Down the road: crossing at Poipet

I got to Mo Chit bus depot exactly at 3am. The cabbie had offered to take me for a flat 200 baht but I insisted on the meter. 97 baht, plus a 45-baht toll, plus a 50-baht tip for the guy, so I saved 8 baht, almost almost a quarter US.

The depot is very quiet at 3 in the morning. There were a dozen drowsy or sleeping passengers in a huge waiting area ringed by walls of darkened ticket windows. Three or four were lit, manned by depressed-looking clerks, no doubt wondering what they did wrong to deserve this shift. There were signs posted everywhere but few in Latin characters and none that mentioned any place I recognized. In my jet-lagged state, I couldn’t remember the name of the Thai border town I needed to go to (it’s Aranya Pratet, by the way) nor the Thai word for “Cambodia” (it’s “Kampucha” of course) and the clerk I tried didn’t know where “Poipet” is. “Cambodia” I tried. The clerk was still dubious but pointed down.
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Weird stuff that happens to you in other countries: a true story

The previous post reminded me about my time in Laos and I thought I’d republish this.

The room was spartan, but large and clean and only 30,000 kip a night, about $4 US. I paid in advance, showered, and left my pack in the room to go get dinner with some friends. I came back near midnight, dead on my feet from the 20-hour bus ride and the heavy meal.

But the room smelled foul. It stank of sewage and corruption and something else. I checked the bathroom, thinking the drain had failed in some discernable way. No, the bathroom looked, and smelled, fine. I went to the lobby, but the clerk was gone and the hotel seemed deserted.

Forget it, just go to bed. Continue reading

Vietnam Diary

The following is a redacted version of my travel diary.  Everything that wasn’t written contemporaneously (except for minor spelling and grammar corrections) is in brackets. Most prices are expressed in Vietnamese dong (VND); at the time, there were 15,500 dong to a US dollar.

Day One – 15 February 2004 – Saigon

I’m here in Saigon.  I’m sitting the lobby of the Orient Hotel, waiting for my guide, Mr. Hoa.  Mr. Tran, who rented me the Bonus motorbike, came by to give me the helmet.  He seemed almost pathetically glad to meet an American. [He greeted me with a soul-brother handshake he must have learned in 1972 from American GIs.]  As an ex-ARVN tanker (he has a scar across the top of his skull from an NVA bullet) and the son of an ARVN captain who spent four years in re-education (now living in Dallas), Tran is in a strange world — among his own age group a pariah, to the younger generation a ghost from a past they don’t remember or understand.

The chairs here in the lobby are like rosewood thrones, fancy, expensive-looking, painfully uncomfortable.  A cyclo-driver has his eye on me from the street and whenever I make the slightest motion to stretch my legs, he’s gesticulating optimistically.  The desk clerk is taking her sweet time with the bill — how difficult is it to multiply $12 by 1 night? Continue reading