Day 49; Krabi to Aranyaprathet.
Wake 6:15 to the chirp of our phone alarm. The small eateries and stores along our little side street are still closed as we creep out into the young sunlight. Their blinds are pulled down from head-height to waist-height, prohibiting taller people but not short people or animals. We have been staying for the last two weeks in a small hostel called Popeyes in the bustling centre of Ao Nang. Located down a small side street and surrounded by little bars, it is colourful, playful and the quintessential Thailand backpackers hostel. We love it and, having befriended all the staff and locals, we are reluctant to leave. My Brother and his partner Autumn have been staying in Ao Nang these last few days and we have soaked up enough sun and alcohol with them for a lifetime! But now we must leave; leaving family and friends and beaches behind and onwards to Cambodia.
7:15am, Our mini bus arrives in style and on time. It is a silver Toyota people carrier, driven by a local man eager to drop his young daughter in the front seat next to him off at school en-route. The aircon is colder than the ice-capped mountains of Iceland so we pull on our sweaters for the first time in months. The weather outside is still warming, about 20 degrees celsius already, with blue and gold hues fighting for supremacy above us in a cloudless, crisp sky. As we near Krabi airport after 30 minutes we rise up high above sea level and are given panoramic views across the sea of jungle covered karsts that rise and fall far into the distance. People are already awake around us; farmers collecting fluids in small cups from their rubber tree plantations, oxen pulling ploughs, shop keepers hanging an array of colourful items around the walls of their stores and small families piled on to a single motorbike on their way to the morning markets.
Krabi airport is compact and modern and the terminal has great views of the landscape from its position above the runway. We board our plane after an hour of learning some Kumer language basics (Sure-s’day is hello and Ah’kun is thankyou) and drinking coffee in the terminal. I feel myself getting a little anxious as I remember that it was only two weeks before that an Air Asia plane was lost in poor weather over Indonesia. Fortunatly the flight lands with a heavy bump an hour later in Bangkok – wings intact – and we are soon out into the wildness of the city with our heavy bags and a wad of US dollars to swap for Cambodia ‘real’ when we cross the border. With an exchange rate of 6000 real to one pound Cambodia is probably one of the only countries where even Abbi and I can be Billionaires!
The weather around us in Bangkok is just as warm and settled as in the south and it seems that the whole of Thailand is basking in glorious sunshine at the moment!
Before too long the eagerly awaited A1 shuttle bus trundles along and into the bay in front of us and we are soon on our way through the chaotic streets to Mochit bus terminal 30 minutes away. The female bus conductor looks miserable as she paces the busy bus collecting money from the faceless passengers – that is until she gets to Abbi and I when she breaks out into a gleaming smile as I become the first person to actually say thankyou. Objective accomplished!
The bus drops us off at a very bland street corner, and we are pointed to the ticket office by a very lovely local woman keen to practice her English (and point a lot). We snap up two tickets aboard the 11:30am departure for the Cambodian boarder, which sets sail in only five minutes, and climb aboard to a sea of analysing eyes. Only two other people on the bus share our skin tone and we begin to feel a bit like the subject of an observational biology lesson. I take it quite flatteringly and beam smiles out towards my curious neighbours.
Five hours, four sandwiches, three bottles of water and a very suspicious cup of tea later we are dropped off at Aranyaprathet. The sun is yawning and the warm air already smells like evening as we stand a bit glazed over at the side of the main road into Cambodia. We reluctantly hail a Tuk Tuk who swivels and glides towards us like a panther to its prey and bounce two kilometers further down the dusty road to our hotel for the night, the Tournesol Boutique Hotel in Aranyaprathet.
The hotel is set amid several other resorts and functions primarily as a one-night stand for travellers like us dropping into Cambodia the next day. We are both glad that we have decided to break up the journey like this as we have heard that crossing into the mysterious Cambodia can be a bit perilous! The hotel is really quite nice; much bigger than we anticipated but still low-lying, modern and with a lovely courtyard and pool to cool off in. The staff, despite our best efforts to politely decline, line up eagerly to help us carry our bags to our room. Five people carry four very managable bags twenty feet and it all seems a bit Faulty Towers. Light hearted, earnest and with a very innocent agenda. The restaurant later is very charming; kitted out in a fusion of Thai and Khumer wooden ornaments and styles and with the same wonderful staff as earlier. Local food and local beer before we turn in to our comfortable bed, but not before I foolishly spill an entire bottle of water smack bang in the middle of my half of the bed. After some NATO-grade persuasion Abbi mercifully let’s me bunch over to her side! I sleep easily and excitedly; Tomorrow we cross a boarder into country I have dreamed of visiting since I was a child. The ancient Khumer people and mysteries of Cambodia await!