Day 7 - The killing fields

I lost Loris on the other side of the bed at he Dasada Resort last night and only found her by using Find My Phone, so texted her good night. I have suggested to our leaders that if the hotels provide such large beds again, then they should provide the GPS co-ordinates.

We were up with the birds at 0600 and just made the 0800 departure after a walk around the gardens, a swim around a pool I got lost in, breakfast, packing and a check of the car essentials: oil, water, air etc.

The 130k drive to the Cambodian border was pretty uneventful. Thailand is not only very flat (we hit a high spot of 37m at one stage, but generally 5-10m above sea level), but very well organised and disciplined, at least on the road.

The country varied from rice fields, sugar cane, eucalyptus plantations, shop houses selling a myriad outdoor furniture (must have been the specialty of the province). And a few factories: Alpine car radios, a paper mill and a large sugar plant.

The vehicles are all fairly modern and dominated by the large SUV utes and 4WD’s that Toyota, Ford, Mazda, Isuzu andMitsubishi manufacture locally. Of course motor bikes are also abundant.

The divided highway to the border led us into a false sense of security for what was ahead.

The first inkling that we were near to the border (other than the GPS telling us), was the 5k queue of trucks, at standstill waiting for their turn to cross. I can only suspect that they were lined up for days waiting. We on the other hand drove to the head of the queue and were ushered through - not sure how, but it happened, and no one seemed to get upset. First on the Thai side: presentation of passports and departure cards, presentation of car documents and a cursory check that the number plates corresponded to the docs and we were off to the Cambodian side of the border and in the process doing a remarkable swap to the other side of the road (left hand to right hand) while interweaving with the oncoming traffic, who were also swapping from right to left. Of course there were a million motorbikes weaving in and out of the cars, people and a throng of hand drawn carts piled high with pots pans and who knows what.

On the Cambodian side it was a quick check of the cars (we think) handing our Passports to our Agent and we were off, down a substantially lesser 2 lane road.

Interestingly there were no trucks queued up on the Cambodian side. I think this was more a reflection of the flow of trade rather than the efficiency of the Cambodian Customs.

There was also human traffic being sent home piled into police paddy wagons (about 20 squashed into a normal AUS sized paddy wagon). And the hand drawn carts were all being harnessed up to motor bikes once on the other side.

We were off on our 170k drive to Siem Reap as the temp climbed close to 40c and the humidity into the 90s. It’s the dry season supposedly, but the grass is green and plenty of water by the roadside.

The road rules seem to be pretty vague here. The 2 lane road regularly morphs into 5 lanes: 2 for bikes on the curb, 2 for cars and an imaginary one in the middle. The cars in the imaginary centre hurtle towards each other, only to pull in or over and let one pass at the last minute. We seemed to spend a considerable amount of time in the motor cycle lanes on the edge rather than playing dodgem in the middle. Nobody seemed at all phased by this behaviour.

The other thing that took our interest was the variety of vehicles that drive along the edge of the road in the non existent bike lane. There were push bikes (locals and a mad German peddling to China), motor bikes piled high with people (4 was the record) or with cargo or a mixture of people, dogs and cargo. The cargo was from metres high to meters wide (an interesting balancing challenge as the trucks streamed past). Then there were the bikes towing the trailers and wooden carts (some of which were loaded with up to 10 people). And finally these long nosed contraptions with a motor balanced over the single, belt driven front wheel, and a driver sitting about 3m back on the trailer steering from side, something like a boat tiller in reverse.

I got to examine all this at close quarters as I now drive on the curb side, while the Navigator contemplates the oncoming traffic hurtling towards her.  By the time we reached Siem Reap the team was starting to master the challenges and when caught behind a slow moving bus or overloaded truck, offered the passenger to the gods and venturing around generally before the oncoming traffic got too close (I’m talking a couple of meters here).

Thailand was our first country and the last we will drive on the left hand side of the road before we reach England. The rest of the trip will be driving on the right. One of the redeeming features of travelling in a convoy of 8 MGs is that the locals are fascinated and if we want to turn across the oncoming traffic, they will generally stop and give way to us while we all venture across.

Obviously the driver is invariably focused on what is happening on the road ahead and a bit behind, usually to make sure the next car in the convoy is still in sight and we have not lost them. But occasionally we do get a chance to look around. The Cambodian countryside, although its flatter than the Hay Plains, with rice paddies melting into the distant heat haze, it is much poorer than the Thai. The kampongs are basic and surrounded by abundant fruit trees and dirt, and white brahman cows are grazing along the roadside. This feels like traditional Asia.

We’ll we have arrived in Siem Reap. I’ve been for a swim and cooled down. Its off for a wander around town and change some money.

Tomorrow is a road free day and a visit to Ankur Wat.