Upon arriving in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, we thought our motorcycle trip was over. We did it! No one crashed and no one's bike fell apart. Luckily we didn't have any serious mishaps along the way. We did have a couple of close calls though. On the first day I almost hit a parked motorcycle in the road while waving back to a group of kids. Alvin's luggage frame fell off his bike in the middle of nowhere. In Kontum, I took a sharp blind turn that could've ended bad with an oncoming truck. I was trying to keep up with a mechanic that was going to fix Scott's flat tire. But after all of that, we were safe and sound at the finish line in Ho Chi Minh. Celebrations were in order.
Alvin had to leave Vietnam before us and sold his bike for a hundred bucks. Scott and I were planning on doing the same then taking a bus to Phnom Penh. The only problem was we weren't quite ready to part ways with our bikes we just spent the last thirty days riding. So the more talked about it, we thought why don't we just try to cross the border ourselves? Worst case scenario we get turned away and probably have to sell the bikes for next to nothing in the closest town.
We packed our bags on our bikes for the last time in Vietnam and set out on Highway 22 toward Cambodia. It was bittersweet excitement knowing we were leaving Vietnam. Gradually the remnants of Ho Chi Minh's traffic thinned out and we were back in the country. We had one last bowl of bun noodles and carefully approached the Moc Bai border crossing.
Exiting Vietnam was easy. Then we had to walk our bikes about 100 yards to the Cambodian side of the border. Our passports were already stamped out of Vietnam. And you can't get a Vietnam visa on arrival. So if we didn't get the bikes into Cambodia we would've been forced to leave them there and try to get on one of the busses heading to Phnom Penh.
A couple of guys who maybe worked at the border but were dressed in plain clothes told us we couldn't bring the Vietnamese bikes into Cambodia. We casually interacted with them before filling out our arrival cards inside where we did not mention our mode of transportation. We walked through customs and were really starting to think the serious officials weren't going to let us cross with the bikes. After our passports got stamped, we walked back to where we parked the bikes and nonchalantly walked them across the border. We didn't make eye contact with anyone and the border security didn't say a word.
We were in Cambodia!
We could quickly see the difference between the two countries. Riding on the dusty road behind overcrowded buses and truck beds filled with people, we realized that Cambodia is very poor. This wasn't going to be the carefree joyride we were just having in Vietnam.
The rush of adventure was rerouted to the thought of maybe this wasn't a good idea. The echoes of "hellooo" and smiles from the Vietnamese were replaced with neutral curious stares from the Cambodians.
The border took a little more time than what we were expecting. As a result we rode for a couple hours in the dark with only our dim headlights pushing us toward Phnom Penh. There was a lot of road construction coming into the capital city. Consequently the last leg was very taxing. A combination of the bumpy road conditions and bug impacts to the face made us very relieved to reach the city.
There we would learn more about Phnom Penh and the Kingdom of Cambodia.
We stopped to try some roadside Kralan. It's a semi sweet high energy snack made from rice, beans, and coconut milk cooked over a coals in bamboo.
Cambodia has a very sad recent history. In the mid 1970s a man by the name of Pol Pot, led the Khmer Rouge in taking control of the country. They forced people to move from cities in an attempt to create an agricultural based communist society. Over a few year period, the Khmer Rouge systematically imprisoned and executed educated Cambodian citizens and any one else who posed a threat to their new vision. In the decades that followed, killing fields were discovered and excavated all over the country. Nearly a quarter of the population died during the Khmer Rouge's rule from starvation and murder. That's close to 2 million people.
Cambodia's ancient history is what attracts visitors today. The city of Siem Reap is located next to some of the most significant archaeological sites in the world. I was under the impression that the Angkor Wat complex was the only temple tourists came to see. I was wrong. This World Heritage site includes dozens of temples and ruins from the Khmer Empire that is spread out over a several mile area. We paid a Tuk Tuk driver $15 for the day to drive us around to see most of them. If I ever make it back, I would buy the three day pass and take my time seeing everything at a more leisurely pace.
The impulsive decision to take the bikes into Cambodia actually worked out. We did get pulled over a couple times by Cambodian motorcycle cops. Leaving Phnom Penh we accidentally ran a red-light in the heart of downtown. The police officer who watched us hesitantly glide through the intersection during peak morning traffic was really laid back about it. We paid him 10 usd each and he let us go.
Then at the very next intersection two more police officers waved us over. They pointed out our Vietnamese plates and were trying to get $50 from each of us. At this point I accepted the reality that the ride was probably over. Knowing that we only needed the bikes for one more day we weren't about to pay that much. I didn't know what was going to happen. We eventually settled on $25 for each bike, which is close to a week's salary for them.
Before we handed over the money, we pointed to the officer at the last intersection and gestured that we paid him. Then gestured that if we pay you, how do we know we're not going to get stopped by the police waiting at the next intersection. One of the officers then hopped on his motorcycle and waved to follow him. We rode close behind him as we weaved in and out of side streets to avoid the other police checkpoints. He turned on his lights to cut through intersections and eventually led us to the main roundabout that took us out of town. Scott would agree that our $25 police escort was worth the price.
After reaching Siem Reap, we told the front desk of our hotel that we were trying to sell our motorbikes. Scott met with one of the kitchen staff to let him test drive his. While talking to him about the price, Scott suddenly decided to give him the bike for free. After all, the level of enjoyment we experienced the previous five weeks far exceeded what we paid for them. I was a little surprised when he told me what happened. Soon after I followed suit and told the receptionist to give mine to someone that needed it. He probably sold it and kept the cash. But let's just write that off as a gift to Cambodia.