Travel Struggles To Siem Reap
After a heck of an adventure, which involved Thailand (twice), Vietnam (from south to north and then some), and Laos (where I fulfilled my childhood dream of living in a treehouse in the jungle), I’m finally jetsetting to Cambodia. Now that I’m settled in, I have to say, getting here was not at all smooth and it got me thinking to how often a transition like this starts off with nothing but travel struggles.
Part of it is that after spending a week or so in a particular location, I personally start to get rather comfortable. By then, I usually know my way around and no longer need to GPS my location every 5 minutes, which inevitably sidetracks me down a snapchat hole while I check what everyone’s been up to and where they ended up, and come to the realizations that I too need to plan my trip to those places. I have my favourite work spot or cafe with wifi that can sustain a Skype call with the latest client (usually mom), and favourite restaurant. I’m accustomed to my bed and know how to sleep to not wake up with a hunchback, and I’m friendly with the staff at my current crash pad, which often results in a few extra beers during happy hour. It therefore always takes a little bit of self convincing (see: self kick-in-the-butt) to get me to decide on where I want to go next and haul myself over there.
Without traveling, you wouldn’t realize it, but there are a lot of steps involved in this process. The first of which, as mentioned above, is to realize that the current place is tapped out and admit that you’re no longer seeing anything new. As the locals would say, it’s become “same-same”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, there’s no point in trying new things if you never venture back to the ones you like, but stay too long and you’ll start seeing that fine line between traveler and expat.
Once you’ve wrapped your mind around migrating, you need to decide “where to”. I rarely had that problem in Vietnam as the country is so vertical and there is very little room for east-west travel. There are therefore only two possible directions: up, or down, and you make that decision very early on. When you’re in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, on the other hand, you’re like a knight in the middle of a chess board: endless possibilities with often unexpected results. This is true especially with Thailand in the mix, which doesn’t charge for visas. You can therefore come and go as many times as you please, allowing you to leave it partially completed and come back to it after Laos or Cambodia. Sometimes too many options are the root cause of your travel struggles.
So now you know you have to leave, you’ve established the next city (or country), you now have to figure out where you’re going to stay. Time to search the hostel sites, read the reviews, recall what fellow backpackers had recommended months ago when they told their tales for this city (I learned to instantly star them on Google Maps for future planning), and find the absolute best one. Most importantly, decide how loud or quiet you want to be during this next branch of your trip, as most hostels cater to one or the other, or opt for the guesthouse if you really want a few days of absolute peace.
Then, just when everything is in place, comes the worst of your travel struggles: pack your stuff up. When was the last time you did laundry? How many dirty clothes do you have? Do you have time to drop this load off and have it ready before you leave, or are you better off hauling that sack of smelly socks to your next destination and dropping it off once you arrive? Can’t tell you how many times I opted for that latter option, only to forget all about it and head straight to the sights once I actually did arrive. It’s never until the next morning that you realize that you’re flat out of underwear and you have to embark on the smell test. Don’t be embarrassed if someone catches you mid sniff, they’ve all been there.
Well, this time around, since I was not only relocating but doing so internationally, from Thailand to Cambodia, my travel struggles included visas and currencies. Neither of which SHOULD have been a problem – Cambodian visa is $30 on arrival and local currency (Riel or conveniently USD for Cambodia) can be obtained from the ATM’s, also on arrival. So I successfully heard my alarm at 5am, grudgingly got out of bed, and stumbled to the airport mostly worry-free for my 7am flight, after but a 3 hour sleep due to last minute packing and goodbye drinks with my Bangkok compadres.
Little did I know that school was about to be in session for some tough lessons. As some know, if you don’t have a return ticket when traveling to certain countries, it’s the airline’s responsibility to verify that you do have sufficient cash to eventually purchase said ticket (Cambodia is one of them, Thailand was never an issue on the other hand). This required me to demonstrate cashflow of over $300USD. Unfortunately, Thailand does not dispel USD’s at their ATM’s like Cambodia does, so I was force to pull out Thai Baht to prove my worth. I pulled out closer to USD400 to be sure the currency converted properly to over USD300. Having that many Baht in my possession didn’t seem like a waste seeing as I would be returning to Bangkok for about a month, ample time to spend it all. I put it safely in my travel pouch, stored that in my checked luggage, and got on the plane.
Once in Cambodia, I filed for my visa on arrival for which used my last passport photo (need to remember to get more), and proceeded to the payment counter. I asked if they accepted Thai Baht in place of the $30USD, to which they graciously said they did, and that it amounted to 1200TBH. That’s when the travel gods started playing games. I only had 1000TBH left in my wallet from the previous night. All the TBH I had just taken out was in my checked luggage, which I could only pick up after getting my visa.
So off to the ATM again we go. I decided to pull out $300USD, which might be overkill for my time in Cambodia, but overshooting would not be a problem since, as we all know, USD is a versatile currency and I could easily spend it elsewhere. However, when I attempted the withdrawal, I was shutdown harder than a restaurant full of cockroaches. Apparently, I was exceeding my daily limit. What am I 9 years old??? Why is that limit still in place? I am an adult (sort of… at least on paper… can’t the bank give me the benefit of the doubt?).
A vague recollection told me that said limit had been set to $500 when my account was opened and it must have stuck. So I tried to take out $100, which was rather uneconomical as the fee was still $5 regardless of the extracted amount. This now amounted to 5% of my withdrawal (sad face). And I was still denied! I suppose bank fees get calculated into your daily limits (obviously). In total disgust, I was forced to request a measly $50, distraught that this transaction was going to cost me a whooping 10%!!! Finally, I got the cash, was able to pay for the visa, and was left with $20. I did feel like 9 years old. Better to accept the travel struggles and move on.
Payment for the first night at the hostel, breakfast, and a few tuk tuts later left me with 50 cents. I would likely have to wait until the next day, when my withdrawal limit resets, for my next meal. This didn’t seem fun, but I realize that people in these parts go through much worst. I decided to stop being a baby and hold off, so I just went on with my day. One of the things I wanted to do in Cambodia was donate blood, as I frequently hear that there isn’t enough, and I decided to knock that out on my first day as I didn’t know enough about the area yet to undertake any other activities. Having not eaten since the morning, however, the doctor tending to me actually said my blood pressure was too low to allow me to donate. That came as a bit of a shock, and I realized that I’d better get something in my belly, but how? My withdrawal limit won’t reset until tomorrow, so I was left with just a few options: change some TBH back to dollars, therefore getting dinged on that exchange rate twice (and extra hard here in Cambodia), or take money out on my credit card (never a good idea).
Fortunately, I eventually found a coffee shop that actually accepted Visa (so rare here), so I got a sandwich and a coffee to tie me over until the clock strikes midnight on my withdrawal limit, and added a cupcake for a midnight snack.
And so here I sit in the coffee shop, thinking that all these travel struggles could have been avoided by staying in my comfy airbnb in Bangkok and hanging with my diving buddies. But then again, tomorrow I have a tuk tuk ready to take me to Angkor Wat at 5am to watch the sunrise slowly poke over the temples, I did yoga on an outdoor balcony in front of a wat, and later I’m getting a massage by a blind man with “seeing hands” and I realize that this is all part of the journey. In a few days, I’m sure I’ll have to once again scrape and peel myself out of this city and on to the next adventure.