Simon had gone to Koh Kong the day before with all our passports in hand, with the hope of extending our visas for another thirty days; he went on his own to reduce our costs and our effort (on mine and Lucy’s part anyway). Unfortunately Sopheap had misinformed us, you couldn’t extend your visa at the Koh Kong border, you could only do it in Phnom Penh and it cost sixty Dollars not the forty five he had quoted. Not all was lost, as Simon was at the border he could simply go into Thailand then come back to Cambodia and purchase a new visa for twenty Dollars; obviously because Lucy and I weren’t there our passports came back without new visas, so we went the next day.
Like Simon we wanted to reduce our costs, so instead of getting a coach - with could cost between six and fifteen Dollars, we hitch hiked which ended up costing us just under four. Lucy, Cecile (another volunteer who was going to Thailand to fly home) and I were apprehensive about these mini-vans as most the ones we had seen were grossly over loaded with both people and luggage and we were worried about the conditions inside, but what can I say…they were cheap. After a quick down pour of rain we managed to flag down the first van we saw, and although the conductor tried to overcharge us we got local prices without much fuss. As we piled in I was instructed to sit in the front, and I must say the double front seat with an extraordinary amount of leg room made for a comfortable journey – for me at least. The very nature of these hitch hiker mini-vans is that they stop wherever and whenever someone stands by the side of the road, or indeed leaves luggage waiting; as we got closer and closer to Koh Kong we stopped several times, more and more people climbing into the back of the van. Every time I looked into the back all the seats looked occupied but somehow we would stop again and another three passengers would squeeze in, meanwhile I had two seats to myself in the front! Of course some people did alight along the way, the whole mini-van gave a huge sigh of relieve when an elderly lady got off, taking with her the malodorous box of fish with her. After what seemed to me a quick two hours of taking in the beautiful country side we had arrived at the all too familiar Koh Kong coach station, and were of course immediately lynched by all the taxi/tuktuk drivers in the vicinity. I tried to establish, to no avail whether our minivan would be going back today, and what time; but before I could get a satisfactory answer from the very friendly and ever smiling conductor Cecile, Lucy and I were being whisked away in a tuktuk to the border, which was about a mile away.
As we got our passports stamped on the way out of Cambodia Cecile began negotiating with vendors for her connecting coach ticket, the only problem with this was that she seemed completely incapable of converting Baht to Dollars and then Dollars to Euros. This meant she was using Lucy and I as human calculators whilst also demanding our opinions as to the fairness of the price; which got irritating after about ten seconds; eventually she decided that six hundred and fifty Baht was a reasonable price to get to Bangkok and caught up with Lucy and I who were already half way across no man’s land toward the Thai border. Lucy and I had agreed to have lunch with Cecile, but also knew the last organized coach left Koh Kong at two so we needed to be swift; however Cecile hadn’t got this memo. She had a cigarette between every part of the immigration process, Mackie tutted and sighed and huffed and puffed, but Cecile failed to pick up on these ‘subtle’ signs and meandered along at her own pace. Before we could get lunch Cecile needed to exchange some money – luckily we found someone that sold food and exchanged currency so Mackie was calmed for the moment at least. After we ate three enormous plates of amazing pad Thai Cecile enquired whether exchanging twenty Dollars for six hundred Baht was a good rate, without thinking about it at all we agreed it was and went to cross back to Cambodia. Cecile would join us back across the border to purchase her ticket, in the middle of no man’s land she finally realised that she had failed to swap over enough Baht to purchase her ticket, Mackie released another massive groan so I suggested that we say our goodbyes now - and we did.
Back on the Cambodian side of the border we applied for our new visas and were invited into the office (most people applied through the window). We apprehensively sat down, justifiable a little worried,
“Your friend come yesterday. Renew, renew! No renew. Phnom Penh only!” yelped the officer excitedly, it seems that Simon had made a friend whilst trying to extend our visas on the previous day – and she seemed genuinely pleased to see us, giving us advice on future travel. Once we had left the office we all squeezed on to a scooter (Lucy, the driver and I) and set off back to Koh Kong coach station. By this time I knew the way from the border to the coach station, and our driver had just taken a wrong turn; Simon had mentioned that his driver had done this yesterday – taking him to travel agent to buy an overpriced coach ticket, and not taking no for an answer. We were more insistent than Simon and eventually our driver conceded and took us to the coach station. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw our minivan sitting where we had left it – both the conductor and driver waving at us. We climbed aboard and immediately the van was off; had they been waiting for us? I think they must have, bless them. After collecting a few other passengers we were back on Road 48 heading back to Andong Tuek, once again I was spread out generously in the front getting a great view of Botumsakur National Park, the Cardamon Mountains and all the monkeys in the road.
We topped off what was an unexpectedly nice day out with a whiskey Thursday, not thinking about the class I would have to teach at eight the next morning.