A tale of Cambodia Part 1 – Border hopping
I never had a bucket list.
I never had a list of things to do or places to see. Things I needed to tick off before I died. Given I’m Autistic and quite like lists that is, perhaps, strange.
Sometimes you just stumble across places. Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time or you feel a connection.
That was Cambodia.
Planning our holidays is my forte. Comparing hotels, airlines, itineraries, prices. Bargaining, cajoling, encouraging, occasionally ranting, for the best deal. That’s when my Autism gets its kicks.
Our holiday actually began in Thailand and ended in Vietnam. Both great. But not Cambodia. That’s ace!.
To begin with we actually walked from Thailand into Cambodia. Walked. We didn’t drive. We didn’t fly. We walked.
So that may not mean much to you but to me it was really novel. These days we are so accustomed at driving, of taking the train, or flying that arrival and departure seem mundane. We leave A and arrive at B and borders, be they be between counties or countries, fade into insignificance.
But the act of walking is a physical act.
At one point I had one foot in Thailand and one foot in Cambodia. I straddled two nations.
Entering Cambodia involved a laborious process involving fingerprinting every one of us, making hand gestures, laughing at colleagues jokes, laughing at passport photos, taking our photos (stand on the white cross), checking the visa is genuine, more laughter and finally, just as your about to pass out through heat stroke (as you are all crammed together in a narrow hallway with little ventilation) they wave you through.
While I wait for the others I pay 5 baht for a toilet break and then have a wander to change some money.
Poipet, Cambodia’s border town is chaotic, noisy, crowded and very hot. It’s the sort of place that, in the UK, I’d avoid like the plague. It seems to go against every Autistic instinct but here, in my element, in the special zone, I just plunge in.
I approach a lady who is changing money from a small booth. She sees me coming and clutches a baby tighter to her whilst, with one hand, she makes an odd gesture. Perhaps she is warding off evil or perhaps there’s a fly annoying her. Who can tell ?. I smile (okay, I’m not good at smiling. Probably scared the crap out of her) I offer her $50 and explain that I want to exchange some money. She thrusts the baby at me but I don’t know what the exchange rate is for babies today and anyway, I’m not Angelina Jolie or Madonna so adopting isn’t really my thing. I also note that the baby doesn’t come with any accessories or a warranty!.
When she realises that I actually want some money she snatches the $50 from my hand and thrusts it into a drawer which she swiftly locks. Then, from another drawer she produces fat wedges of notes which she counts out, fingers licked, between each couple. A figure reached, at least in her mind, she pushes them in my direction and looks expectantly at me.
So does the baby. Synchronised expectant looking! Weird.
It’s 4000 rial to the dollar which seems pretty good so, with a nod, I pocket my dosh and return to our party, pockets bulging.
My partner and I have distinctive suitcases. Hers is a very bright pink plastic case and mine is a deep red with a multi coloured strap. Easy to spot amongst the blacks, greats and deep blues. I track their progress into Cambodia on a hand pulled cart and see them, perched atop a pile, on the bus that will take us further into Cambodia.
We are in!.