Our travel day began reluctantly at 4:15 with Dad moving about the room, packing and unplugging all our gadgets. The rest of us moaned and groaned as we rolled out of bed, with Walden first into the shower. Mom gathered a few of our still damp clothes draped around the room from the wash the night before, and we finished packing quickly. Dad took most of our luggage downstairs to store thankfully, while we only kept one large backpack and all our day packs. Soon an Uber like taxi arrived for us and we jetted off to the train station. The scene was busy and bustling, but no shops were open other than a little convenience store. Dad hurriedly purchased a few Coke Zeros, 1 tin of Pringles, and 3 Snickers for breakfast. We perused the activity and guarded the bags as Dad bought our train tickets for 3rd class/$1.25 per person, and we noticed quickly where the thick smell came from as we witnessed multiple stray cats relieving themselves along the second floor of the station.
We gratefully decided to board the train early to find a seat. What we thought at first were compartments for four, we quickly understood were for six and greeted newcomers as they joined us. A few local children were eager to engage us, but many were afraid of us and clung to their parents. Around 6 am the train pulled out into the still dark city and soon into the countryside. Staying awake was near impossible for everyone, with the humid air, tight quarters, strong breeze form the open metal windows, and the rocking of the car. Soon our heads bobbed up and down, with short moments of iPhone listening and e-reading. Six hours later, we stumbled out into Aranyaprathet.
Next, we took our first step through arrival immigration into Cambodia. The line was manageable, with every 4th or 5th person a Westerner and many other Chinese. You each individually have to step up to the glass enclosed, face mask covered officer and subserviently hand him your passport for perusal. You stare at his little camera, with your feet fitted into the floor markers, and pray he doesn’t ask you a question in Thai. For you Star Wars fans, lovers, and enthusiasts out there this post will be taken over by Walden and he will explain the scene.
“As we left the building and entered Poipet, it seemed we had stepped into another world or another planet. The scene looked exactly like the port of Mos Eisley on the planet of Tatooine. Dust filled the stifling air and people bustled back and forth, clad in all arrays of cloth covering their head and faces. Motorcycles resembling all sorts of space bikes flew right and left, swerving to avoid the flow of people, and very nearly hitting us in the process. An assortment of open air shops lined the street, with their owners yelling at us to come and buy their products. The shoddy building where we went to get our visas resembled one of the houses in Mos Eisley so perfectly, it was creepy. All you have to do is look up a picture of the spaceport, and you will have a good understanding of what the scene looked like. The only differences were the people were not aliens and no desert surrounded the town.
Inside the visa office, we talked to the lazy, bored officers and one of them tried to bribe my dad by saying it was 100 baht more than the actual price. Dad calmly responded, “This is not the money you’re looking for.” They agreed without argument.
Mom’s Jedi mind tricks weren’t working though. When we were stamped into the country, the man checking us kept asking her for a pen, but she didn’t have one. He either didn’t understand us or didn’t care, cause he kept insisting, “Pen! Pen! Pen!” like she could materialize one out of thin air. He finally stopped yelling for no apparent reason.
After getting stamped, we started our search for a shuttle bus to the train station. This wasn’t very hard, it turned out. As soon as we officially entered Cambodia, we were harassed by a man telling us to take a free shuttle straight to the bus station. My dad was skeptical due to his insistence, but we eventually boarded the bus and were taken to a “bus station” a little ways away. The strange thing about this supposed bus station was that there were no other people. The whole situation was very sketchy. Several men lounged around, but one of them we could tell was sort of the leader of them all.
Now this man easily resembled the shopkeeper, slave owner/seller, and gambler Watto from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. This character as Star Wars fans know is not the most pleasant acting or looking alien. The man was skinny but walked with his gut sticking out, and I could’ve totally imagined him rubbing his hands together as he thought up a scam to get us to pay more than the actual price. He laughed to his cronies as he strutted over and informed us that he controlled and operated all of the taxi drivers in that area. We would give him the money up front, and he would pay the driver after we arrived safely.
The ensuing drive resembled the pod race and our taxi was the pod. We flew down the road, at speeds I didn’t think the little car was possible of driving. But we arrived at our hotel 2-3 hours later without incident and crashed in our hotel room. After a good dinner and our best laugh of the day, (when the waitress explained the Bob Marley burger Dad was about to order was made with marijuana) we were ready for Angkor Wat the next day.”