To say that we were apprehensive about visiting Cambodia would be a major understatement. We had heard all sorts of rumours about the country ranging from the wildly outrageous, to the wildly outrageous but grounded in truth.
With all this in mind we decided against taking the tourist bus from Bangkok to Siam Reap, instead deciding to make our own way. Our reasons were simple - it was notorious for people stealing your valuables, and the journey which was only supposed to take from 10 to 12 hours, actually took up to 24. The driver inevitably broke down a few times (though having seen the buses this could have been for real) or took a number of lengthy breaks. This delay ensured that the bus full of tired tourists arrived in Siam Reap at 3am, and were taken straight to the only hotel still open, for which the driver got paid a hefty commission.
Our taking the moral highground meant that we had to catch the local bus to the border, drag our bags through the dusty no man's land and immigration and enter Cambodia on foot.
It was at this point that things started going a bit wrong!
Poipet is the border town on the Cambodian side and is a muddy, desolate looking place. As it is on the Thai/Cambodia border and gambling is illegal in Thailand (whilst everything seems to be legal in Cambodia), Poipet has recently re-invented itself as the Las Vegas of S.E Asia. Suffice to say, it still has a long way to go before it matches the glitz and the glam of the real thing.
We were pounced on by a very irritating man who insisted that we should take the tourist bus the rest of the way to Siam Reap. Having made it so far under our own steam there was no way that we were going to give up now. We tried repeatedly to get rid of him, but damn he was persistant - even shouting at him had absolutely no effect.
Knowing that it should only cost us 10 dollars US to get a taxi to Siem Reap we wandered around trying to bargain the taxi drivers down to a reasonable rate. However every time we managed to acheive the 'magic number' and naively started congratulating ourselves on a deal well done, the irritating little man would reappear, and the price would jump back up to 30 dollars all over again.
After 2 hours of this we realised that he was going nowhere, and neither were we, so we struck a deal with him instead - very annoying! Having agreed on an unhappy compromise of 20 dollars, we were then told that we would have to get a lift from a dodgy looking character to the outskirts of town as for 'legal' reasons the taxi couldn't pick us up from the border. Ho hum!
We then subsequently had to change cars and drivers twice more, each time in increasingly remote locations, with frantic phone calls going back and forth between the drivers and their cohorts - it was at that point we really wished we spoke Khmer.
Increasingly worried about the situation we had got ourselves into, on our final car transfer, whilst Chris was argueing about a proposed price increase, I started discreetly transferring the money and cards from my purse to my underwear - very classy and very uncomfortable, I do not recommend that you try this at home. We really didn't think that we were going to make it to Siem Reap with all our belongings, or worse, with all our limbs intact.
The rest of the journey was akin to going on an all-terrain cross-country day out. Only instead of driving in a 4 by 4, our car was an old beat up nissan with no suspension. The pot holes in the road were at times the size of the car we were in, and there was no road surface to speak of - unless you count mud. Periodically our route would be blocked by overturned lorries who had misjudged the potholes, or just got stuck in the aforementioned mud, and we would have to reverse a couple of hundred metres back down the road and go off down another route. Most of the time we were being thrown around so much we couldn't actually speak, but somehow we all still managed to get a couple of hours sleep - which was done in strict rotation so someone was always keeping an eye on the driver, and our route. A nice idea, but completely impractical as we had absolutely no idea where we were going.
It was with much relief that we finally arrived in Siem Reap that evening, still in roughly one piece and with all our belongings pretty much intact. Ultimately our trip had only taken us about 12 hours. Peita's journey, whom we met later, and who had taken the bus option, took 30!