Into Cambodia

Walking on Cambodian soil for the first time, I met a young, Cambodian guy with a name tag.

I’d just passed dozens of touts who tried to lure me into picking up random junk, buying a visa I didn’t need, or paying them to help me get a visa, again which I didn’t need (I got my visa online). So yeah, I felt pretty cynical at this point, certainly not sure of this Cambodian’s “friendship.”

But it turned out, the guy with the name tag was one of the good guys. Evidently, their government has a project going on that pays English speaking Cambodians like him to help clueless tourists like me cross the border without getting ripped off. Of course, it’s tough to tell that because everyone seems to want to rip you off, but yeah, it’s a cool idea.

This guy ended up telling me he’s studying law in Siem Reap. His name’s Thol. We chatted for a while since he escorted me all the way through immigration, stayed with me on the shuttle bus to the bus station, and then waited with me at the bus station. He gave me his personal contact info too, so I could look him up for help in Siem Reap, since that’s where he’s from.

For like an hour, he and I waited in the bus station. The bus wouldn’t leave until 3:00pm, or until we had 12 people. We arrived around 11:30am, and we had just two of us, me and a French guy. The other option was the taxi.

The taxi changed $48. We could split that four ways if four of us showed up, or we could spit it any other way by just paying more for each of us.

So we waited. I’d seen the French guy at the passport checkpoint. We started talking. He’s been traveling southeast Asia for months. He actually already spent a month in Siem Reap, in the same place I’m staying now. He said Cambodia will be my favorite.

Finally, a  couple showed up. They were willing to split with the two of us, taking the cost per person down to $12, a ridiculous price considering most of us had traveled a whole day for the same amount of money but a more than reasonable price considering it was a taxi driving like two and half or three hours from one city to the next.

So I told Thol I’d look him up on Facebook, the rest of us split the cab, and we took off.

Along the way, we chatted about travels. The couple had just finished a trip through India. Overall, they’d been away from Chile, their home, for over a year and half. They’d worked in Australia and New Zealand between hops to southeast Asia.

“The people you meet,” they said. “That’s what makes the countries.”

“That, and the food,” the other guy said.

If you get both of those right, it’s hard not to love the country. So far, so good in Cambodia. And no wonder I’ve loved southeast Asia.

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