Touchdown: Poipet, Cambodia at around 1830h. Said touchdown consisting of walking in the rain and crossing the street from Aranyaprathet in Thailand.
The difference between the two countries is immediately apparent. There are casinos, for one thing, and also the sense of a lack of order. A truck trundles by, the back filled with people who crossed the border illegally. They are crammed together too tightly for an accurate count through the wire mesh that caged them in. They probably crossed into Thailand, were caught near the border, and brought back to Cambodia. The truck disappears around a corner and we do not ask about it. Especially not from the Cambodian border policeman smoking at the waiting shed we were at.
After getting our passports stamped at the Thai immigrations office but before doing the same thing at the Cambodian one, we walk down a short stretch of road that was neither here nor there. “Hey! Come, come!,” a Cambodian man says, gesturing that we should follow him. We almost do as we individually and privately freak out at the prospect of losing 2,400 baht that we paid at an official-looking office in Aranyaprathet for transportation to Siem Reap. We had lost our guide in the crowd and the man could have been him.
It was dark when we got to the border and we did not get a good enough look at our guide. He did, though, or at least a good enough look to know he was about to lose his customers. “Hey! Come, come!,” he says as he emerges from the crowd and waves the other man away. He disappears again to help a Russian couple fill out their visa forms after bringing us to the Cambodian immigration office. It is lit with incandescent bulbs and there are cobwebs at the corners of the ceilings.
The immigration counter itself is a little more high tech, though. The immigration officer runs my passport through the machine and captures my fingerprints on a scanner. My skin crawls a little at the thought that my fingerprints were now in a system used by a government that pays for biometric scanners but not fluorescent lighting.
Now officially guests of the Kingdom of Cambodia, we are bundled inside a taxi that will take us on a two-and-a-half-hour ride across a rainy and pitch-black Cambodian countryside. We talk through the night while our girlfriends sleep.
–17 September 2012