I don’t know what’s more naive. The fact that I never expected too much trouble with our border crossings, or the fact that I still believe we can do it. Yes, we got turned back at the Cambodian border; well our motorbikes did! We are carrying ‘motorbike passports” which effectively gives us permission from the owner to cross a border with them. The Cambodians were having none of it. We deliberately rode to the south-easternmost point of Thailand to cross because were told that last week some bikers had problems on the main Poi Pet crossing. Problems we expected, but a flat refusal we didn’t.
Apart from the hours it took us to get to the crossing, it took about an hour and a half to get out of Thailand, then once through to the Cambodian side we went through what we expected to be an administrative process. To cut a long story short, we were all but ready to carry on, having paid a health levy, customs fees & visas (about NZ$240 each), when we were informed that we didn’t have the right paperwork to take our bikes in. We could go in, but our bikes couldn’t. Apparently our option was to travel to Phnom Penh (by taxi) & get the right paperwork from the consulate there. This could take several days (not counting travelling time) & could be quite expensive! Apparently, the Cambodians are being ‘strict’ about single bikers very recently because they have decided they want to force people to hire bikes in Cambodia... All of this is, of course, just rubbish. They were talking about getting an import license for bikes because they are valuable. Just pure bumph! We ended up talking directly to two very educated Cambodian customs officials (although one was a bit too Marxist for my liking) who simply flat refused. Apparently we are the first ones to have had a flat refusal. I feel honoured! And no refunds, of course...
So we got an exit stamp in our passports to officially exit Cambodia & returned to the Thai border where we had to go through immigration again. I cannot possibly put into words how angry I was. I was controlled & used every trick I could think of to try & persuade them to change their minds without getting irate or visibly frustrated, but boy was I angry. To have our entire holiday plans, many months in the making, wrecked by a couple of obstinate officials with no real cause, was gutting. Of course I couldn’t appeal any higher authority because their boss, ‘who had given them clear instructions on this’ didn’t speak any English. Did I speak any Cambodian? Huh! Well, I can still count from 1 to 19 in Cambodian, a childhood legacy, but I wasn’t sure that would get us through!
It was a day of two halves; thirds actually. The delightful little cabins we stayed in last night were not so delightful. The beds were rock hard, Simon got bitten, my bathroom floor was a constant pool of water that refused to drain and then the dogs started howling at about 2:30am. It got a bit better when we went for a dip in the sea to wake up. Warm as bath water, it was beautiful. The only problem with the whole coast (as far as we can see) is the rubbish. They do regular cleanups but there is always some rubbish on the shoreline.
The ride from Chao Lao to the border improved the day somewhat. Shortly after leaving, the roads became great biking roads, quiet, twisty, well surfaced. Crossing a large bridge we stopped halfway over (yes, there was a place to stop) to photograph a new temple & fishing boats & simply take in the scenery, which was stunning. We had to find a bike shop to tighten Simon’s chain, which was rattling a bit, which we did successfully, for no charge! Great bit of service. (This was after our first attempt at a roadside shack which turned out was only for scooters, which have no chains!) Further on, we found an amazing bistro in Amphoe Khlong Yai (about 35 minutes from the border) along a peaceful side road parallel to the beach. We decided to return there for the night & found a room in a hotel on the beach with an infinity pool. Going back to the Bistro - Folk Ways - for dinner, we had our last piece of (bad) luck. We’d ridden there with virtually no gear as it was only 1.2Km down the road & then it started hammering down. Waiting it out, we had to leave (9pm) as it was closing, but fortunately by then it was down to a light drizzle.
Oh, you are probably wondering if our Cambodia dreams are over? Far from it. We are heading to the next crossing up the border tomorrow morning to try our luck there. Hopefully an edict has not been given out & the local customs have their own discretion! We will however check the viability of the bikes before we hand over a single Baht!