December 27, 2012
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Today was our last day in Thailand. We decided to cross into Cambodia at the relatively remote crossing at Prum, in the hopes of light traffic and a hassle free crossing. The planned route would be our longest ride yet, at 55 miles from Chanthaburi, Thailand to Pailin, Cambodia, (pronounced pie-lin we later found out). We tried to leave early but as usual, had a little trouble finding a restaurant that was open. There are always lots of street vendors open, but they mostly offer meat kebabs.
The road was pretty flat for a bit, but we hit a long gradual hill that slowed us down for a while. We didn’t take a lot of stops until the border. We did see other bicycle tourists for the first time on our trip. Unfortunately, we were going up a huge hill and they were going in the other direction. Chandler shouted with them across traffic enough to find out they were Europeans who had ridden from Hong Kong.
After a couple more hours of rolling hills we made it to the border. Things were pretty straight forward there. We found the departure office on the Thailand side and got our exit stamps. Then we meandered off into no-mans land where we crossed from the left side to the right side of the road. Luckily there wasn’t any traffic, it seemed like it could be chaotic if there was. After filling out our forms for Cambodian visas we paid $25 in US dollars for one visa and 1000 baht ($33 USD) for the other, because they rejected the $20 bill Chan had in his wallet for the past month because it had a 1/8 inch tear along the margin. Another form, another window and a stamp in the passport and we had visas to be in Cambodia for a month!
We had covered 45 miles and it was almost 2pm = unbearable searing heat, so it was finally time for a break. The town on the border had a number of hotel casinos, so we were able to find somewhere to eat quickly. Chandler was able to get Lok Luk, a meal with the same name as his favorite meal from the “Phnom Penh” restaurant in Vancouver that his friend Sam and his fiancée Kat introduced him to. Unfortunately the border town casino restaurant, despite being slightly more “authentic” didn’t get such great reviews.
After our break we were excited to get back on the road to see what Cambodia is like. Some changes were obvious right away while others were subtle. Clearly there was the driving on the right side of the road thing. This actually took a while to get used to again, after a month on the left side, but it was nice to be able to rely on reflex instincts again around traffic. The landscape is similar but somehow more defined. Maybe it is because there is a lot more clearcut for farming corn and beans, maybe because the mountains are becoming more spread out and rolling.
The most striking thing is the contrast in the living conditions of the people along the road. We had been in some fairly rural places in Thailand, where people clearly lived with very little, but this is another level. Everything seems dustier, more ramshackle and worn out. Despite this, the people are friendlier, if that is possible. It seems that if there is a child within a mile of the road, they will see us and will yell “hello!”. At one point we heard repeated “hello”s coming from above us and finally we figured out a kid was up in a tree waving to us.
We read horror stories about the dust and potholes on the dirt road along this route, but we were surprised to find asphalt in very good condition, with quite a large shoulder in some spots. It must have been paved in the past couple of years. I think the worst thing we encountered was some roadside burning of the vegetation.
When we finally got to Pailin, we saw a sign for the Bamboo Guesthouse which was a quiet spot with friendly staff and a nice restaurant outside of town. We rode a total of 56 miles, our longest day so far.