We arrived in the late afternoon and secured lodging at the quietest guesthouse we could find ($3 a night). After that we headed downtown in search of something very necessary: anti-malaria pills. Cambodia is a malaria danger-zone, and preventive pharmaceuticals are vital.
Making our way through the downtown districts of Patpong, we searched for a
legitimate pharmacy that would sell us what we wanted. Some donft look
asc well, glegitimateh as others. Perusing the (many) drug stores, one
had a multilingual handwritten sign in the window that said in English:
We found a pharmacy that sold Mephloquine, a recommended anti-malarial , and we were ready to go! We headed back to our guesthouse and settled down for sleep at around midnight. Little did we know...
It turns out that Mephloquine, although a very effective anti-malarial , is a pretty hardcore drug. For starters, itfs so strong you only take it once a week. And to quote journalist and author Robert Kaplan from his book Coming Anarchy, gVisitors to malaria-afflicted parts of the planet are protected by a new drug, mefloquine, a side effect of which is vivid, even violent, dreams.h Jon and I took our pills and settled down for what was for both of us one of the worst nights wefve ever had. Kaplan is right -- the side effects for Mefloquine include sleeplessness, night terrors, insomnia, and hallucinations -- psychiatric side effects occur in more than one in four people. For Jon and I, our sleep was punctuated by some peculiar and disturbing dreams. After six hours of lying in bed (but barely two hours of actual sleep), Jon and I got up to leave. We had some breakfast of banana pancakes from a street vendor and made our way to the bus station.
(Because you have to take mefloquine for four weeks after leaving the malaria danger-zone, Jon apparently had a rough time dealing with both the mefloquine-induced dreams and jetlag. Jon, my sincerest sympathies!)
Here's a picture of Jon chowing down on some super spicy noodles in Bangkok. Jon's toughness extends to his taste buds -- he asked for the spiciest thing on the menu.
Arriving near the border, we paid for a touk-touk to take us to the border. It was a real frontier between the second and third world -- beggars and children swarmed us. When Jon extended his hand to pay our driver he was attacked by kids who drew blood with their fingernails! (Jon, I hope youfve since gotten a tetanus shot!) And it isnft just beggars and children -- the Khmer and Thai Mafioso are out in full force and everyone and their uncle is there ready to help you get your visa gprocessed.h We did our best to ignore them and made a beeline to the visa checkout, had our passports stamped, and walked across the border.
A one-month visa into Cambodia requires the applicant to pay $20 and provide a passport photo, but although we had the cash, neither of us had prepared the necessary photo. What were we to do? Fortunately for Jon, he still had his visa application form stapled into his passport from when he was a high school student in Japan. (In the later 1990s we were required to keep this paperwork for the duration of their stay.) No longer needing it , he carefully removed this five-year old photo and submitted that. What was I to do? I had no photo (having renewed my passport in 2001) and there was no photo booth at this dusty border crossing. Did this mean I wasnft going to get in? No -- money talks. I paid an extra dollar which, ironically, was cheaper than it would have been to take a passport photo in Japan or Thailand.
Looking back on the border we saw Cambodiafs flag in the foreground (with Angkor Wat in the center) and Thailandfs flag in the distance.
The first order of business is to submit a SARS questionairre. (In retrospect, they were successful enough -- Cambodia had no reported cases of SARS.)
We arranged a taxi with a six-fingered man (as in, he had a total of eleven fingers -- no kidding) who had his gbrotherh (?) drive us to Siem Reap in a gtaxi,h which in this case means a new Toyota Camry without a license plate. It was probably better than going by escort moped, which seemed to be the transportation option of choice.
If you need a reminder that this wasnft the developed or developing world anymore, look at this: in Cambodia you pay for gas by the Pepsi bottle.
The taxi ride was $10 each and it took us 150 miles to Siem Reap, the town south of the Angkor Wat ruins. The roads were poor and some bridges had collapsed, requiring intrepid off-road driving. But we eventually arrived