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An Unscheduled Visit to Cambodia

SIM City 2000 rang out bright and early not for the first time in Steve’s room. It was not really that early by most standards, but during our time in Bangkok we had become so shifted from the normal solar-based schedule that it might as well have been ringing at 3.00 am. We groggily extracted ourselves, grabbed our passports and computer bags and made our way down to the street. It was a Sunday, and the city was still mostly closed for business. We were quite easily able to find a cab, and we explained to the driver that we needed to head to the Ekamai Metro Station. We were not sure where that was, but we knew there would be a bus for the Cambodian border leaving from there at 9:00 am.

It turned out to be quite a way from Dane’s place, and by the time we got there, there was little time to acquire breakfast and coffee. With most of the shops closed, and even the noodle sellers still getting their vats boiling, we found ourselves strolling into McDonalds and purchasing two McEgg sandwiches and a couple of coffees.

It took what seemed like an hour for the sandwiches to emerge, and when they did we thanked them and hurried to the bus stop. When we got there, the rest of the passengers were already filling out their emigration cards: one for Thailand and one for Cambodia.

This was a special bus, just for visa renewals. You see, dear reader, it is true for people from many countries that Thailand issues on-the-spot 15-day visas upon overland entries. Thus could we gain the extra days we needed to fix Scott’s cycle by entering Cambodia for a moment and promptly returning to Thailand.  True, this would require the purchase of a Cambodian visa, but it was one of the only ways to re-legitimize our presence in Bangkok.

With our cards filled out, we forked over some money and our passports to a very sharp Thai woman who was running the operation. She was the kind of woman who is just solid gold for any organization of which she is a part. Organized, edgy, kind and mothering at times, and an all-controlling Voltron-type at others. Sort of like my mom. With her at the helm we felt great, and soon drifted off to sleep.

We awoke somewhere in eastern Thailand when the bus stopped at a convenience store/gas station complex.

It was then that we began to realize our fellow riders on the bus were all of a particular ethnic background, and were speaking a language that was somewhat reminiscent of Spanish. We later discovered that they were Filipinos. Why such a large crowd of Filipinos were all investing nearly $30.00 on a bus to the Cambodian border, a visa into Cambodia, and a ride back was beyond us. But, as always, we invite speculation in the comments.

We were all told to get off the bus and not to come back for 10 minutes. “Yes Ma’am,” we replied, and proceeded to wander the vicinity, checking out the surrounding timber farming operations, and purchasing a few cans of coffee from the shop.

When we returned back to the bus, lunch had been prepared and laid out for us.

We struggled for a bit at the calculus of picking up the trays that now sat on our bus seats and negotiating ourselves into position with the trays on our laps. With that success we could tuck into lunch and begin to wake up.

We were driving through beautiful country, though markedly poorer than anywhere we’d been in Thailand to date. The surrounding jungle grew thicker, and low laying mountains appeared in the distance. Meanwhile they played American crime thriller movies at maximum volume on the bus’s formidable entertainment system.

When we finally reached the Thai-Cambodian border crossing, we found it to be quite modest. A large reasonably ornate arch covered the Thai side, emblazoned with imagery of the king and the royal crests. The crossing was a stretch of gravel road. The Cambodians appeared to be building a competing archway, but it was still under construction, so was currently just a large cluster of scaffolding.

No one appeared to be working on it. Thai people in cowboy hats were crossing the border, perhaps to gamble or buy duty-free items. In addition, a reasonable traffic of gentlemen and women with wheelbarrows transporting all manner of goods flowed back and forth from both sides. The border itself was marked by a 30-foot-deep trench, at the bottom of which some water stagnated.

The border crossing was a bridge over this trench, and after we were stamped and officially exited Thailand, the same woman from the bus was there to meet us. She took our passports and hurried off, leaving us with only photocopies of our essential documents, bearing a passport size image our face stapled to them. “Back here in 10 minutes,” our woman explained “for shopping.”

We made our way across the bridge and were soon swarmed by children begging for money. We then realized that this was the first time in the past month or so that we had been confronted with pan-handlers. Thailand had been almost completely devoid of them. We wandered through the duty-free store, which certainly did feature rock bottom prices. A carton of L&M brand cigarettes, for instance could be had for a little over $3.00. That’s nearly the cost of one pack in Bangkok.

Back on the Thai side of the trench, our fine woman was handing all the Filipino passports back, and had yet to lay into Scott’s and my U.S.passports. Using this time as productively as possible, we chatted with a burly Dutchman with tattoos covering his arms who shared stories with us about working on offshore oil rigs in Angola.

“What are you doing in Thailand?” We asked.

“As least as bloody possible,” he replied, nursing a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger.

We loitered for a bit longer, taking in a number of strange royalist shrines that were there, along with an interesting set of rooster statues. When we finally got our passports back, they had brand new Cambodian visas, smelling like freshly applied paste, issued, signed,  stamped, and voided in the same instant. We gave our passport copies and pictures back to the Thai authorities, who dutifully logged them and filed us away. Then returned to the bus.

On the ride back, we spent most of our time watching “The Hangover” at maximum volume, followed by a violent serial killer flick, “Law Abiding Citizen” starring Jamie Foxx.  The hangover had subtitles that seemed to have been translated into a foreign language, and then back into English.  The film became surprisingly more enjoyable with this unexpected feature.

When we were not transfixed by media, we spend our time talking about what a strange place Las Vegas is, and what a strange place America is, and how much there is to both love and hate about our country.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Singapore, the shipment of parts which would save AsiaWheeling from stagnation and inoperability was stirring and assembling itself, poised to board some mixture of trucks and planes, and make its way to Bangkok where we would be waiting in Steve’ s (may his beard grow ever longer) apartment, to spring into action and resume AsiaWheeling.


  1. Rebecca | April 27th, 2010 | 8:37 am

    Hi Woody, I hope all goes smoothly with the repairs (although from talking to your dad, I think you must be well underway). How were things politically in Thailand? Spring is springing here. Green is the predominant color with lots of intense pink and purple throwing off lovely spring scents.

  2. Woody | April 27th, 2010 | 10:26 am

    @ Rebecca
    Good question. We’ll do a post about Thai politics and address some of your curiosities. Glad to hear spring as sprung in Iowa!

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