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Andy’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 21 Jan 2007

Location: Laos to Cambodia, Laos


Ruth and I were once again part of a group.

We all rose early and set off in the minibus to another town and another country. Cambodia.

After some thrilling card games (travellers television) we reached the border, an unofficial shack in the middle of the forest that is often closed and notoriously corrupt. Little surprise really - Cambodia has attained a heady 151st out of 163 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

All of us were relieved of a few dollars. "Unjust" i wanted to cry, but it was useless to complain. Pay up or don't enter, it's that simple.

Despite the lack of crowds (this was no Poipet) i had almost given up on making my flight home in March at the rate our visa applications were processed. Our passports were then thoroughly stamped, verified, checked, stamped again (and again), recorded and checked by guards who were probably just trying to alleviate boredom.

They love a stamp in south east asia. Give a man a pot of ink and a carved potato and i have no doubt he will find himself a uniform, sit down near a tourist route and amuse himself by acting like an arrogant tin-pot dictator all day.

After close to an hour we were ushered onto another bus. Our driver's arithmetic was slighlty off. Five seats for seven people. Moaning about this may seem peverse in a country that has witnessed mass genocide. I would have had no problem except we paid the princely sum of twenty dollars for this journey. Each. That's 140 dollars in the owner's pockets. He was making serious money out of us and we were fed up with these types of scams. So we kicked up a fuss. After a five-man minibus driver conference, during which much energy was spent trying to outdo each other in how long a head could be scratched or a chin rubbed, they pointed to the bus next to the one we were originally placed in.

So we took the bus along a potholed road until we reached a wide river where a small wooden boat was waiting. A quick push off with a bamboo stick and we were away. In the distance a new bridge was missing the final link. When spanned the boat will be rendered pointless. Cambodia is changing rapidly, its pace of life and aspects of the country that might be inefficient but charming are disappearing with development and modernisation. Lamentable? Perhaps, but should we deny efficieny and convenience to those in the developing world so that travellers like me can take a holiday from the global north to see how we expect 'the natives' to live? Clearly not.

Across the river we ate lunch at a designated restaurant and then boarded our final bus driven by Schumacher himself. The bus nearly broke the sound barrier upon entering Phnom Penh but I had finally made it back to Cambodia.