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George goes to Canada

Team Rymans goes to Cambodia

sunny 30 °C
View Get Out The Map on The Rymans's travel map.

Before I move on to telling you about our trip to Siem Reap, I wanted to include a few links to someone else’s blog: the McNouyes. Odd name, odd thing for me to do, you may be thinking, so here’s an explanation. I’ve already briefly described another Canadian family we met on the island of Koh Lanta – Audrey and Dave, and their kids Taro and Kiyoshi, from Edmonton. We went on hanging out with them long after I wrote that early description, and in the end we left Koh Lanta together and spent several days in Railay as well before we had to part ways. I was lazy about maintaining this blog while in Koh Lanta, but Audrey and Dave (whose “family” name is, like ours, a hybrid of their two individual surnames) were more prolific, and they’ve posted descriptions and photos of our time together that you might find interesting.

Not only are Audrey and Dave also Canadian, also using a hybrid surname, and also travelling with their two kids for six months, but they also have a blog right here on Travellerspoint.com. Turns out we had lots of other things in common as well, and after many fun happy hours and dinners together on Koh Lanta, we started trying to recruit them to move to Ottawa (a remote but still possible possibility, as Audrey has family in the area). We were a little hard on Dave in that regard (all of his roots are in Edmonton), but hey, hope springs eternal. Here are the relevant blog links:


And here’s a group shot – Mark and Ciaran are missing because they were still in the water snorkelling (and Mark took the picture):


Well, moving along....When it was time to leave Koh Lanta and Railay, we briefly considered flying back to Bangkok (to continue on to Cambodia), but in the end we were just too cheap, and despite the kids we went the old-fashioned backpacker route – by overnight bus, a 14-hour journey not counting the longtail boat from Railay to the mainland, the wait at the pier for a smaller bus to take us to the Krabi bus depot, or the half-hour trip from the pier to the depot. I was waiting for disaster to strike—either in the form of a midnight bus crash or a vomiting child—but actually the ride was completely uneventful and both kids slept for most of it (unlike me). We were dropped off on a familiar corner near Khao San Road at 6 a.m. the next morning, and stumbled out bleary-eyed to find a guesthouse that would be open for breakfast. A sign advertising whole wheat toast and cappuccinos drew our attention and we sat right down, bags and all. Never have I been so happy to encounter real coffee – standard fare on the islands seems to be Nescafe served with Coffeemate, a toxic and nearly undrinkable mixture.

We had two full days in Bangkok to tie up any loose ends before leaving the country, so we got straight to work, burning CDs, shopping for books, looking into transportation to Cambodia and so on. One of our key missions was to drop into the General Post Office to see if the kids had mail. Happily, they did – four postcards for Ciaran and one letter for Chloe – and were just thrilled to sit down and read handwritten messages from their Ottawa friends. (Thanks!!)

The other reason for visiting the GPO was to unload George, Ciaran’s beloved coconut. We had persuaded Ciaran that he stood a better chance of hanging onto George for the long run if we sent him home in a box than if we tried to smuggle him across several borders past quarantine checks for plant and animal products. He had regretfully consented, so George went into a box along with souvenirs, books and other random objects that we didn’t want to carry anymore, and off it all went by sea mail to Canada. So yes, we did actually mail a large, heavy, brown (George is slowly turning to wood) coconut to Canada. I guess stranger things have been done.

But enough about George finally, and on to Cambodia: we arrived safely and without much mishap yesterday around sundown after a nine-hour trip from Bangkok that involved the usual dazzling array of transport modes: first a taxi to Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus station, then a five-hour local bus to the Thai border town, Aranyaprathet, then a tuk-tuk to the Rongklua border market, where we were greeted by a posse of men with badges and clipboards posing as immigration officials. They handed us reasonable photocopies of the authentic Cambodian arrival and departure cards, and tried to insist that we should fill them out and return them along with payment for our Cambodian visas. They would then go and arrange the visas for us.

This particular land border crossing is notorious for scams and trickery, so instead we loaded up our backpacks, waved them away and started off on foot in the direction of the border. We pleasantly told them we would come back if we saw the need (as expected, we got a fairly grumpy response, but not much more hassling). We had arranged transportation from the Cambodian side all the way to our guesthouse here in Siem Reap, but first we would have to get to that side without attracting any more touts or “helpers.” In fact, our guesthouse had sent us a two-page set of instructions for crossing the border, which I may very well paste at the end of this entry just for any of you who are interested – it was quite an eye-opener on what goes on in and near this no man’s land. The town on the Cambodian side, Poipet, is described in our guidebook as the armpit of Cambodia, and is essentially a scruffy casino town full of unsavoury characters.

After we’d been stamped out of Thailand, we looked for the Cambodia Visa Services Application building, where our guesthouse’s representative, Sambath, was supposed to meet us. And miraculously, there he was, looking for us, and he helped ensure that the Cambodian immigration officials didn’t rip us off on the price of the visas (also standard at this crossing). After that, off to passport control. All told, the border crossing took about 90 minutes. At the end of it, Sambath ushered us onto a government shuttle bus that would take us from the border to a Poipet taxi stand. From there, it was a smooth two-hour drive down the newly paved road to Siem Reap. (The old dirt road from Poipet to Siem Reap was legendary among travellers, and I can’t tell you how many stories I had read about it before we took this trip – reportedly, it used to take a good 4-5 hours, and much longer in the wet season, hard going much of the way. When we decided to cross this border by land, we didn’t know that the road had been paved, so we felt very lucky indeed that it had.)

So here we are, ready to take on Angkor. We’re all set up with three-day passes, a tuk-tuk driver and a guide, and managed to take in the sunset from Angkor Wat this evening while we were buying the passes. We’ll be in Siem Reap at least another four nights and are not sure yet where we’re off to next.

For those who are interested, here are the instructions we received from our Siem Reap guesthouse on crossing the border.

1.) After exiting Thai immigration, head over to the Cambodia Visa
Services Building - even if you have visas already or you don't need
visas (Singapore, Malaysia, Phils, Laos) you MUST go to this location,
it's the first building on the right after crossing the foot bridge
into Cambodia. Somewhere around the Visa application window will be a
sign with your name(s) on it.

2.) If you need to obtain a visa here, we are connected with the folks
inside and you will not be hassled to pay excessive fees above the $20
US the visas cost, however our customers are sometimes asked to pay a
100 baht tip, particularly during low season when tourists are few and
money is scarce. Ultimately it's up to you whether you pay this or
not, but the small tip (it's all of $3 US) does make friends and
influence uncles and will make life easier for the next customer who
comes along. We wish it weren't so, but that's the reality. (Effective
October 2009 - they have begun construction of a new Visa Services
Building and it is possible that upon your arrival you will not see a
Visa Services Building or even a temporary excuse for one, but rather
a pile of rubble. If this is the case, please look for our contact on
the opposite side of the road)

3.) The person you want to meet there is named Sambath (pronounced
Sombot) and he'll take care of everything - visa apps, immigration
forms, etc. He is not the actual driver but rather is our Poipet
contact who handles our arrangements. His English is quite good. The
need for a middle man will make better sense when you see the border.
He will escort you all the way to the taxi stand and see you on your

4.) The fee for the car is $45 US and will be charged to your guesthouse bill.

5.) If by any chance someone should approach you before the Visa
Services Building, most likely in Rongklua Market or even the bus or
train station(!), and has your names on either a piece of paper, their
hand, or just happens to know your name, whatever, ignore them - do
not acknowledge them in anyway! No one except Sambath is authorized by
us to approach you anywhere and he is only to meet you at the Cambodia
Visa Services Building. Anyone who approaches you at any other
location whether they claim to be Sambath or not, they are not our
contact. We have had some problems with touts and other unauthorized
individuals who see the sign at the Cambodia Visa Services Building
and then walk into Thailand to try to intercept our customers for any
of a couple of reasons - redirect you to another taxi or bus at an
excessive amount of money, rip you off on a visa, or simply "help" you
and then demand a tip later. Often they will misrepresent themselves
and tell you they are Sambath. There is not much we can do about this
except warn you as they will probably approach you on Thai soil, not
Cambodia. So if you are met by anyone who deviates from the above
information, meeting you in advance of the Visa Services building,
asking you to pay for the car up front, asking for more than $45,
asking for 1000 baht or more for the visa, etc than this person is not
our contact even if they claim they are Sambath. Remove yourself from
this person and call us immediately.

6.) If for any reason you don't see Sambath inform one of the visa
helpers (but not anyone who followed you) that you are the name on the
sign and/or call us at the number below.

7.) The guesthouse phone number is 063-965-107 or from Thailand +855-63-965-107.

8.) If you'd like to bring extra riders to reduce the cost please be
advised that we have a special arrangement with the local taxi
association (they have a monopoly on all transport from Poipet) that
allows us to transport only our passengers for which we are provided a
reduced rate (normal taxi fee is $50-60). Unless we are informed prior
to your arrival at the Cambodia Visa Services Building of additional
passengers including their names and nationalities, the taxi
association may charge extra passengers a commission in the
neighborhood of $10 US per person.

9.) It is more than likely that the tuk-tuk that transports you from
the bus or train station to the border will take a detour to the
“Cambodian Consulate” where you will be given all sorts of lies as to
why this is where you must get your visa and at their ridiculously
inflated price. Needless to say, it’s all a scam and not only do you
not need to get your visa here, you are under no obligation to show
your passport to anyone or even discuss whether or not you already
have or need to get a visa.

Posted by The Rymans 03:58 Archived in Cambodia Tagged family_travel

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Hi Patti,
I've been a lurking blogreader for lo these many months, vicariously enjoying the stories of your travels. You guys are amazing! Hope the Cambodia leg of your trip continues to go well and scam-free. Looking forward to seeing you in person in a few more months (when we'll have a new baby to introduce to you, as of late March!)

by Natalie B

I love the George story. I especially love that you've actually mailed a coconut home. I hope George makes it okay.

by Nicky

I sat down at the computer to 'work' on booking travel etc. But I could hardly contain myself when I saw the title about George! I am so happy to know that I will see George as well as you guys when we visit in the spring. I hope that the journey is kind to him and that someone has some fridge real estate for him.

by McNouye

Hi Guys, Have been following your travels with great interest as we will be following some of your route when we leave Australia on our 12 month trip next month. Plse let us know if you can recommend your Siem Reap guesthouse. We will be doing the Poipet crossing in February. Happy Travels!

by Amanda

Natalie, big congratulations on the March news! We'll have to catch up in person some time after our return. Nicky & Audrey, thanks for the good wishes for George. I hope the voyage to Canada is kind to him too. Mark has actually proposed building him a special built-in shelf in Ciaran's room. Kind of like an altar? Pushing things too far?? Maybe, but it was certainly a unique attachment while it lasted!

by The Rymans

Hi Amanda -- I sent you an email about our guesthouse, which I do recommend (Two Dragons), and then I remembered I also wanted to recommend the guide we had for our first Angkor visit. His name is Mr. San Park. I haven't tried emailing him (our guesthouse set us up), but I have his card, which lists his email address as sanpark.angkor@googlemail.com or phone (+855) 12 788 354. He was excellent in all of the usual guide ways, but we were especially fascinated by his own personal story of living through the Khmer Rouge years and later on working as a deminer. If you book him directly, he gets the full price you pay, whereas if you book through a hotel other than Two Dragons, the hotel keeps a portion of his fees. He also has a website: www.angkor-temple-guides.com.

by The Rymans

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