Monday, May 18, 2009

Crossing into Cambodia

From Khon Phapheng waterfall to the Voen Kham border was only a short drive way. The traffic was light, almost empty. In no time, we arrived at a road barrier. There was no signage of Voen Kham town nor Iroad sign pointing to immigration. There was no uniform personal manning the barrier. Where is the border crossing?

We stopped at the road barrier, since we could not go further and did a 360-degree eye scan. There was few cars were parked at the other side of the barrier and this wooden building was across the road before the barrier. The red sign says "IMMIGRATION".
We turned the car over there and parked in front. The window of the counter was opened about waist level. Neo Chian had to squat down explaining to the immigration office of our intention of leaving Laos in our car. The immigration office examined our document and pointed to one stamp was missing on the right hand side of this form. To complete this form, we had to go back about 3 km to see their custom officer there. Neo Chian and I looked at each other. "Where was the custom office? We did notice any building about 3 km back." Anyway, we got back to the car and marked the mileage on odometer. This would help us to locate 3km away from the immigration office. There was this custom sentry on the roadside. We actually passed this place on our way to the border. The road barrier was up and no one was there when we drove through without realising that was their custom office.

Neo Chian went into the office at the back of the custom sentry. The officer was very nice. Within minutes, we got the stamp we needed. Then we hurried back to the border and submitted the document. The officer accepted our papers. Finally, we got the approval. Neo Chian was showing off the papers. At the same time, we cleared our passport. We paid a processing fee of 10,000Kips (S$2). With the papers in hand, we got into the car and headed for the road barrier. An immigration office raised the barrier, collected our papers and signalled us through. We were out of Laos.
After driving 200 meters, we arrived at the barrier of the Cambodia side. You can see there is no car coming to Laos. We parked and got off the car. Speaking to the officer about our intention tof driving into Cambodia. He told us to get approval for the vehicle from the custom and excise office then he would proceed to clear our passport. When we produced our document to the officers in this office, he pulled out a file which had the same documents. This office has been informed of our arrival. After asking for engine number, chassis number etc, he told us to wait. He made a phone call and spoke. After a couple of minutes, he said "OK". He handed a set of document and told us to give it to the custom office when we leave Cambodia. Then we filled up the immigration form. We were the last two persons clearing their immigration. We got back our passport and thanked them. The barrier went up and we went into Cambodia.. We knew we could not reach Siem Reap today.Our plan was to travel as far as possible before dark and find a nice town to stay for a night.

We needed to fill up the tank before our journey. The nearest town was Stung Treng. We didn't have any Riel (Cambodia currency) with us. First, we had to find money changer. We managed to change USD100 for 410,000 Riels. We drove into a local petrol station and used sign language to fill up. Then, we found out that the pump price was in USD! The attendent wanted USD only. Later in our stay in Cambodia, we realised that Riel and USD were interchangable at the rate of 1 USD to 4,000. That mean, the money changer was nice to me. She gave me 1 to 4100.

We traveled on National Road 7, in short N7 toward Siem Reap. The condition of N7 was good, Along the way, the scenery was like old Malaysia road. Both sides were pedi field, huts and trees. I was told to look out for cow crossing. Give Way to Cow! This cow was taking its afternoon walk and we had to stop and let it through. Sometime, we encounted road work without warning. The month of May is the begining of the raining season. This pouring rain was captured just ten minutes after the cow crossing picture was taken. The sky was clear and sunny then. This rain lasted on a few minutes and the sky was clear again. Check out the size of the raindrop on the windscreen.

We reached Kratie, a small town along the Mekong, in late afternoon. With trees along the river front, Kratie looked very charming in setting sun . This was a good place to break our journing and we decided to stop here for a night. The room met our basic requirement, i.e. clean, and air-con. We negotiated a twin room at Santepheap Hotel for USD13. There was no WiFi available in the hotel. WiFi was available at Internet cafe nearby. After shower, we went looking around. It is a small town with only a few streets. There was no street lamp other than light coming out from the shop. We walked into Restaurant Mekong around the corner from our hotel. The owner recommended Deep Fried Fish, a vegetable and soup. We thought the fish was the same as the one we ate at Paksong. She told us this is the best fish from the Mekong and it is called "Buffalo fish". The cooking here was better than the one at Paksong, Laos.

After dinner, we walked the town and settled at a cafe for a beer. We noticed there were many foreigners at the cafe. What is attracting them to Kratie?

Next morning, we met Mr. Lim, the manager of the hotel at breakfast. We asked him why did the foreigners come here? "They come for Dolphin watching" He answered. The freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin is an endangered species throughout Asia with shrinking numbers inhabiting stretches of the Mekong in Cambodia and Laos, and isolated pockets in Blangladesh and Myammar. Dolphin watching is at 15 km north of Kratie. After breakfast, we back tracked 15 km to Dolphin watching site.

For Dolphin watching, we needed to hire a boat, USD9 per person. If 3 persons and above, it was USD7 per person. A young lady was by herself. We combined and hire a boat at USD7 each. She is Korean backpacking from Korea to here in two months. She had gone through China, Vietnam, Laos to Cambodia. What a brave lady. She came to Kratie with the sole objective of watching dolphin. There were other boat out there doing the same thing. I had watching Dolphin at sea before. The Dolphin would swim close and follow the boat. It was esay to take picture of dolphin.

The boatman turned off the engine when we got close to the area. He kept looking in the water for dolphin and from time to time, he would point at the water far away and alert us. We had at least 10 sighting. But the dolphin was like 30 to 40 meters away. It surfaced and went down in a second or so. Everyone was holding the camera in combat position and kept silent. It was not easy. By the time we saw the doiphin, it was too late to snap a photo.These fresh water dolphins are recognisable by their bulging foreheads and small dorsal fins. After one hour, this was the only one picture I got. I would have failed to make a living as a wildlife photographer.

The Korean girl came 15km away from Kratie on a MotoTaxi. This is the economic way to move around and very popular among the backpacker.

Dolpin watching was not in our plan yesterday. We were to check out early this morning and drove to Chhlong, a thriving riverside port with a wealth of beautiful old French buildings, for breakfast. Now we would be there for lunch. We couold not find the hotel at Chhlong and found this interesting sights at Chhlong. We found this house in the middle of the road. At closer look, the workers were moving the house across the road.The legs (pillars) of the house was sitting on top of the rollers. Unfortunitely it was lunch time, we could see how it was done.

We crossed the Mekong river at Kompong Cham and stopped at the riverside for lunch. At the petrol station, we saw a family of 4 on a motocycle, on par with the small saloon car in passenger number.This was a quite riverfront. Neo Chian was enjoying the view of this bridge across the Mekong. It was very pleasant to lunch outdoor as the temperature was not so hot..

By the time we arrived at Siem Reap, it was after office rush hour. With the help of Miss G, we finally arrived at Ei8ht-room, smart little boutique resthouse with eight rooms only around 6.30 pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment