For me cross the border into a new country is about as boring as jumping out of a helicopter onto a moving train. Its going from saying hello and being understood to pointing like a child asking for a glass of milk. Borders can be fun or very stressful, they can be agonizingly slow or too fast to process. Most of my experience has leaned towards a bewilderingly fast pace. Crossing into Cambodia from Thailand made for a story.
The day started out weird, I got up and out the door in 20 minutes but was stalled at the bus stop for an hour waiting for the number 3 bus to Chatuchak park. I got on it within the first 20 minutes but the bus lady told me several things too quickly, I was pretty sure she meant I needed to wait for the number 2 bus. She pointed back to the bus stop and I stepped out of the moving bus to wait for the next bus. It came but the driver was talking on his cell phone and didn’t stop for me or the other lady that waved at him.
After watching every number bus go by twice I got on the number 3 again, this time there was no bus lady or anyone but the driver. I guess this usually is a good thing since you don’t have to pay but for me it meant by the time I asked the driver where I should get off I was far from the first bus stop. He told me to get off and he swung his arm in the usual way that means it is a long way with many turns….
After a few seconds of walking an elderly lady handed me three bags of dried corn and told me to give it to the birds, when I didn’t she opened all of them and forced me to do it. I had no idea why that was important, I was just walking to find the bus station. But apparently it was the most expensive corn in Thailand, her and one other lady started yelling for money so I gave them some to get away. It probably was enough money to buy a ten pound bag of corn or more, but I’d probably pay more to stop old ladies from yelling at me…
At this point the only thing I knew about where I was walking was that It was in Bangkok. I got myself to a new part of the city and no closer to anywhere I wanted to be. I was going to take a tuk tuk but the hostel employee told me I could take the bus…. so there I was on my way to Cambodia walking through a park in Bangkok. I got through the park and flagged a motorbike taxi down. He happened to speak exactly zero English so he used the help of the guy standing next to me to translate. It took me saying Chatuchak at least ten times or them to search their memory banks and find it there. They both said “Chatuchak!” to my ears almost exactly how I said it…. The driver held up three fingers to tell me what it would cost, 30B sounded like a good price to me so I jumped on way before remembering that I’m terrified of dying in a brutal motorbike accident.
“I didn’t quite think this through” I whispered as my driver nearly smashed my kneecap on a car mirror as he sped between two cars. I’m afraid of many things but luckily I can sort of switch off some of my emotional response. It was a beautiful journey except for the insanely close calls every couple seconds. He got me to a giant market and than looked at me expectantly after I handed him 40B. I realized he meant 300B or about 9USD. It was probably three times a decent price for the journey. It took me five minutes to realize that I wasn’t even close to the bus station, I asked a security guard and he told me it was still 5k from where I was. I paid another (much nicer) motorbike driver 60B to get me the rest of the way. He explained to me that “la-korn” was not the right way to say goodbye, he said “Chok-dee” was the right way. Chok-dee means good luck, and I found it so ironic that I only learned how to say goodbye in Thai on my way out of Thailand.
By the time the bus reached the Cambodian border it was dark. My sarcastic inner voice made several comments about how much more fun borders are when everything is harder to see.
Immediately people came up saying they would help me find the check points, they play a scam where they help you but it costs more. Their help isn’t needed at all but they prey on the confusion of travelers. I was confused but I just kept walking and asking people that didn’t have any reason to lie to me. I did my one act of goodness by helping a couple Americans find the border with me.
By the time I had gotten through the border and was walking in Cambodia I had been asked possibly hundreds of times if I wanted a taxi to Battambang or Siam Reap. I did not but when I got to the Cambodian side it seemed like the people didn’t mind me saying no, they actually smiled at me as if I was a human being just like they are human beings. I wondered if it was just something I saw because I wanted to see it or if people were nicer.
I found a hotel that reminded me very much of some old palace in a middle eastern country then went out to get some food. I found a lady with a cart that was piled high with various meat-on-a-stick options. I picked one and gave her a bill that seemed like a decent amount of money, I couldn’t understand what she said at all. She handed me back 40% of the money I had given her so I figured it must not have been a bad guess, I still had no idea how much money I had given her. I knew it was less than a days budget but it could have been 20USD or 2USD. I went from a ratio of 1USD-35 Thai Baht to 1USD- 4,050 Cambodian Riel.
In the dark, with the steam of her cooking obscuring her face and the roaring of cars made it hard to think or understand her faint words. I gave her too much money twice and she gave me back the excess.
I have been given so many genuine smiles already. The border threw me through and after that I found those smiles, it all seemed like a small gauntlet for the kindness I found in their eyes.
I am so excited for the light to come back so I can walk these streets again.
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