Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cambodia Trip 1.1

My first trip to Cambodia originally included riding along with my good Falang friend Scotty – actually, my best friend in Thailand. He and his wife Rot had planned to visit Rot’s family in Surin Province, in southern Isaan, and I would tag along. That plan fell through when Rot realized she had her dates wrong and I could not readjust my schedule.

The morning of my departure, after sai baht, I went over last minute things for Thip to remember: water the tree seedlings; how to operate the front door (swollen from the rains); making sure to close the upstairs south side windows at night (security); lights management; and doing things to lessen her tendency to paranoia: keep the radio on at night; keep cellphone on; meditate; go to the temple a lot; visit family often.

Thip prepared my coffee, as usual, and cut up some cold pineapple for the trip. I added a frozen plastic bottle of water. Then, she drove me out of the village on her motosai, to Highway 210 where I soon got a sawngthaew (Bus #1) to the Nong Bua bawkawsaw (bus station).

The Isaan comprises most of the Khorat Plateau. In order to get to Cambodia, I needed to cross the plateau and into the southern Khorat Basin. It would take me the better part of a day.

From the Nong Bua Lamphu bus terminal, I took a second class bus to Udon Thani, the next province over. Just before the outskirts terminal there, I grabbed a sawngthaw into the city and walked to the city bus terminal. Along the way, I encountered one of our villagers on the way to the dentist; Udon Thani dental and medical facilities and doctor knowledge being far better than those in Nong Bua.

It turns out that the bus to Surin goes via Khon Kaen and I could have much more easily taken a bus from Nong Bua to Khon Kaen without having to go to Udon Thani. Well, live and learn.

From Khon Kaen, I got a bus to Buriram; apparently there were none to Surin within a reasonable amount of time. I must say all my bus connections were fairly rapid and smooth. This would change on my second day, but at least Day One’s connections involved almost no waiting around.

The bus from Khon Kaen developed synchromesh problems in the transmission getting into first gear. This happened not far from Buriram, so we limped along into that city where riders going to the bus station switched buses. The assistant bus driver of the ailing bus conscientiously organized those of us going on to Surin and arranged our pick-up there, on the side of the city street, rather than having us all go into the bus station only to come back out again. Almost always, Khon Thai have been helpful to me in my bus travels.

As my fourth and last bus of the day approached Surin, in the Korat Basin, we could see heavy flooding from the rains. Apparently, some local levy had also burst, worsening the situation. It was national news, but the flooding didn’t stop us; just slowed us down a bit.

"When The Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin

The fourth bus arrived in Surin at twilight. Back on solid ground, I made my way to the Falang Connection (restaurant and Falang hangout) after being pointed to it by some cuties having a beer and a bite to eat after shutting their shop. My plan was to have a bite to eat, a beer, and “gather intel” (find out about transpo to the border).

I ended-up having a beer Chang and talking with Colin, a Westerner a bit older than me who had lived in Surin for 23 years. I asked him about a cheap but decent place to stay and he described to me how to get to the Amarin Hotel, a live-in hotel. That is, most of the people staying there were long-term, month-to-month renters as opposed to day-to-day, like me. I could see Colin wanted to talk more, but I eased myself out of the conversation and left. I was tired and had been on the road for nearly twelve hours.

The Amarin’s a bit of a dump, but it suited my purposes and the price was right (250 baht; about $7 U.S. Dollars). After a shower, I went next door to the local convenience store/outdoor eatery, had another beer Chang, and talked with the local guys at the table next to me. I never did find out about transportation to Chom Sa Ngam.

View NBL to Siem Reap, Cambodia in a larger map

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