The Long Dusty Ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia

It's our first night in Cambodia and J.P., our Norwegian tour leader, has reminded us again about the early start tomorrow to catch the spectacle of a sunrise over the Angkor Wat. I am very excited to see that! That's why I'm here and I wouldn't dare be late for a sunrise. Last night at our Bangkok hotel, all tour participants met for the first time with J.P. or John Peters. He will be leading this tour for the next 7 days.

As expected, we also had an early morning departure from Bangkok today. I was expecting a local bus ride all the way but J.P. herded us all in a private van instead. Our group of ten participants were Brits (Jessica, Priyesh, Amit, Joel & Bethan), Aussies (Jane, Tanya & Alison), a South African (Trish) and I'm the only Asian. Of course everyone found out that I live in New York but I still insist on being a Pinoy.

Thanks to Thailand's impressive road network, the long trip to the border town of Aranyaprathet was not a pain in the ass, literally. We stopped for a quick lunch on the border and I quickly became comfortable in the company of Jessica.

Now here's where my Philippine passport proved convenient in this part of the world. While the rest of my travelling companions needed visas to enter Cambodia, my green Pinoy passport was all I need to wave at the immigration officer to let me in. Jane, the ever frugal Aussie, commented that Australia ought to be a member of ASEAN when I told her why I never need to pay for visas while travelling in Southeast Asia.

Once inside Poi Pet, the Cambodian point of entry, we had to change from the airconditioned van to a Toyota pick-up truck. Luckily for me, I was seated next to the driver with Trish and Jane taking the back seats. The rest of the group had to take the space at the back, exposed as they were to the elements outside. In this part of the world, travelling on a pick-up truck is the way to go for both the two-legged and four-legged kind, squeezed at times within the confines of a space hardly the size of a bathtub.

J.P. had warned us the night before about the rough travel in Cambodia but nothing could really prepare us for the truth - the road to Siem Reap, if at all you can call it a road, is extremely rough. It dawned upon us all that we have left the relative comfort of Thai roads and we're now getting a slice of Third World reality. Dust flew all over and as our truck gingerly moved trying to avoid the craters - they were not potholes mind you! - we all felt yanked in every direction. It's sad to note that if this is what we have to endure, how much more for the locals who travel here frequently? I can't imagine how farmers deliver their goods to other towns or the sick that needs medical attention in remote villages.

Travelling through this road also afforded us a glimpse of friendly Cambodians - not at all anything like the infamous Khmer Rouge guerrillas back in the 70's. All the locals we saw, especially the children, gave us a wide grin or a wave of their hands as our truck passed by. I was touched by this gesture but felt they deserve something better from their government - a good road to begin with. But then again, this country is rife with corruption. There are talks that a well-connected politician actually don't want to improve the road connecting to the Thai border town for fear that it will affect the revenues of regular flights of a Cambodian airline to which this politician has significant shares.

After almost 10 hours on the road, we finally made it to Siem Reap in one piece. We were smiling despite the bruised buttocks and dusty faces. One thing we all needed badly: a shower! We checked-in at the Victory Guest House which was more than I expected - there's running water, airconditioning and even cable TV.

J.P.brought us all to a Khmer restaurant for dinner. I tried the recommended Taro in the Oven with Chicken. Great food for a start, I must say.

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