Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Part 2: Cambodia (Poi Pet)

  I've been a bad blogger. Shame on me. It's tough to be diligent when I haven't been in a classroom for almost two months. My daily routine consists of waking up (eventually) followed by breakfast (sometime) and then wasting hours in the common room thinking about what to do with my day. I have such a hard life, right? It's definitely a relaxing lifestyle, but when every day is the same it's impossible to be satisfied with nothing to do. Living from paycheck to paycheck is exhausting and stressful. Now I know how to stretch a baht to a stingy degree. I can't tutor to make extra spending money, so I try to be frugal when possible. Buying a 2,500B Armin/Avicii ticket is a necessary exception. Over these two months I've learned two essential lessons while living the Thai lifestyle: patience and tolerance. The patience to wait for work and the tolerance to endure the extra time. I'm not the only one who is frustrated by our situation here. Without a sense of purpose it's hard to be motivated to do anything productive. The first day of school is finally within sight and many of us are anxious to have a busy schedule again. However, I'm expecting the first week back to be extremely difficult adapting to work mode. I've enjoyed my extended vacation, yet I feel the need for some daily work routine. Fortunately I've had the opportunity to work on textbook questions to make some extra money. 

  Now, for the recap of Cambodia. We set out from a Bangkok bus station for a six hour ride to the eastern border of Thailand and Cambodia. Upon reaching the border bus stop my friends and I were immediately harassed by tuk tuk drivers who pester you for a drive to the immigration office. Foreign travelers beware: the edges of both countries are infested with scammers and the sketchiest of people. Anyone who goes out of their way to 'help' you in a friendly manner is most likely taking advantage of you. At first I refused the offer from the tuk tuk driver, fully aware of the prevalence of these scams. I'll blame the girls for caving in to the driver's persistence. It wasn't more than five minutes before we figured out that we were getting ripped off. The strategy is simple. The driver ropes you into a short ride to the immigration office to get your VISA, but the truth is that the place is not even an official building at all. It's run by a group of scammers posing as immigration officers, distributing imitation documents and charging 2-3 times the normal amount for the VISA. We had a bad feeling about the whole ordeal, so two of the girls walked to the border checkpoint to inquire about the price of the documents. They reported back that we fell for the trap, so we immediately bailed and walked to the border checkpoint. That was a close one. 
  Getting into Cambodia was a straight-forward process from the official checkpoint. Show your passport, pay the entrance fee, scan your fingerprints and before you know it you're wandering through the wild west cesspool of scams that is Poi Pet. This place is notorious for hassling foreigners to an infuriating degree. All at once, everyone wants to take you somewhere, show you something or sell you anything that you could possibly want. It's like flies buzzing around your head that you can't swat away. A young Cambodian man wanted to take us to a bus station for a ride to Siem Reap (our destination for temples galore). Since we narrowly avoided the VISA scam, we decided to bail on him and do things our way. For some reason there were no taxis in sight. The only ones in existence seemed to be green Toyota Carolas with fake taxi stickers slapped on the driver and passenger doors. We were relieved to get our first cab until he pulled into a garage five minutes later to remove the broken air-conditioning unit. I didn't want to stick around while he made repairs, nor drive three hours without A/C. Moments later we bailed on him too and left him in the garage. He was reluctant to open the trunk for us to remove our bags. As we walked the dusty dirt road away from the border in search of a real cab, doubt eclipsed any hope of trusting anyone. I soon noticed that the same cab was slowly hovering behind us like a hungry street dog. I didn't care if he had actually fixed the cab. I just wanted our plans to work out. The ominous grey sky was turning dark and I could taste the dry dirt road as cars flew by. We were hungry, angry and stressed. Finally, we found refuge at a hotel that called a reliable cab for us. It was a miserable introduction to Cambodia, but we put that behind us as soon as we piled into the cab. 
  It was a cramped three hour taxi ride to Siem Reap. I was just happy we made it out of Poi Pet before dark. We arrived at Siem Reap sometime around 11pm. It's a small market-based city that proved great for shopping and dining. The only downside is being constantly bothered by the locals. "Hello handsome man! You hungry? You want tuk-tuk? You want massage?" (repeat). I almost bought a shirt with these three phrases: "No tuk-tuk, No massage, No thank you". I was so happy when we reached our safe and quiet hotel room. It was a rough day of traveling. I promise that the rest of Cambodia was more enjoyable! 

Song of the Day: 
  Yes, it's Wednesday, which usually means Same Same but Different. Due to a lack of a proper remix, I'm just going to postpone that until next time. The song for this post comes from the band Phantogram. By the way, a phantogram is an optical illusion much like a 2-D image that becomes three-dimensional with special glasses. The ghostly nature of the group's name is reflected in Sarah Barthel's echoing voice that effortlessly floats over shimmering guitar and hip-hop inspired beats. Moreover, one of their previous record deals involved the Ghostly International label. Their self proclaimed "street beat psych-pop" is certainly making waves in the music world. Click the song title for download. 

Phantogram - 'Don't Move'

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