Thursday, February 12, 2009

Welcome to Cambodia

I've been traveling in the country for almost a week now and already had an infestation of ants in my backpack, burned a quarter size wound into my calf (from the hot muffler of a motorbike) and was hustled by immigration (so called "police") at Don Kralor international border between Laos and Cambodia. Surprisingly I'm in high spirits. These are minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things - I feel blessed to be in SE Asia, having the opportunity to travel to such exotic locations.
Story of mishap at the border, confrontation with corruption... On my way with some friends I met in Don Dhet. Heading from Si Phon Don to Ban Lung in Northern Cambodia, a town recommended as a mellow beginning to slowly ease into all that is Cambodia. When we arrived at the border, there were several stations set up for paying Laos exit tax, Cambodia entrance fee and a building for filling-out visa applications. My first impression was that the officers appeared helpful and friendly, just going about their bureaucratic duties. I was last in line when it came my turn to pay $21 for a sticker. I set the money down, while also offering an officer my Laos phone card (which I could no longer use). He graciously accepted with a spanning grin and a nod. At the same time, the other man slid my money under the table, stashing it in his box of cash. A western man came over to vouch for me, explaining what he'd seen, but the men insisted I hadn't paid yet. To make matters worse, that was the last of my cash with no ATMs within miles of the boundary crossing. Fortunately enough, a sweet man gifted me with $21 and went on his way. I had no way of paying him back because he was heading to another town than me, but I truly believe this good deed will cyclically return to him through positive karma.
Today is the date I was originally scheduled to fly home, BKK -> SFO. Now I've extended my flight for, at the very least, another month. Couldn't be happier to be in Kompong Cham - quaint, mellow city, staying in a comfortable guest house overlooking the Mekong. Tomorrow will be heading to Siem Riep - to see Angkor Wat!