We were in the hotel lobby this morning at 6:30am, keen to get out of Bangkok before the King’s Birthday Celebrations started that day and caused mega amounts of traffic. It takes roughly 4 hours to drive from Bangkok to the Cambodian border at Paoy Paet. This is the largest Thai – Cambodia border crossing and is used by thousands every single day. We stopped off on the way to get our Visa’s rather than do it at the border as this would ultimately be quicker.
There were THOUSANDS of people everywhere when we reached the border. Cambodians, Thai and tourists alike, all over the place lining up, walking through and patiently waiting their turn. Our tour organised what was essentially a fast pass so we didn’t have to wait that long to get out of Thailand.
Here’s our first group photo as we exited Thailand and stood in no mans land between the two countries. The start of our journey together. I realised as we were walking the border that this was my first ever land border crossing. The Canadians and Northern Irish had done it heaps before because they all live so close to borders of other countries but the Ausies and me were border crossing virgins. I’d have to admit I was slightly nervous the whole time as it was still early days in Asia and I had been told stories by many people about bag snatchers. I kept my backpack very close to me that day.
As we were waiting in line to get into Cambodia, a process which usually takes minutes but ended up taking about an hour that day because of new equipment, we all talked to each other and got to know each other better. Looking back I am very thankful for that very hot and sweaty hour long wait as it meant we all bonded as a group. We talked about where we were from, our accents, our countries, the different words we use for things (cue the jandal/ thong/ flip flop conversation… “A THONG IS A G STRING, LUKE!”) and our interests and aspirations in life. We worked out that we are all here for the same reason. We just wanted to get out and explore the world. An ordinary life at home was not for us and we wanted more. I found my people.
After finally getting into Cambodia (Yay! High fives all around!) we hopped on a new bus with all our backpacks in it already (we had a very helpful local man take our gear through the border) and headed to Siem Reap. Ratha told us about the border and how thousands of Khmer (The Cambodian people) drive to the border every single day, cross it, and work in Thailand. This is because the wage is higher in Thailand and they can earn more money for their families. People drive over 2 hours to the border every single day for a couple of extra dollars. Hearing this made me suddenly realise… we aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto.
Ratha gave us a brief run down of the history of his home, Cambodia and told us he himself was actually from Siem Reap. It was super interesting hearing the history from a local as he threw in personal accounts and stories about his family along the way. Cambodia’s history is a rather sad one in recent years and I won’t go too much into it here. Essentially, about 40 years ago Cambodia lost 25% of it’s population in a genocide, leaving the country in ruins with a significantly less educated and young population. Read more about it here.
Driving to Siem Reap was already so different from the drive to the border in Thailand. It was obvious this country was poorer yet we did notice it was slightly cleaner. It also just… felt… like a completely different country. There was lots of farmland as far as the eye can see as most Cambodians are farmers and I could already tell that these people were different. Cambodians are such a lovely people and I was going to witness this in days to come. We arrived in the city of Siem Reap and were greeted with hot tea and a lovely hotel to stay in. I think I’ll like it here.