I had a chance to spend a few days with my oldest son Das, in Cambodia, so I made plans to go.
Prepping for my trip to Cambodia -- sometimes called “Kampucha,” no longer “Kampuchea” (the Thais call it “Kamin” [kah-mihn]) -- was more involved and required more attention to detail than traveling to Lao. This was due to the lesser frequency. This would only be my second time in five years in the land of the Khmer.
This trip also required a lot more research than normal, not only because I’d been to Cambodia only once before, but because things change over time and my memory gets fuzzy about what and how I did things the time before. Refreshing the memory banks and improving on the first trip was essential.
Then there are the Khmer temples, if you are visiting Cambodia’s biggest tourist draw. Documentation on them is extensive and there’s always more to learn. It’s always best to read up before you go and take your references with you (weight permitting). Chances are, you’re not going to have time to do it all on the run.
So, I read my Cambodian and Thailand guidebooks, what I had done before and about the temples. I did some Internet searches and posted some questions of my own at Falang forums, receiving some helpful replies. I checked my maps numerous times. Lastly, I got in touch with my friend and Siem Reap guide Bunleng to confirm that we were on and gave him an idea of what was planned.
As I got underway on the first day of the trip, I reminded myself that timing would be important. I would need to be less “laid back” than I normally am when traveling, in order to make my bus connections and get to resting stops at times of my choosing. I don’t like arriving in a city in the evening, for instance, and then having to navigate my way through unfamiliar terrain in the dark.
My wife drove me to the Nong Bua Lamphu bus station for that morning’s first bus to Khon Kaen. Arriving there 2.5 hours later, I was just in time for the Surin bus just pulling out of bay. The Khon Kaen to Surin bus took six hours -- less than I had remembered. So, I found myself in Surin at 2:30pm when I had expected to arrive in late afternoon.
Availing myself of the extra time and doing some quick time calculations, I scrubbed plans to stay overnight in Surin and crowded into a van to the Thai border at Chong Chom. Across the border, in O Smach, Cambodia, there is a casino popular with Thais, but accommodations expensive. So, I pushed on, letting the border touts talk me into private transpo to Siem Reap. It’s pricey, but saved me over a half a day getting to Siem Reap. I ended-up only paying about $25 USD more than I would have, considering I didn’t have to pay for lodging in Surin or at the casino that night.
Riding from O Smach to Siem Reap was a little hairy. The driver -- whom I mentally dubbed “The Horn” -- knew the road well and acted as if he owned it, constantly beeping the car’s horn. It was actually a good safety precaution as there were scores of kids on bicycles, motorbikes, mechanical buffaloes, trucks and even an occasional tractor on all parts of the road all along the length of it. We traveled late afternoon on into the early evening when light for travel is at its worst. Adding a little to the danger was Horn’s windshield which hadn’t been cleaned in days.
We made it to Siem Reap in one piece, without causing accident. I had a little trouble with my ATM card, but found enough cash to pay Horn off. I was at Ivy Guesthouse, with a room, sipping Angkor draft at the bar by 9 pm.