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Crossing to Cambodia: Part One

by Tara

We enjoy border crossings – the crowds of people, the incomprehensible mix of languages we barely understand, the resulting confusion, and even, the waiting in line. All tied up in the excited chaos is the knowledge that after the crossing, somehow, everything will be markedly different.

Soon, all of the phrases we've stretched our brains to remember will no longer be applicable, we'll be floundering once again in order to communicate basics words like hello, thank you and goodbye. Food will be different, people, clothes, signs, mannerisms… all of it will change. In an instant, we'll be back to square one, Freshman in a sea of Seniors.

We love it.

Towards the Cambodian Border

No matter how many times we do it, the entrance into a new country always leaves us wondering: How do they know? How do they know to change?! How do they know to be totally different, just after crossing some arbitrary line? How does that happen?! Each time we're convinced the change won't be as striking as the last, and each time, we're wrong.

We leave our hotel this morning, and pedal off towards Cambodia, checking yet another country off on this voyage's dwindling list of destinations. But first, we stop to enjoy our last meal in Thailand. Goodbye som tam, au revoir pad see ew, adios, Thailand! Oh how we will miss you!

Thai Cook Tyler & Som Tam Som Tam Pad See Ew

The border to Cambodia is a sprawling scene. Instead of a single road leading to a gate, there is a tangled mess of a border "area" before us. In the middle, there is an enormous market, through which hundreds of people are walking back and forth, pulling mountainous carts behind them, heaving their way towards a large decorative archway in the distance. It must be the border to Cambodia!

Khmer Girl Pulling Cart Khmer Man Pulling Enormous Load

The second we stop moving, taking a moment to survey the area and devise a plan of action, we're accosted by ten people wanting to help us with our visas. They seem desparate to assist us with our border crossing. Meanwhile, even more men are shouting at us from across the road, advising us to go to their "visa office."

Much to everyone's chagrin, we politely decline what our guidebook has warned is a scam, and cycle off in the exact opposite direction. As we go, all the touts call after us emphatically: "You're going the wrong way! Wrong waaaayyyy! Visa over here! Visa over here!"

Putting off our crossing for the moment, we head instead to the enormous, dusty, border market. Everywhere there are stalls and mazes of clothing, guitars, purses, kitchenware… it's a shopper's paradise.

Enormous Load of Boxes on Truck Khmer People & Pullcart Boys at the Smoothie Stall Boys & Smoothies

We don't buy anything except a melon smoothie. While I slurp the cool, fruity beverage I love so much, I'm a little saddened by the reality that it may be my last for some time. Who knows if there will be smoothies in Cambodia?

Having summoned the patience to deal with the visa hawkers, we head for the border, repeatedly declining the non-stop barrage of help being offered as we go. When things start to look official, we're having a hard time telling the touts from real border officials. Who are these men dressed up in crisp white polo shirts, ID badges dangling from their necks by lnyard?

A little uncertain, we're about to go with one of them when he blows his cover, trying to encourage us by saying, "Only 1000 baht! Here, no lines! There, long lines, many papers!" Now that he's so kindly pointed out where the actual border is, we know exactly where we're headed! With a smile, we thank him for his help and continue on.

At the official building, we lean our bikes against a railing, one of us staying to guard them amidst the chaos, while the other heads inside. There, after filling out a small form and waiting in line, we each get stamped out of Thailand.

Then, following the crowds, we wheel our bikes around until we find the Cambodian customs building, where we apply for visas. ฿1,600 (~$50) and a few minutes later, we both have Cambodian visas pasted in our passports.

Cambodian Drug Policy

While Tyler takes his turn inside the custom's building, two Cambodian border guards come over to chat about our bicycles. These men are so happy to have us visit their country, that they're practically beaming. When Tyler comes out to join me, they wish us both a good journey and send us off with a loud and proud "Welcome to Cambodia!"

Kingdom of Cambodia