Making a Run for the Border

Hello Friends and Family,

It's time for us to catch up again. The last time we left off we were about to hop on a bus to a town called Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia. We had to spend one night here before we could catch a morning ferry to Koh Rong, a remote island. We were less than thrilled to stay in Sihanoukville because everything we read said it was crawling with creepy old men in search of young Cambodian women or young tourists in search of partying all night. We fell into neither of these categories. We decided to make the best of our short stay and grabbed a nice dinner and some beers on the beach.


After a few hours, we figured we better mosey back to our hotel room to get a good night's sleep since we had to be up at 5:30 am to catch the ferry. We left the restaurant and all of a sudden, the sky seemed to open up and let down an incredible amount of rain. Luckily, a local family let us hang out at their house for an hour while we tried to wait it out. There was no sign of the rain stopping anytime soon so we walked back to our hotel in the pouring rain for over an hour. Where's a tuk-tuk when you actually need one? We were completely drenched! Little did we know at the time that this rain was going to settle in for the next several days.


The next morning we caught an early ferry (and by ferry we mean an awful wooden boat that was worse than the Komodo Island boat) to Koh Rong. This remote island is a 2-hour ferry ride for the southern coast of Cambodia. We spent the entire ferry ride making sure our electronic devices didn't get wet from the crashing waves and steady rain. We were soaking wet...yet again, but happy that everything made it to shore in working condition.

Although Koh Rong was created primarily for tourism it was quite a stunning balance of white beaches and lush jungle.

We tramped through the wet sand to our new home, Paradise Bungalows. Paradise? Not so much, considering the island only had power supplied from a generator from 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm each night. There was also a thick dampness that lingered through the air and crept into our bungalow each day and night. However, it was still a nice place to call home for the next few days.




The rain was unyielding but on the plus side, Josh's hand was finally on the mend. He was overjoyed that the scar was not going to be as bad as we had thought.

The rain seemed to be put on pause for a couple of hours so we made a dash to the beach to dip our feet in the ocean water.


Josh had planned our island getaway for Leanne's birthday present. He pictured her basking in the sun with a great big smile on her face. Instead we read books and past the time laughing while he played a selection of the best rainy day songs with hits like Rainy Day Song by Neil Diamond and No Rain by Blind Melon. In lieu of a birthday cake, we had to make due with a not so tasty crepe thing and substituted a lighter for candles. Leanne enjoyed her first glass of wine in months and made a birthday wish while blowing out the lighter.


Some of the guys at a local bar were kind enough to give Leanne some sparklers for a little birthday cheer. What 32 year old doesn't like sparklers on her birthday? Despite the dreary conditions, Leanne had one happy, happy birthday.


Josh might have been even happier because he got to crack open that bottle of Makers Mark. It was basically his unbirthday.


We woke the next morning and much to our surprise, the rain clouds parted and had given way to a perfect, periwinkle blue sky and sunshine. Looks like that birthday wish came true! We threw on our bathing suits as fast as we could and headed out the door for some island exploring.


A season of French survivor was filmed on this island two years ago. We stumbled upon some of their homemade shelters.


We were the only one on the beach for miles! What a perfect birthday present!



Leanne was not sure if it was the Makers and Coke talking when Josh told her we would be moving to a treehouse bungalow the next day as a birthday surprise.


Check this place out! It was spectacular.


The view from our window.


Husband of the year award...quite possibly! Notice the drink in hand and smile plastered on his face.



Leanne and her hyperactive self decided she would swim over to the other side of the island for another stroll in paradise. Josh walked over since his hand was still on the mend. It was actually a lot longer of a swim than Leanne had anticipated but who could complain with these surroundings?


On the menu for dinner that night - pizza! We hadn't had a good pizza in a while and what better way to enjoy it than on our balcony over the ocean. It may be hard to believe but this was actually one of the best pizzas we've had on this trip. It's the little things that make you so content when traveling. With an overly sun-kissed face, Coke in hand and pizza to nibble on, Leanne couldn't wipe off that silly grin all night.


This was our roomie for the night. He was the best roomie anyone could ever ask for because he didn't make a sound and he ate all of the insects in our room. It this picture he was having a stare-down contest with a moth. Eventually, he gave up and went back to eating insects that were swarming around our light. Way to hold out moth!


Two days of sunshine had come and gone and we were welcomed with more showers the next morning. Our bodies had enough sun for those two days so we're sure our skin was ready for a break anyway. Luckily, we were heading out on the afternoon ferry and taking the sleeper bus overnight to Siem Reap.

We said one last farewell to the small village and their precious residents.




Our bags were packed and we were on the move again.



Bonus for the wooden ferry ride: one of the most stunning sunsets of our trip. Second bonus: Leanne definitely has her sea legs. No more barfing on boats for this chic.


We boarded our sleeper bus around 8:00 pm. This was our first experience with a sleeper bus. Throughout all of our other overnight bus travels we were only offered seats. This bus allowed us to stretch out our legs and lay back in a partially reclined motion. Talk about the lap of luxury!


As always, Josh slept like a baby guarding his possessions and hugging a pillow while Leanne spent most of the night awake tossing and turning.


We arrived in Siem Reap (home of Angkor Wat, one of the seven man-made wonders of the world) early in the morning. We spent the day relaxing and making a laundry run. Being from San Antonio, Josh is always on the prowl for a Mexican restaurant. Wouldn't you know it,  he had heard there was a decent Mexican restaurant here. Can you guess what we ate for lunch? His evaluation of the food, "It wasn't great but it was good enough for me to remember."


Leanne made her way to the night market in search of a korma (traditional Cambodian scarf). This should come in handy in Nepal.


The next day we jumped in a tuk-tuk for a day of temple hopping. We spent the day with our new friend, Ruth. She lives in London but is originally from Spain. Leanne actually met Ruth on the beach in Koh Rong. They hit it off and since she was heading to Siem Reap as well, we decided to share the cost of the tuk-tuk for the day. It started out pouring...imagine that, huh?


No rain was going to stop this loveable twosome. Did you know that 40% of Cambodia's population is under the age of 15? That's one astonishing stat.


There was so much rain and mud that Josh kept blowing out his flip-flop. Are you singing Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville song now? If not, we will help you. "I blew out my flip-flop. Step on a pop-top." You are welcome for getting that song stuck in your head now.



We were mesmerized by the beauty of all the temples. They were so different, so intricate, so ancient.



Ta Prohm - Tomb Raider was filmed at this temple. Josh said he can't remember the movie and Leanne has never seen it. Maybe we will rent it but probably not.


 Bayon Temple


Finally, Leanne's big nose came in handy.


And last on the agenda...Angkor Wat. As we previously mentioned, Angkor Wat is one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.  It is the largest Hindu complex in the world.


We got lost in the history of Angkor Wat, strolling through the hallways and corridors, then Ruth let us in on a little secret she had heard from a fellow traveler. Angkor Wat has three levels. The top level closes at 5:00 pm. She was told to wait until everyone had cleared out then approach the police officer at the gate to the top level. Let him know it was your last day and you really wanted to see the top of Angkor Wat. It wasn't our last day but a little white lie doesn't hurt every now and then. You could then bribe the police officer to let you through the locked gate to the top level. We waited, we asked and low and behold, he said it would be $5 each to let us up to the top level. Ruth bargained for $4 each. He accepted and over the locked gate we went. It worked! Unbelievable.

A guy even volunteered to take our pictures when we were at the top. That was the best $8 we have spent on our trip so far. For anyone planning to visit Angkor Wat, we highly suggest you try this trick. It was surreal being the only people at the top after hours in one of the most famous temples in the world. Thanks for the tip, Ruth! We truly enjoyed our time with you. From rain, to bribes, to dinners, to shopping, we will always cherish our Siem Reap experience with you. We hope to see you in London next spring.


That's a police officer helping Josh over the locked fence.


He even provided a chair for us to step on. What service!


It is suggested that tourists spend at least one day discovering the temples by bicycle. It's a 14 km round trip ride to Angkor Wat. Luckily for us, the day we decided to rent bikes it started pouring.  Although the conditions were less than desirable we made the best of it. We couldn't take many pictures but by the end of the day, soaked to the bone, we were giggling like children.




The following day we decided to rent a tuk-tuk again so we didn't have to contend with the weather and we could cover more ground. We only purchased a three day pass so we had to make the most of every day.


Elephants crossing through the gate of Angkor Thom.





Leanne sized doors.




Josh became nostalgic thinking of Indian Jones at this temple.



Yet another police officer showing us around for money.


Almost a perfect match.


Look at the way the trees have grown into the temple.




Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door. Now you have that song in your head!


One last stop at Angkor Wat. That day we caught a beautiful reflection in the pond. It rained every morning so we weren't able to partake in the sunrise over Angkor Wat activity but this still made for a great photo.


The next day we were embarking on an adventure. We were crossing the border by land into Laos. We had read that this could be a nightmare but we decided we would take the risk and save money by crossing by land rather than flying. We bought what was supposed to be a ticket on an express bus. Well, this company's version of an express bus meant stopping every 50 yards to pick up farmers, women, children, huge bags of rice, etc. There were only 6 tourists on the bus; 1 Japanese guy 1 Japanese girl, 1 Dutch girl, an Australian guy, and us. At noon we stopped at some random shop/restaurant/bus stop. The 6 tourists were told to get off the bus and wait for our VIP mini-van to pick us up. VIP, huh? That sounds nice, right? About an hour later, our VIP van rolled up. Ummm...it was a mini-van with VIP scribbled in marker on the sliding door. We were now regretting our decision to cross the border because we knew where this was going.


We traveled in this mini-bus for 7 hours reaching speeds that only rockets travel at. We thought to ourselves, "maybe this guy will get to the border before it closes." Wrong! Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we were told to get out of the mini-van and into another one that was waiting for us. A stern faced Cambodian man met us and said "Border is closed. You pay $50 today. I take you. Or sleep there and pay $45 tomorrow." He pointed to the side of the road. We responded with "We were told it was going to be $20." He grinned a rather menacing grin and he said "Not right. $50 today or wait tomorrow". Now here's the point where we both looked at each other with that "oh great" look and thought we can't sleep on the side of the road. The man said the Japanese guy and girl only had to pay $10 and the rest of us had to pay $50. We all decided it was our only option so we reluctantly climbed into the malicious man's van. He brought us to the border and "miraculously" our exit stamps for Cambodia after hours. We threw up our hands and said, "When you are a Westerner at the Cambodia/Laos border this must be what happens."



We walked over to the Laos border control with a Laotian man that was just as corrupt. After 13 hours of traveling, we finally received our visa for Laos. Talk about an adventure. At least were were safe and it only cost us 6 extra hours and $10 extra dollars. It could have been a lot worse. We had to walk across the border into Laos.  We made it! 



Our tickets were supposed to include our boat ride across the river to Dom Det, one of the 4,000 islands. Yeah right, like they were going to honor that. We were told that nothing would apply since we were in Laos now. We were on a small wooden boat making our way across the Mekong River $6 later.

All in all, it was an experience that we will never forget. Needless to say we will not be crossing by land for a while. We need some time to recuperate from this one.


Our next update will include our travels throughout Laos. The landscape is breathtaking here!

As always, thanks for following us!

Cheers,
Leanne and Josh (border crossing suckers)














3 comments:

  1. Missss youuuuu guys!
    Cool post, bringing me such good memories... :)

    Back in the west, London is cold and dark now...
    Keep enjoying your travels...

    big hugs
    Rut(h)

    ReplyDelete