A Tour of South East Asia, Part 9
17th March, 3.25pm, Thailand-Cambodian border
I have to get to my cash in PP, I can’t afford a tantrum here – I will be patient and polite. I smile at the lady after she has kept me waiting long enough to emphasise her power. Her face is expressionless as she tells me to sit down. All the other officers in the room are deferring to her; grovelling would be a better description – they all want to get a look at the farang who is refusing to pay for his visa.
It takes me back to school when I was called to the office of the headmistress after being caught in the girls' locker room. I should never have been a teacher.
‘Why you not pay 1000 baht for visa?’ she barked.
I repeat what I said to the guy at the booth.
She looks at me, the faint patronizing grin of petty officialdom on her face. It was an expression that told me it would be dangerous to ask if she was available for short time. ’You pay $25.’
I don’t argue. I fill in the forms and fork out the last of my dollars. At least I have saved $7, but now have a 150 baht and a 1000 Riel note left with which to paint Koh Kong pink.
But it’s not over. The little Mafia guys from the bus come over to us. 'Now you pay him 100 baht for taking care of visa.' It is incredible; all he did was hand our passports (and my letter of excuse) into a booth. Anybody could have done that. We had to fill in the forms and pay for the visa ourselves.
‘That is part of the service, we already paid for that.’ I tried again although I knew I was fighting a lost cause.
'If you don’t pay him he has no money,’ he explained.
‘But don’t you pay him from the money we paid?’
‘No we not pay him, he gets money from you.’
Negotiations had reached a stalemate. The others had already coughed up for the extra visa and luggage service with reluctant shrugs. They were waiting impatiently for me to settle what was really just ‘small change’ – a sort of a tax – which is the price the tourist pays to get anything in these places – but I hadn’t the money to be blasé about it.
I looked at the poor little fucker. It wasn’t him who was ripping us off. I could have carried my own fucking passport from one window to the other – but he had done it for me – it was his job. It is how he puts food on the table for his kids. Each of his big eyes contained a huge tear that if I had stood there for eternity wouldn’t have gained the momentum to flow down his cheeks. Where had I seen eyes like that before? Yes! It was Nong as I left Pattaya on the minibus. I gave him 50 baht.
But the worst was to come.
We get in a tuk-tuk to go away from the border into Koh Kong which is between one and two kilometres away. Inside are the two tough little guys, me and the fat Canadian, the plasma screen TV and all. Almost immediately we stop at a toll booth.
‘What the fuck is this – it’s only a dirt road.’
‘You and you,’ he said, pointing to each of us, ‘now pay him 4,800 Riel.’
I said; ‘You pay him, we already paid 3000 baht each for the all-inclusive transport to Phnom Penh.’
‘No you must pay 4,800 Riel each,’ he repeats.
‘But we have no Riel.’
‘OK, I pay for you and you pay me back.’
‘Can we not pay now, a dollar?’
‘No dollar only Riel, and a dollar is only 4,500 Riel but you must pay 4,800.’
Of course you can’t get Riel outside of Cambodia, he knows that we don’t have any and it’s just another scam. He won’t accept dollars and takes us to an exchange stall. He says you need small money in Cambodia and here you can exchange baht for Riel. The exchange place looks like another fake scam run by his friends. The girl points at an extortionate exchange rate and I hand in a hundred baht note.
‘No we only change one thousand baht notes.’
‘I don’t have any baht and I don’t want a load of fucking riel anyway,’ I tell her.
‘You change dollar.’
‘I don’t have any dollars.’
We go ATM and you get dollars’
“I don’t have an ATM card’
She is incredulous. I try explaining again about my money in the hotel safe but I’m talking to a wall. I am a Falang and therefore I have money and she and the others in the scam want their slice of it. The Canadian isn’t saying much; being equally intransigent because he doesn’t want to pay, just because I’m not. His motivation is principle, while I would just pay whatever they want so I can get on to the hotel. I have not got principles – or money.
It is too hilarious for the Cambodians to grasp. When I try to tell them the problem they claim they don’t understand. Things are hotting up we have reached a stalemate. We don’t know where we are and need our hotel and ticket to PP. Fatty finally says to them;
‘Well, I‘ll give you a dollar.’ He doesn’t offer to pay my toll. He hands it over to them, they accept it and then turn to me. Suddenly I remember I have a 1000 Riel note.
‘Here is 1000 riel and that makes 5,500 Riel with that dollar. That covers it – and a tip for you.’
They are stumped now. They wanted us both to pay for a single toll. I calmly explain that he only paid once at the booth and prepare myself for a long argument.
One of the guys is a tough little fucker though the other seems less dangerous. We are in the middle of nowhere; a bald Englishman and fat Canadian with a plasma screen TV and in a standoff. They could cut our throats here and easily get away with it.
At last, after a long staring match, they reluctantly accept what we gave them and drive off – to the hotel I hope – or maybe they'll shoot us and dump our bodies on the dirt road. I wasn't quite ready to be put out of my misery yet.
6 pm, The Apex Koh Kong Resort, Cambodia
They take us to some really run down hole that they are calling a hotel – only bed and breakfast, no dinner, no lift, a big fan churning the bugs around the room instead of air con. I say, to the Cambodians, 'What the hell? No dinner and No air con?' The little guy gets shirty again;
‘What, now you are no like hotel? You want to go to another hotel?’
I told him I did, but he made it clear that was out of the question his commission was tied up in this dump. They are pretending not to speak English again.
On the way he has bought our bus tickets to PP and is keeping them in his hands. Our ‘tour guides’, and the hotel staff were all talking to one another in Khmer and laughing through it – it was clear they were taking the piss now. They were holding on to our room keys and the bus tickets; and incredibly, they were holding out for their tip!
I turned to the Canadian and said; ‘If these fuckers think that they’re getting a tip they can go and suck their own dicks.’
He said; ‘What, are you on some kind of a budget or something. They only want a dollar each.’
I hadn’t slept all night and hadn’t had a proper meal for days. I hadn’t even had a beer. The journey had been incredibly long and torturous; the tension in the last hour had got to me. He had spoken loudly. I was in shock. It was too much.
I took my bag off my shoulder and flung it to the floor. Then I took off my cap and smashed that into the floor.
‘IF YOU SAY ONE MORE WORD YOU FAT CANADIAN BASTARD I’LL STICK THAT FLAT SCREEN PLASMA TV UP YOUR FUCKING ASS.’
I was ready to kill him, go to a Cambodian jail for life or whatever. I'd totally lost it.
But he said nothing. There wasn’t a sound in the room. It was as if I was alone. I looked around. The transport guys had gone. My room key and bus ticket were on the counter. The receptionist was shuffling about awkwardly behind his desk. The Canadian was fiddling with his phone.
I picked up my hat and bag from the floor, took my bus ticket and room key from the counter and walked off towards the stairs. I was thinking; ‘Well, now they’ll come and throw me out. I better get ready for the worst. I’ll sleep on the street. I’ve still got my bus ticket. Maybe I’ll be shot by the Mafia before that – at least I'll be out my misery.’
I was now ready to die. When you think things can't get any worse they always do.
I went to my room and pulled back the sheets. There was a horse’s head in the bed. I didn’t care and got in with it. Five minutes … then half an hour … then a whole hour went by and nobody came. I hung my clothes in the wardrobe and waited, nobody came. I had a shit, shower and shave and still nobody came. I looked in the bed again – somehow I had only imagined the horses head. Wearily now, I ate my last cheese sandwich, took a last swig from my bottle of warm water, lay back on the bed and fell asleep. Incredibly, I woke in the middle of the night with a massive erection. It is well known that you can sleep with a light on but not a hard on. I had a wank.
This is my field report of sex in Koh Kong. It’s not much, but it’s all I have.