Border Crossing

Waking up at 6:30 isn’t fun, but I still have yet to pack and the bus is coming to pick us up at 7:15. It’d also be ideal if I could fit in a shower. Even with the air-con on, our room is sweaty hot.

We get on a bus and are taken to the docks where we are directed to board the smaller of two ferries. We watch everyone else from our van as they are directed to the larger boat. I’m still not really awake and frankly I don’t care, but it’s just another mystery to add to my list.
I drop my bag, find my seat and fall asleep before the ferry even leaves the dock. When I wake up, it’s to the shuffling of passengers getting ready to leave. I’ve slept solidly for an hour and a half. My neck hurts a little but at least I feel awake now.

We exit the boat and are charmed to find a man holding up a sign that says “Tamara” next to his motorcycle. How fancy! He points to both of us to confirm that we are both “Tamara”. There’s no “Naomi” sign, so we just nod. He leads us to a coffee shop and asks us to wait. A few minutes later he comes back with all the necessary visa forms for us to fill out. He thinks it’s weird that my last name is Lai and asks if I’m Vietnamese.
Nope.
He picks up my iPhone, which is sitting next to my arm as I write, and starts inspecting it. He loves my LifeProof case. When I tell him it’s waterproof he’s even more thrilled. He says you can’t get them in Vietnam, and pulls out his iPhone to show me he has the same one. I too, love my case, and I can tell he really wants it, buuuuuuut it’s mine and I keep it. I stuff it casually in the depths of my backpack when he isn’t looking. You just never know.

Once we’ve finished filling out our forms we each hop on the back of a motorbike and are taken to the border. I give our guy $100 USD to pay for both our visas, (which will only cost $50 total) and he takes the money along with our passports and forms to the border office and drops it off. He tells us to wait. We’re the only people at the border which is confusing because there were other backpackers and tourists on our boat this time. No complaints here though, because it should make the process faster!

We wait for about 15 minutes before our passports are returned to us with $50 USD. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t even like handing my passport over to hotel staff let alone strangers you meet getting off a boat. Giving a stranger a $100 note doesn’t feel super smart either, so getting everything back is calming. We get directed over to a bus on the Cambodian side of the border where our new visas are checked twice, and we’ve made it! We’re in Cambodia.

Our mini van picks up no other passengers, and he offers to drive us to our hotel. We have nothing booked, but because the visa forms required a Cambodian address, I’ve already referenced my Lonely Planet book. We listed a place called Treetop Bungalows in Kep, which is our first Cambodian stop anyway, so we ask him to take us there. It’s pretty far outside town, but I’m sure we can rent bicycles or something to get around.

It’s only $5 a night for a room. A private room. So $2.50 each. Incredible. Yes please! They take us to a row of bamboo stilt bungalows and show us to a room with a fan. That’s all that’s in there. A bed and a fan. We’ll take it!

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The first thing we do after dropping our bags is to get lunch. We’ve been up since 6:30, but haven’t eaten yet today and it’s pushing noon. We stay for lunch at our hostel, even though I think their prices are a little high. I pay $4 for a squid and noodle dish, which is more than I’m paying for the room! I find it strange that everything in Cambodia is paid for in dollars. Sure, it Vietnam they would advertise things as “$2!” but then you’d hand over 40,000 dong. Here, when it says “$2!” you are literally expected to hand over two American dollar bills. Luckily, my wonderful parents gave me some American money for my birthday before leaving Japan. It has come in handy more than once! Even more so right now, because apparently there are no ATMs in Kep!

We rent a bicycle and bike into town. Tamara has no American money on her, because she assumed she could just exchange her dong, but there are no exchange places here either! I’ve never been so thankful for American dollars.
We ride along the beautiful ocean-side road into town. We even see some wild monkeys on our way!
The bikes we rent are total garbage though, and my tire goes flat as soon as we get to town. Our time there is short, and we simply book a ticket to Kampot for tomorrow morning. I don’t think there’s much to do in Kep besides visit the beach and eat crab. I walk my bike all the way back to our accommodation.

A storm can be seen rolling in from the islands in the distance, so I’m happy we get back to our bungalow when we do. Tamara and I settle into the hammocks outside our front door, and although I plan to do some research on Cambodia, I fall asleep before I get very far.

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I wake up to Devin, a Canadian guy we met at our hostel in Phu Quoc, saying “fancy seeing you here, eh?!” as he and Sigrid walk into their hostel room just a couple doors down from ours. It’s literally such a small world. I don’t understand how we’ve run into them again already. We just saw them this morning!

After they’ve settled in, we all head down to the market on foot to grab some dinner. I’ve heard you can get $1 and $2 meals in Cambodia so we’re looking for something along those lines. The market has a lot of restaurants lined up out front, but all of them are charging at least $7 for one dish. That’s way out of our price range. We find one that charges $7, but at least includes rice. It seems like the cheapest thing we’ll find tonight. We decide to try and make a feast of it and all share the dishes. Fresh (and still live) seafood is displayed beside the menu, and the woman standing behind it sees our distress. She offers to discount the food for us. Devin is a master haggler and somehow manages to talk the woman into cooking us two squid, four crabs, twelve prawns, a red snapper, a plate of vegetables, and rice… all for $18.
I should take notes, this guy is a pro.
We sit down next to the ocean and order four Angkor beer. We can see lightening crashing out in the distance, but it still hasn’t rained in Kep. Tamara and I have been so lucky with the weather it’s unbelievable. Our food comes in waves, first the crab, rice, then the prawns, the vegetables, and we get a little break between that and the fish and squid. I try to take photos of everything but as soon as it’s put down we all dive in with our hands, breaking crab legs and pulling prawn shells off before stuffing them in our faces. We’re messy, but we’re having a blast. Everything tastes amazing, like really really one of the best meals I’ve eaten so far, and by the end I’m absolutely stuffed. For all that food and two beers, we each pay $6. A table of backpackers next to us all order their own dishes and get far less food for much more money. We’re certain they’ve paid full price. Champion meal finding over here!

It’s hot, so after dinner we walk back up to our bungalows, change into bathing suits, and try to convince the expensive hotel next door to let us use their pool. We buy a jug of beer and try to charm our waiters, but they say we’ll have to pay $5 each for a swim. Absolutely not.
When no one is around we plot a way to pay, then run and jump in the pool really quick before running home to our bungalows. It seems like a fool proof plan….until the staff members walk us out to the gate. I guess we’re not the first backpackers to pull this trick!

Defeated, we go back home and fall asleep in our bug and frog infested bungalow. I’m ever-thankful for my bug net on nights like these, but for $2.50… who could complain?

2 thoughts on “Border Crossing

  1. Naomi, I’m so glad your Mom posted the link to this blog on Facebook a while back. I check in about once a week and am delighted by your adventurousness and spontaneity – thank you so much for sharing your notes and photography, which provide a wonderful ‘from the ground’ view that feels alive and palpable, in a way I’ve not experienced with professional travelogues. May you be well and safe with minimal spiders… Valerie

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