My journey to Cambodia from Thailand started with an energising Thai massage. It was almost noon and we were lying in a room in a century-old palace draped in comfortable clothes while expert fingers nudged and pushed rhythmically every nerve and muscle in the body. Just as I wondered if I would fall asleep, I experienced a newfound energy to seize the day.
It had been more than 24 hours since we left the environs of Bangkok. Our destination was Aranyaprathet, located on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Although trains and buses from Bangkok take a few hours to reach the town, we took a long detour halting at small villages and towns on the way, Nakhon Nayok being one of them.
The best thing about roaming around in rustic Thailand is that we had neither a sense of urgency nor did we rush to see places and tick them off the list. We stopped at a small workshop where artefacts were made out of mango wood and then relaxed at a dam site before letting the adrenalin take over our spirit. I was excited and nervous about river rafting while the others tried rappelling and other sports. As we called it a day, the sun set out a lush golf resort where we had stayed.
We set out for Aranyaprathet the following day with more detours. And the first halt was at a century-old palace turned hospital where we were given a taste of the traditional Thai massage and a peek into ancient Thai medicine and herbs. A fabulous lunch at a small hamlet followed, where locals cooked for us a delicious meal of sticky rice and various curries. Finally, we were at the Ban Klong Luek Border Market in Aranyaprathet.
If there is one reason to visit the border town besides, of course, to cross into Cambodia, then it is the Ban Klong Luek Market also referred to Talat Rong Kluea. The market seemed never-ending. A labyrinthine network of small lanes filled with shops selling anything from clothes to bags to shoes to accessories filled the eye. We were warned that there could be second-hand products here as well but at throwaway prices, everything was tempting. Locals, especially people from Thailand, came from all over to shop for their daily requirements. A couple of my friends from Singapore bought as many clothes as possible as he said they were very cheap here. Shopkeepers here are mainly Cambodian or Vietnamese and the goods are procured at wholesale prices.
I, however, veered away and entered the food market, which was virtually an assault on the senses. Colourful and crowded, it was full of stalls selling pink eggs, live counters with creatures of the sea,vendors selling meat, vegetables and fruits. I was literally jolted awake. The market was at its most lively when live crabs escaped from their tubs and ventured out into the streets. I walked around for hours clicking photographs and soaking in the energy.
Men and women hung around in clusters, some travelling on cycles buying meat and fish, others catching up on a round of evening gossip. The evening came alive and I probably lost myself in the many hues of lotus stems, red meat and, of course, pink eggs!
The day finally dawned and we headed to the Pot Poi Immigration Checkpoint. It was a breeze at the Thai end but we had to wait for a while on the Cambodian side. Borders blurred as boards took over. There were temples around. But it was casinos and huge resorts that caught our attention. Gambling was legal here. Apsaras were painted on the walls of the immigration centre and boards were put up announcing the venues of their performances. We waited in a bus shelter where alcohol and cigarettes were sold freely. We strolled around. There were tuk-tuks everywhere. A few monks walked in. The streetscape had changed in ten minutes.
I was warned that the wait could take hours, but it did not take long at all. We were finally on the bus to Siem Reap. The milestone said 105 km and the drive was rather uneventful. Little shops with painted Buddhas stood out in the clutter. A few schools passed us by while we saw bright temples glittering away on an otherwise colourless highway. There was barely any traffic. We saw rice mills and rice fields. A railway track emerged out of nowhere. Pretty lily ponds filled our eyes. Girls cycled past us. The farmers were bent knee deep in rice fields soaked in water. For a moment, the scene seemed to be a vignette from any part of rustic India. I shut my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up, Siem Reap greeted us.
View more photos from the border market at Aranyaprathet
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