I left Peace of Angkor at 07:50 after a small send off from the Peace Of Angkor Crew. Den had arranged a shared taxi for me to Anlong Veng and the Thai Border. It was $10 for a seat (or $5 for a shared seat) I picked the 1st option for obvious reasons.
The there were 3 already in the back of the car and picked up 2 others on the way. While I didn't share a seat the driver did! Yes there were 2 people behind the wheel. At first I thought one would be steering and the other operating the pedals!! However only the driver was in control; the auto gearbox makes it easier to drive that way! The music from the minidisk was thankfully relaxing after one of the elderly occupants in the rear asked the driver to turn it down a bit .
The drive to Anlong Veng is much improved. Beyond Bantey Srey and Kbal Spean, road works and new bridge construction were in progress. The new settlements along the road reflected the new wealth coming into rural Cambodia in the at tat property speculators have bought property along that road. For much of the route was unrecognizable due to road works and forest clearance.
At the rustic village o Srey Noy little had changed, it was still a dusty town of cheap wooden shacks with tin roofs. Only for a few kilometers did I recognize the beautiful stretch of forest road alongside the protected forest reserve. Sadly we were soon back into road works again with mechanical diggers and new earthmoving equipment turning a se a of mud into the main highway to Anlong Veng and Thailand.
At 10:30 we reached the City Limit of Anlong Veng; this small town is little more than a developing village. The sign suggests bigger aspirations. We dropped of a couple of passengers driver and his mate and a quick driver change and we were soon along the new road up the Dangrek escarpment to the border. At 500mteres or so it was hardly an alpine pass but the driver was struggling to keep up momentum.
We left the road to dusty track and a groups of shacks where we dropped the remaining 3 passengers off Well a more wild and remote border would be hard to find. A couple of portacabins and barrier with flags; marked the end of Land of Laughter and the beginning of the Land of Smiles.
With all the recent stories of difficult Thai Border guards and the strictly enforced rules about having an onward frlight out of Thailand to enter by land: I might have expected a
About 50meters walk was the Thai Border where an affable and well spoken guard passed the time of day with me; asking about me where I was going from and going to. I tilde him that I run a guest house in Siem Reap. He was genuinely interested so gave him a flyer and told him that he would be very welcome. He also gave me some advice onward transport which was car only.
/it was obvious that few people come this way as there is no onward public transport. I hired a pickup to take me to the Bus Station for Ubon Rachathani. The driver took me for 600b around 40 mins drive to isolated cross roads; where there was a basic helter with a couple of guys in hammocks.
I found out the bus was going to be departing at 1:30 pm. As it was just on 12pm I had enough time to cross the busy road to the PTT petrol station opposite for lunch. I had a pretty dent meal of pork and rice with fruit and a dip which packed an unexpected chili punch! which had me breathing fire and gasping for water. The rotund serving lady thought it very funny and quickly brought a glass of ice and water!
To pay for it I had to exchange US Dollars which had dropped so much against the Baht that there was barely 30 Baht to the Dollar.
The bus was late in coming; by 2pm I was al little concerned; but thee were a few peple waiting and a couple more on motos arrived. My guess the bus was on the way was correct and a few minutes later I was on the bus to somewhere!
Well the somewhere ticket cost 120 b which was more than I expected for Siskatheet 1/3 of the way to Ubon R . The ticket hat no legible info which didn't help; but some road signs did confirm I was in the right direction. The trouble was there was no clue in the towns and bus station where I was. I trusted the judgement of the driver who took me to the bus stop. So wasn't unduly concerned but I'd look very stupid if I got off the bus at the wrong place!
By 4 PM I expected to be I Ubon Rachathani where Mick was waiting for me; but the bus took a roundabout route deviating through other towns. After a couple of false arrivals where t one place there was big bus station and I manged to get confirmation that I was still on the bus toUbon Rachathani .
I had more confirmation as a 25km to Ubon sighncame up. But it still took an age to get there; passing yet another big town and rivr crossing and a long drive along some impressively wide rouads for over half an hour.
I finally arrived at a large bus station terminus where every one got off. I saw the smiling faces of Mick and his Thai Friend Kriangsak Champasam (Khean) who had a tuk tuk waiting .
It ws only a few minuted drive to the grandly names Lake View mansions Hotel. Newly built and immaculately clean; the hotel was a litllre out of town on a small Soi off a major road. Checked in by Phum the Manageress. She was friendly enough; but was very insistent that the deposit and roo rate was paid immediately. This was not so easy as I only had a small amount of Baht from the journey. Anyway Mick sorted the bill out for me and we a had a long chat in the lobby.
Khean took us out via the ATM in town then to an expats bar, amusingly called the Wrong Way Inn. Well the food was great, the atmosphere pleasant. Met Trevor a Londoner and a few others There are quite a few expats in Ubon Rachathani most have Thai wives or girlfriends ½ their age. They are Called the Farang Brother in Law of Isan .
Many have also been silly enough to get married not realizing that in SE Asia you don marry the girl but the whole family. Thaïs think that Farangs are a bottomless pot of money to support their extended families. Many western guys have been stitched up by there Thai families and ended up with serious financial distress or expensive divorces
I heard a lot about the Sate of Isan. Although covering a vast area it gets less than 1% of Thai Tourism here. I was going to find out on Saturday what there was to offer in what appeared to b a city of little obvious tourist interest. Mick was keen to point out that the Thai Education system is very inward looking reflecting the general attitude of the population as a whole.
A a lot of tiger beer was consumed as there was a 2 +1 free offer on Large bottles of Tiger
We had 3 free ones so had 9 between us that night. By 11:30 when most of the guys went out to a night club later. I we were ready to be taken by tuk tuk back to the hotel.
100Baht was all that we had between us in small change. I managed to prevent Mick giving 500B for fare; the driver seemed OK with that.