The days that I am behind the wheel for 4 hours and more I have a very heavy breakfast so that I do not have to stop for lunch en route. The drive to Pattaya, factoring in the two border crossings, I considered would take about 8 hours. The breakfast spread in the Royal Crown Hotel has been unvarying for the past three days. The only difference is the conjee, which had fish on the first, pork on the second and chicken this day. The smiling service staff makes up for any deficiency one may feel in the buffet. The checkout was so smooth that I had to ask if all was okay! I asked the young girl to affix the sticker for Cambodia and she was flattered. After doing the honours, smiling and bowing, she thanked me for staying at the hotel and wished me well.
It is a 150 km drive from Siem Reap to Poi Pet, the Cambodian border, which was eventless and unhurried. I filled fuel in two locations before getting to the border as fuel in Cambodia is cheaper than it is in Thailand. Konna trees were in full bloom right through the drive to the border town, which made a pleasant sight. Every hamlet I passed on the way had stalls vending food and local hand made products.
Any thought or mention of border crossing is a matter for tension with me these days. Talk about negative reinforcements! Even though I thought up many reasons why I would be denied entry into Thailand, the experience was otherwise. The formalities at the Cambodian and Thailand borders were smoothly executed, even though the Thai immigration and Customs had their fair share of melodrama. The Poi Pet town is congested and dusty. There are so many handcarts in the town that it takes special skills to manoeuver between them. They are mainly engaged in transhipment of cargoes across the border. I was helped by a helpful Cambodian immigration official to join the correct queue to do the departure stamping. The Immigration official in the booth pleaded for 100 THB for coffee! When I said I did not have any he was disappointed. But, he did the job quickly and I walked to the Customs office that was situated away from the Immigration Office. At the gate of the Customs the security guard quickly understood what I wanted and took me to an officer. Without any queries he directed his junior officer to stamp the Carnet and I was out of the Cambodian border post in about 15 minutes! And I started driving on the left side of the road after many weeks; the brain was overjoyed.
When I parked for immigration clearance on the Thai side I kept telling myself that all would be fine and reminded myself that I should get immigration clearance for the car too. I presented the Carnet and Passport to the immigration official who went out of the way to fill up forms and take necessary photocopies. He presented all the documents to his superior for signature. The Officer, who till then was happy watching his favourite programme on TV, had doubts regarding my visa. Mercifully, he cleared his doubts via a phone call. These moments stretch to hours when you await a ‘verdict’, as it were. In the end, the passport was stamped and the immigration papers for the car were also obtained this time. I had learnt a lesson the last time around, when I had to pay a fine at the Thai border while exiting to Laos for not having taken the papers at the time of entry from Myanmar. I passed through the border post and parked the car for Customs clearance. The lady in the booth did not seem familiar with the Carnet. Her superior was summoned who stamped the Carnet. However, Customs gave another document also, which was to be handed over to Customs at the exit to Malaysia. The most hassle free movement across the borders with the car were in Lao PDR and Cambodia, where the formalities of Carnet were known to the officials concerned.
I was not in a hurry to reach Pattaya, since it was only 10.45 am by the time I finished border formalities. Just a few km into Thailand I was waived down by a police patrol. The senior among them approached me and asked for papers. He was convinced by the Carnet and he started speaking to me animatedly. I could make out very little because he was wearing a mask. Lip reading is effective only when you can see the other person’s lips! I showed him the stickers on the car and told him about the expedition. He wished me well for the rest of the journey, which I made out from the pat on my back.
The hotel I was booked into in Pattaya, Nova Platinum, is certainly not value for money with unfriendly staff and ill maintained room features. The location is good as it is in one of the main streets of Pattaya, just off the Walking Street. Once the Sun had started its descent for the day I forayed out to experience the town. After a while I concluded that you cannot walk in the town without either bumping into an Indian or espying an Indian enterprise, be it tailors or restaurants. Himalaya Tours has over 60 Indian guests staying in the same hotel that I am. Raja restaurant, Indian Hut, Sanjha Choolha – you name it, you have it. Massage parlours are ubiquitous and brazen about services they offer. Massage by transvestites is a feature. Compared to most other places massage services are cheaper in Pattaya. I tried a foot massage to get over the after effects of the aggressive fish that had me sore at the ankles. The experience was not so great.
One of the items that tourists buy from Pattaya is bags. I have set my sights on one that is just right for travelling. Eateries are dime a dozen, offering varied cuisine, particularly German and Italian. When the lights are up the mobile cocktail bars, offering small and large bucket drinks, start doing brisk business. Bars and restaurants that offer football on telly and escorts at the table are full to overflowing. Gaudy women start appearing at street corners, silently soliciting customers. I observed that hotels are not averse to permitting ‘room guests’ for whatever time they are there.
I had booked to experience the Alcazar show at 9.30 pm, for which I had to be ready for pick up from the hotel an hour before that. I had dinner at a small restaurant offering traditional Thai food. Phad thai shrimp noodle is what I ordered. It turned out to be lip smacking good. The Chang Beer went well with it.
I had been to the Alcazar Show when I was here in 2008. Memories of that wonderful night lingered. The one hour show this night was every bit as thrilling as the one I had experienced then. Even though it was announced that camcorders, mobile phones and cameras should not be used to record the show, it was observed only in the breach. The ushers were strict when it came to people using flash. Once the show was over the artists came out to pose with the audience, for a fee of course. The twist in the tale was that all the pretty women who appeared on stage were actually beautiful transvestites!
In 35 days I have completed 10,000 kms through 6 countries.