My last day cycling in Thailand looked to be a tough one involving a mountain climb to the Cambodian border.
In reality, it really wasn’t too bad. I put the bike in a low gear and got on with it, grimacing for effect as the passers by in cars grinned. The main road heading north from Chantaburi was fairly dull, dual carriageways or becoming so (apart from the hill climbs!) but it was much more pleasant after the turnoff at Pong Nam Rong. A couple of delicious vegetarian dishes for lunch at this roadside cafe just before the turnoff.
Just before the border there was a large market, mostly selling bric-a-brac but some fruit-a-veg too. Towards the back of the large concreted space was a community, and smaller food stalls. I had a lovely interaction buying a coconut. Dripping with sweat I point to a large coconut and as I’m sucking down the juice a handful of inquisitive kids gather. I pull out my novelty notepad with an Australian $50 note printed on one side, and my Australian animal sticker book for their choice to be stuck on the reverse. I write the name of the animal, and print and sign ‘Simon’. A fun activity.
The border crossing into Cambodia seems to be a lottery. I was expecting to pay US$20 for a tourist visa but was told the cost was $35. There were no signs anywhere showing a price. I queried for a while, presenting my Kindle LP showing the $20 figure as ‘evidence’. At this stage the officer tells me that the price went up to $35 “some time ago”. Right. With no internet connection to confirm I accept and pay, but with a slightly uneasy feeling about it. I find a hotel just inside the border who very kindly me use their wifi. A few conflicting reports but yes, it seems the price had just increased. On reflection I think I should have paid $30. I think what he did was charge me the business visa price, stick a tourist visa stamp in my passport, and pocket the extra $5. I was tempted to return to explain my findings but left it. As I was packing up to cycle on I met my first fellow tourers. A lovely French couple, Marie and Damien. They said they paid $45 each coming from Laos. Lottery indeed.
They are also blogging on WordPress (I like their site design!) and while it is in French, and I can’t work out how to use Google translate for sites on my phone, I’ll check it out further when I’m at a desktop.
4 initial reflections across the border
1) They drive on the right hand side of the road
2) The road shoulder is a different condition to the road, gravelly (grrr)
3) Images of the king are replaced by signs for the Cambodian People’s Party
4) People are inquisitive. I didn’t get much interest in Thailand (foreigner fatigue?) but it’s hard to cycle for a kilometre in Cambodia without someone calling out “hello”. I’ve even had a couple of motorbikes slow down and ride at my speed so they can ask questions.
Wearily, I make my way to the Kim Young Heng Guest House where a totally acceptable fan room sets me back $6. A beautiful fish and rice dinner, and 4 stubbies of beer at the attached restaurant for another $8.