a restaurant so we ate some lunch before cleaning up as we were both pretty hungry. Decent food too – but odd to see US$ prices on the menu. We will have to get used to that.
After showers (cold…) we headed out to try to check off two things on our list – get a new Cambodian sim card for the phone and try to exchange the rest of the kip we had into riel so we could have local currency to pay for small things along the road. We stopped to ask the guys running the front desk for advice. They could actually sort the phone out for us – get us a sim and contact the mobile service provider to convert it so that we could use it for internet access. Excellent news as that can be tricky and hard to explain when we are searching for a sim. So far it seems to be working fine – let’s hope it continues to work when we leave town!
Now, on to the money changing. We headed over to a bank around the corner but they said they do not change kip. Hmm…. there was an ATM though so we thought we would try it – it dispenses US$, not the currency of the country! Well, the bank would convert US$ into riel so we did it that way. Complicated, it seems. The bank suggested asking at the market to change kip so we wandered over there. It took a few tries, as most of the money changers did not want to take any kip but we finally found one that would and got rid of the rest of our kip, though the exchange rate was not great.
We headed back to the guesthouse to relax and drink water – it seems hotter here than in Laos and I expect it will get hotter as we head south toward Phnom Penh. After relaxing and looking at the route ahead, we headed over to a recommended restaurant for dinner. I had the fried noodles and Dave was a little adventuresome trying his first Khmer style green curry. The curry was a little hotter than the green curries of Thailand, probably a little less coconut milk here, but still very tasty.
Tomorrow we head for Kratie. There are only a few villages between here and there. So far at least Cambodia seems to have fewer people. Traffic today was almost non-existent letting us ride side-by-side for many kilometres. It’s a long day tomorrow at 140k so we’ll be up and on the road early. Looks like the markets here open around 6AM so picking up supplies in the morning should be easy, if we can figure out which currency and how much to pay the stall holders.