Entering the Third World

It was quite a shock to go back to waking up at 5:30am, which is what we had to do to catch our bus to the town of Trat. We rode 12 harrowing kilometers through the morning traffic and smog of Bangkok, found the Eastern Bus Terminal, and then spent a bit of time trying to buy tickets on an airconditioned bus. Here I am waiting for the bus:

The bus ride to Trat was uneventful. The only notable thing was the amazing hugeness of the Bangkok suburbs. The city sprawled and spread out for hours and hours, and it was not a beautiful thing. We were very glad to be on the bus, it looked like a hideous ride. In Trat we found a delightfully clean bungalow (what a shock after the wretched Vimol guesthouse) and ate our very last Thai dinner. It was delicious!

Another shocking alarm buzzer at 5:30am came the next morning. We packed up and headed out for our first day of cycling in three weeks. Our goal was 101km, across the Thai border, and into the first Cambodian town. The day was overcast and cool and the scenery quite rural which made for very nice cycling. We stopped for breakfast at only 20km and then felt very tired as soon as we got back on the bikes. That is, I felt very tired and my butt was hurting already. It is amazing how quickly you loose the built up tolerance for a bicycle seat! Jamie on the other hand was feeling queasy and sick. He doesn’t complain much so he just cycled along in silence while I talked about how tired I was.

The hills got steeper as we neared the Cambodian border. After awhile Jamie said I had officially reached a pace on my bicycle which he deemed “trudging”. Here I am in the middle of my trudging phase. The road looks very flat, but trust me, it wasn’t always like that!

We crossed the Thai exit point and Cambodian entry point with no trouble at all. We were glad we already had our visas – all the people buying visas at the border were griping about how they’d been ripped off. There were lots of Cambodian guys hanging around the entry station trying to figure out a way to help people and then demand a tip. We didn’t want them messing with our bikes so we handled all our gear ourselves. Then they tried to grab our customs forms, and offered to fill them out for us. We told them we were OK writing for ourselves. Then they hovered around and watched us fill out the forms while saying things like “passport number there!” pointing to the space clearly marked Passport Number. As we were leaving they asked for a tip, but we said no. They didn’t put up much of a fuss.

Now that we were officially in Cambodia we had to ride 10km more to reach our goal city – Koh Kong. We got to switch back to the right side of the road which felt very weird, even though that’s what we’ve been used to our whole lives. It strange to realize that 99% of my bicycling experience has been on the left side of the road! The road itself was in decent condition, but it suddenly felt totally different from Thailand. There were hardly any cars on the road at all, only a few mopeds. The ground was covered in bright red dirt and mud, and the houses and people looked much more poor.

We reached Koh Kong and followed some guy on a moped to his guesthouse. It was very nice with a good price, so we stayed there. The owner spoke English and spent all his spare time chatting with us and trying to convince us let him take us to change money. He tried and tried to convince us this was the best possible thing to do, but the fact that he was so incredibly overeager really put us off. He even knocked on our door at night with a can of insecticide to kill mosquitos, but then found a chance to bring up money changing again! He also wanted to sell us a boat ticket to Sihanoukville, which we ended up buying from him because he told us the road we’d wanted to take through the mountains was torn up with only 20% of construction completed. We later met two cyclists who were going to take the road, so we are pretty sure our little guesthouse owner lied to us in order to sell the boat ticket. It really feels like we’re going to have to be on guard here against getting ripped off. We’ve already heard stories about American guys hiring prostitutes but then being thrown into jail until they paid $500 bail to get out. So, looks like we won’t be hiring any prostitutes here in Cambodia – shoot!

For dinner we wandered around the muddy streets of Koh Kong looking for something tasty and Cambodian. We ended up settling on noodle soup at a street vendor. We just said we wanted soup and then sat down to see what we’d get. We watched with horror as the cook took actual chunks of a pig (skin, bristles, foot, etc – all still intact and in perfect form!) from a non-refrigerated case, chopped it into pieces, and plopped them on top of the noodle soup. A few little tubes of pig intestine were also added for an extra treat. Jamie really wanted to try some of the meat but we’ve both heard horrible stories about people getting sick from Cambodian meat so we didn’t touch it.

Tomorrow we ride the boat to Cambodia’s one resort town – Sihanoukville.

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