Howling dogs and circling touts in Koh Kong
Trip Start Nov 04, 2007
62Trip End May 03, 2008
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After a quick lunch stop back in Trat we got in a minibus and headed towards the Cambodian border, a little apprehensively. We'd been told by another traveller in the Trat guesthouse that the border crossing is pretty straight forward, but the prospect of having to pay bribes (which is the standard practice) was making us feel a little uneasy.
We got to the border crossing without anything to report, but this was where the fun and games began!!
Our rucksack were swiftly loaded into a trolley straight out of the back of the minibus and were pushed along beside us as we got our passports stamped by the Thai officials for departing Thailand.
As we walked on we were then surrounded by about half a dozen Cambodian people cheerily greeting us and telling us where we needed to go. We then went into a little room with three army officers, and two of the Cambodians who met us. After lots of stamping and filling in forms, we had our Cambodian visas. Of course we also had to pay the "administration fee", which for that day was 1200THB each (just under 20 pounds each, or two days budget for us). This was the simple bit.
We were then lead to a taxi, where we duly had to bribe the man who had come into the office to help with the visa forms, who turned out not to be an official (as we'd assumed, and whose help we didn't even ask for). I'm sure some people are sitting reading this and thinking how silly and naive we were to expect anything different, but actually in the situation it can be quite intimidating and confusing, not to mention stressful!! The thing that took us most by surprise was the fact that the lay-people came into the offical office with the army people not caring at all, plus a couple of them actually crossed back and forth over the border without any checks picking up unsuspecting tourists.
So, we got into the taxi (the only one that was there - we were also the only westerners passing through at that time), which was a mini-bus and asked to go to the Poumint Hotel in Koh Kong (which we picked from our guidebook). At first they seemed a little vague about the hotel, but we carried on (thinking we could find the hotel by foot if dropped in the town centre) and as we approached Koh Kong we again asked about the hotel. Incidently during the journey they had shaken our hands about three times welcoming us to Cambodia and offered us weed. This time when we asked about the hotel, we were told it was fully booked, which neither of us believed for a second (the constant hand shaking, association with the guys who'd ripped us off at the border and offers of drugs didn't make us exactly trust these guys!). They then stopped at a guesthouse (more like a building site) from where they said we could get a boat ticket to Sihanoukville, which we actually wanted anyway. We said we'd get a ticket but then wanted to go straight to our hotel. We got out of the minibus and they tried to get us to look at the rooms at this guesthouse, which we refused to do. We bought our boat ticket (it did actually look genuine, and we'd read in the guidebook that this particular guesthouse organises travel tickets) and got back into the minibus.
We finally got to the Poumint Hotel, then spent about 10 minutes arguing over how much to pay these guys. Yes we know the golden rule is to always get a price first, which we normally do, but all the events at the border had really thrown us and we just wanted to get away from the border where there were plenty more touts trying o get our money. We checked into the hotel and were shown to our room, followed by the guy from the minibus who was't driving. We were a little annoyed that the hotel man let that happen. Then, standing at our hotelroom door, the guy asked for some money for all his help and 'friendship'. By this stage we were really furious and just told him to go away and shut the door (and locked it of course!).
Things got a bit better after that. We found a nice little place to get some dinner, where we met a Finnish couple who'd had similar problems at the border and were due to get the same boat as us the next day.
Oh, and the dogs howling? There were lots and lots of them just outside the restaurant howling at the moon! Fortunately we couldn't hear them from our hotel room where we returned to get some rest - for a few hours at least, waking again at 6am to make sure we were on the boat at 8 to head to Sihanoukville.