Day 17 - Another Land of Smiles - Summer Thaime - CycleBlaze

August 8, 2018

Day 17 - Another Land of Smiles

Prasat to Samraong (Cambodia)

Today's ride was essentially split by two 40km halves on each side of the border whereas the casino in Osmach acted as the major diversion midpoint.  Closer to the border I started getting tons of waves from people of distinctly Khmer appearance and this would be a taste of things to come.

Looking amazing
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Fuel to start the ride
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I saw a 7/11 and stocked up on an insane amount of food to try and circumvent the problem of my last tour through Cambodia in the winter break of 2016 when I had a hard time finding food and felt like starving to death back.  

At the border and just before stamping out, a European-Thai couple approached and said "Are you going to Cambodia?" to which I said yes. The wife asked "With the bicycle?" and I said yes. She asked "Is this your first time?" and I said no but it was immediately clear it was their first time.   She asked "Do we need a visa?" I said "I'm not sure.  As a Canadian, I know I need one".  After asking the husband where he was from he said England but I saw he had a Thai passport along with his wife.  Even so, Thai passports also need visa and I told them as such.  But she said "We only want to get a stamp and come back to Thailand", which didn't make a lot of sense if they had Thai passports.  Maybe he wanted to use his British passport?  To this day I'm still not sure.  I just said "If you get a stamp you must also need visa in Cambodia, they won't stamp without a visa" which is true but they didn't believe me. A local nearby overheard this whole thing and seemed to agree with me so I let them talk it out while I got stamped out of Thailand.

Once in no man's land there was the casino and so I went in before dealing with any Cambodian border formalities. On a purely technical sense, no man's land doesn't exist. There is a definite border line separating two countries and the casino is on Cambodian soil. However on a functional level, no man's land is the administrative gap between the exit formalities of one country and the entry formalities of another. The way it works here is nobody checks if you officially entered the country when you're in the casino and so I said fuck it I'm gambling first. But it does make me wonder if the border closes before the casino you could actually be stuck in "no man's land" overnight.

Casino stop
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Descending off the Isaan plateau into the flatlands on the Cambodian side
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Unfortunately the casino was a waste of time. I won back about 500 baht to offset the cost of my visa, so the "discount" put me at 1000 baht.  I owe it to a 90-year old Thai lady who explained how the payout system works around here.  She looked very relaxed and professional with the slots and taught me how to bet properly. 

Next stop was visa formalities and it was confusing but I remembered that you never trust anyone who pretends to be an official and approaches you. The real Cambodian officials are all inside the office. First step is apply for the visa, and they let me sit inside to fill out the form and take photo. They wanted 1500 baht for everything which I know is too much and I tried to negotiate but just didn't put much effort in when I realized I had won at the casino earlier. 

After you apply for the visa you have to fill out another form for the entry stamp and pass it to a guy in the office who then passes to his colleague and makes a bunch of stamps. Very important: do not forget this step! Some tout will obviously do both these steps on your behalf for $5 but if you insist on doing it yourself to save money then you better do both steps. Nobody checks when you leave if you have a stamp or not (for example you just go to the casino) but you could be in trouble later at the airport or exit border when you want to leave Cambodia and they ask "Where is the stamp?" that you failed to get at the entry land border.

The immigration guys were friendly and just asked my general plans and there was no corruption except for being ripped off with the visa, but that was my own fault for being a poor negotiator. Next time I'll bargain first for the visa and THEN hit the casinos where I'd probably lose whatever I saved in the bargaining.

Speaking of the casino it was rammed packed with Thai people and Cambodian locals. I didn't like the vibe there, everyone was staring at me, it reeked of cigarette smoke, and I passed by several brothels on the way to some VIP room to try and change money in a futile attempt since at the very end they said they didn't have dollars. Walking out in a foul mood and reclaiming my bags, the guy who originally showed me where to change money asked "Did you change money?" and I said I gave up because it was too much trouble. He then explained "It doesn't matter, you can use Thai baht all over Cambodia." He's basically right, but dollars give you better deals on guesthouses. Still for a short trip it shouldn't really matter. 

After all that faffing about I set off into Cambodia proper. Some guy tried to offer me a ride to Siem Reap which seemed rather pointless. But then I'm reminded when I did want a vehicle in Laos nobody would take me. As always when you want a ride you won't get one and when you don't want a ride they insist you take one. Law of the universe.

The first 5km after the border were all downhill as I basically descended off the Isaan plateau thus finally putting the last week behind me. I'm sure that in prehistoric times this whole area was all under water and the Isaan plateau was an oceanic shelf.

Later it was pancake flat and it continued for 40km to Samraong where I fouhd a guesthouse and called it quits. During the ride I had an insane amount of greetings and waves from the locals on the side of the road, far more than Laos. People were also waving from bikes and motorbikes, and lots of smiles and eyes from girls. One even blew me a smooch from the back of a truck. I could tell right away I was gonna love this country, and it sucks this particular trip is so short.

Today's ride: 80 km (50 miles)
Total: 1,301 km (808 miles)

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