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December 18, 2003

Toyota Camry = Off Road Vehicle???

I bet you didn't know that Toyota Camrys were good for off roading. Neither did I, but I was technically on a "road" when I found out.

Ant and I are currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia. After much mental preparation of the hellish travel and immigration hassles, we arrived without a hitch. We were somewhat disappointed. I find that travel without some form of hassle is almost disappointing and unsatisfying now that India is behind me.

We caught the 7:30 bus from Bangkok to Aranthyaprathet and arrived around 12:30 in the PM. We expected hoards of people from the Khao San Rd to be lining up in front of us, making us wait hours for visas and exit/entry stamps. We expected tons of beggars/thieves/touts. Luckily, there were very few.

At the visa office there was no line. I filled out my form, included my pic, and slipped the US$20 note in to see if that would work as opposed to the 1000B one which is worth more like $27. The officer threw it back at me (instead of handing it), so I threw a 1000B note at him when he reached for it. That was it. The only "hassle" and that can barely be described as one. Less than five minutes later I was in possession of my passport with a Kingdom of Cambodia visa.

We then walked to the office where they stamp you in, the officer was polite and smiled as he handed me my passport back. Ditto for the other officer dude who was checking you actually got stamped as opposed to just walking in one door and out the other.

Off we went to the melee traffic circle where the taxi mafia lurk. We saw two westerners hovering near a Toyota Camry and I went over to ask if they were up for splitting the cost of the car. Turns out they were leaving Cambodia and had just come from Siem Reap. They said their driver was top-notch and made the 150-160km drive in three hours. I offered him 1000B which he promptly took, and off we went. There was no one to bother him or jump in and demand additional payment. About two minutes into the ride, our friendly driver joked that his last passengers paid him too much (1200B).

As it turns out, our driver was more than happy to have us as cover because he was driving around contraband- boxloads of Virginia Slims which our backpacks concealed. Being he was a friendly and polite guy, we teased him about it. He then stopped and unloaded his cargo and picked up some new stuff. It looked like pebbles in old liquor bottles and my imagination decided it looked like tar heroin! After two seconds, I realized this was highly unlikely because he was much too chill about it, and it would be heading into Cambodia, rather than Thailand, where it normally goes.

So off we went. The first 50km were no problem, just the usual swerving and overtaking of all vehicles, cycles, and dogs. Then, we hit the end of the "paved" road. That's when I realized the full capabilities of the Toyota Camry. Those cars can handle much more than they see on any western country's streets (with exception to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in NYC)! We bounced around on some major potholes and I was thrown all over the back seat. We crossed bridges held together by twigs. It was good fun. When we arrived at a rest stop, our friendly drived hosed down the car, and I realized for the first time that it was bright blue, not grey/silver!

Around two hours later, we arrived in Siem Reap. We were driven to our guesthouse of choice, Earthwalkers. I was attracted by the name when we were doing a bit of research on a great site:

Tales of Asia

Off our driver went and we'll probably call him when we need to get back to the border because he was easy going and reasonable. We checked in, discovered that Cambodian women are equally enamored of Anthony, and enjoyed much needed hot showers. We joined up with a few other guests and the manager Kristin for some food/drink at the Dead Fish Restaurant and called it a night.

My overall impression so far of Cambodia is definately positive. The people seem really friendly inspite of some really horrible history (Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot). It's a bit rough around the edges, but I like it. Tomorrow I'm sure I will be even more impressed when we begin our touring of Ankgor Wat.

Posted by Claudia on December 18, 2003 12:57 AM
Category: Cambodia

Enjoy your stay in Cambodia!

While in Siem Reap, try to find the "Khmer Kitchen" restaurant. It's not in any guidebook I know of, and the food is wonderful. We ended up going there several times during our stay.

If you're in the Old Market area, standing with your back to the river with the bridge right behind you, walk up the main diagonal street toward the hospital. Half a block past the Old Market is an alley to your left. It's in that alley (assuming it hasn't gone out of business).

Posted by: Chris on December 18, 2003 12:24 PM

You would be surprised what the good ole Camry's can do. I am the proud owner of a 1985 brown Camry. What a piece of work that car is. :)

Posted by: Dewbie on December 18, 2003 06:28 PM

Hey Claudia - Sounds like you're having a kick ass time. Still waiting for you to get here to Oregon!

Well, enjoy the holidays in Cambodia or wherever the hell you wind up in the next week!

Oh - and take a picture of you riding on a elephant. For some reason you seem like you'd be a natural on one...

Posted by: Melissa (aka Muffinetti) on December 19, 2003 07:36 PM

Hey Mel!!!

We should be in Thailand (Bangkok) for the holidays because another Mel has let us crash at her place. It was easier than scrounging around for a place when all the farangs (westerners or expats) in Asia are going on vacation.

As for a pic on an elephant... it already exists. Steph and I rode a pachyderm back in May, 2000. We had photos of that! She's a much better elephant rider than I am...


You should have SEEN this "road." It was nuts. If you get a chance to overlang it from THailand to Cambodia, you'll see what I mean.

Posted by: Claudia on December 21, 2003 04:45 AM

haha..can't wait :)

So, like the blog says, might you be spending Christmas in Cambodia? I'm curious, since I love the holiday season, being with family, Christmas music etc, etc, how does Christmas feel being away from the ordinary? Do you feel like you have to have the perfect Christmas destination to make it truly Christmasy or do you just go with the flow and not mind where you end up?

Posted by: Dewbie on December 22, 2003 03:51 PM

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