This post was supposed to be a drunkenly joyous tribute to my friendship with Daisy, an old and dear friend of mine who lives in Cambodia. I was probably going to sop around about it all day. Maybe I would have given a summary of what touring in Thailand is like and maybe my impressions of Cambodia. But no instead of all that you’re welcome to read Pt.1 of the Great Passport Stamp Fiasco.
There are two main border crossings between Thailand and Cambodia. One North, Poi Pet, and one South, Krong Pailin. Poi Pet is the simpler ride – it’s much closer to Bangkok and it’s flat all the way. It’s also the worst place on planet earth.
You know that island where James Bond gets imprisoned by Javier Bardem in Skyfall? It looks like that only instead of a handful of moderately handsome goons milling about there’s a sea of petty criminals, prostitutes and beggars. There are no charming crackled European roads here – only sand, sand, more sand and rubbish. Worst of all there are no trees, so while you are stressfully evading attempts to take your money and soul, your skin unavoidably melts off your body leaving your bare muscles to become barbecued husks. Oh and there is a river, it has no water though, only sludge, black sludge which smells like death.
Naturally I fucked that off and went to the South border, a lightly mountainous (or heavily hilly?) place with more trees than you can poke a stick at*. Half of those trees were naturally sprouting around with typically chaotic tropicalness and the others were in lines branding tropical fruit for the harvest.
I wanted to get to the border as fast as I could so in case I encountered any queues or difficulties I could sort it out quickly and still get to Pailin at a good hour. I spent most of the day in my highest three gears pumping it out of the saddle like a zumba-ing tyrannosaurus*. The rest was spent regaining my fortitude on long stretches of down hill. This created a funny kind of routine for my body – as I would push up hills I would sweat like buggery. It wasn’t just dripping but flowing regularly making my face and arms estuaries of salt rivers. The deluge was so thorough even my socks got soaked. By the time I got to the top of the hill I may as well have jumped in an ocean. Then on the down hill stretches I would go so fast that the wind resistance would quickly dry me out. After each decline I would end up as a crusty, starch pole covered in salt and dirt (from trucks, bike grease and road dust). By the time I arrived at the border I had gained a crusty exoskeleton and all my clothes had become rigid and crisp like some nice Italian crackers. But whatever I was at the border and only 20km to get to Battambang and Daisy!
“You can’t go through.” A stern man with a savannah forehead.
“You have no stamp?”
“What do you mean? You have to give me a stamp.”
“You have no entry stamp. I cannot give you an exit stamp without an entry stamp.”
What the fuck?! I thought crossing the Malaysian Thai border seemed unusually quick. I even remember saying to the border official:
“Is there anything I need to do?”
“Nope, just go through.”
The fucker had forgotten to stamp my passport? All I had was a useless departure card.
“So what can I do now?” I asked the man with the stretchy head.
“You have to go back to Sungai-Kolok.” That’s the border town between Malaysia and Thailand. I pointed at my bike and curled my face up. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get here? The man just shook his head.
“What happens if I go to Sungai-Kolok and they say the same thing you said?”
“Maybe you will go home?”
“What? Get deported?”
“You are not in my system. There is nothing I can do for you.” He gave me a bottle of water and said have a nice day. The second stupidest thing I’ve ever heard after a mugger told me to have a good day after punching me in the face and stealing my phone. Thanks guys, your generosity is my engine for happiness, without your support I would surely crumble under the weight of life’s many stresses.
At this point I had a few ideas.
1. Bribe stretchy head
2. When the gate opens for another car quickly ride through and take my chances on the other side
3. Attempt to cry, appealing to any humanity stretchy face might harbour in that enormous head of his.
This is how it turned out.
1. I went to the booth to try but I couldn’t do it. I felt bad. Thailand is embroiled in a political stand-off because of some horribly corrupt leaders and here I was about to bride a border official. No attempt made.
2. Success. I rode through and no one tried to shoot me. I walked into Cambodian immigration and triumphantly said I wanted to buy a visa. Same response. No Thai stamp, no visa. I thought about bribing this guy as well but then what would I have? A Cambodian visa but no record of being anywhere for a month. That’s probably going to give me various problems later in life. Unsuccessful.
3. I couldn’t bring myself to emotionally manipulate this guy. Instead I tried to talk kindly and rationally like I always do. Of course it contributed fuck all to my oncoming ocean of problems. He simply told me to go to Bangkok and sort it out there.
There’s shit all at the Southern border. There are no busses in the afternoon and no train service within 50km. It was around this point while contemplating my own misery when a different voice popped into my head – Action Man Nick.
Action Man Nick: “HEY you fat suki-la-la. What are you going to do? Sit around in this shit hole until you cry yourself to sleep. Deal with it.”
Suki-la-la Nick promptly crawled out my ass and action man Nick took charge of the afternoon.
Within a few hours I was in Bangkok. I hitchhiked with my bike to the next town, got a old man to help me convince a bus driver to jam my bike over a third of his available seats and then got a real bus to the capital, arriving at around midnight. I booked the nearest hotel and woke up six hours later.
The bad thing about Action Man Nick – he doesn’t give a shit about anything other than mission completion. When my alarm went of at 6:30am I didn’t bother to clean my salt encrusted skin or eat last night’s dinner or breakfast – I had ride to the Australian embassy first thing.
They don’t have the authority to doll out stamps so they signed an affidavit-like thing, gave me some supportive smiles and pointed me towards the immigration bureau. Perhaps it would have been a good time to eat something or maybe wash of my ever deepening level of disgusting – nope, immigration bureau is 30km away, no time for fucking around I want to get to Cambodia.
What I should of done at this point is leave my bike somewhere and get a cab or train all the way there using the directions the embassy gave me. Instead I got a sky-train (only transport which takes bikes) as far as I could and then rode the rest of the way relying on the directions of 7/11 employees and cab drivers. I got so many unbelievably shite directions I ended up 15km from my actual destination at a Cosco like mega mall some idiot had confused for the place I needed to go. I had to ride the extra mileage up an express way while busses and trucks tried their best to consign me to any early grave. I crashed twice, hit a pedestrian one of my pannier bags broke and I swallow enough car fumes to turn all my future kisses into cancer donations.
I intended to get to the bureau when it opens to avoid any lines. Instead I got there at lunch time when half the offices are closed only to be met by a line extending out the office and twice lapping the connecting lobby. Several hours later this is the information I get:
I have to go back to the Thai Malaysian border where one of four things could happen.
1. I get deported
2. I go to jail
3. I pay heaps of money
4. I get a stamp
What a fucking ocean of problems. All because one border official forgot to stamp my passport.
I’ve got around 30 hours of train rides ahead of me and a rather uncertain future. I have to consider what to do with my bike now that I can’t leave it with Daisy and whether I will make it back to Bangkok in time to reach Alice’s flight. It’s been a stressful two days and I’m quite worn out and hungry but there’s nothing I can do until I get to Sungai-Kolok so there’s no point feeling like shit. Time to eat.
1. I have been dreaming of roti ever since I left Malaysia. I can finally get some.
2. All of the stress and ardour of the day’s journey manifested in an incredibly euphoric dinner.
3. I’ve seen a lot of Bangkok.
I discovered a new tongue twister. While riding down the express way I would chant landmarks to myself so I would remember the turn offs. One of my chants was freeway, river, freeway, river, freeway, river, very hard to say quickly.
*I’ve been thinking about the phrase more than you can poke a stick at. I reckon a human being of average stick holding skill can hold 29 sticks about their body while ensuring each of them are pointing in different directions and none of them are overlapping. By my calculations that’s 5 held in the mouth, 8 in each hand, 1 in each armpit, 1 in each elbow pit and 4 in each foot. It’s conceivable that you could use those sticks to poke at 29 things at once but any more than that would become very difficult. So when someone says ‘more than you can poke a stick at’ what they actually mean is more than 29.
*Maybe this analogy is a bit of stretch. I was thinking that tyrannosaurs, like me, have really big legs and tiny little arms. I imagine they would always ride in the highest gear because their enormous legs would provide so much oomph. I imagined seeing them bob up and down like that would be quite joyful as if they were engaged in some kind of Zumba like exercise.