The Long Way to Poipet

Last week, I took the 6:30 AM morning bus from Phnom Penh to Poipet. I went on this 9-hour trip for the most unusual of reasons: my German SIM card (Blau, E-Plus) had stopped working.  E-Plus’s Cambodian roaming partners (SMART and Metfone) suddenly rejected the card, and I needed roaming to access online banking.

Poipet Cambodian customs casino border sign

My hope was that by being close to the Thai border, I would be able to receive Thai mobile network signals and use their roaming feature to access my account. And indeed, I was lucky: the major Thai operators were available in Poipet, Thai GSM accepted my SIM card, and I was able to conduct my business.

After having traveled for more than 400 kilometers, you can imagine how happy I was that everything had worked out.

For German travelers: As soon as possible, I am going to ditch my budget phone company and switch to something that works. I will try to stay clear of E-Plus affiliated brands in the future. Please let me know which German operator you have found to work well in Cambodia.

Anyway, in the past I had passed through the Thai-Cambodian border at Poipet numerous times, but never taken the time to check out the city. Biased because of numerous negative reviews, I had never ventured beyond the main road. I usually secured onward travel to Battambang or Siem Reap – and off I went. This time I was going to give Poipet two nights and check it out properly.

Poipet Duty Free Zone (Casino Area)

Poipet Entering the Casino Area

Poipet casinos

I came from Phnom Penh via Capital Bus (33000 Riel). Most people are continuing to Thailand, so the bus takes you right to the border (the roundabout before the departure immigration office).

Wanting to get as close to the Thai border as possible, I went off the bus and right into casino land, a special economic zone that is still located in Cambodia, but beyond the Cambodian immigration check points. As I didn’t want to leave Cambodia, I just walked by the Cambodian departure immigration on the right side of the road.

An official said “Check out here,” and I replied, “No check out, go casino,” upon which he smiled. Exiting the casino area, I just walked back on the same side of the road, again passing by the departure check point. During the next two days I walked back and forth several more times, but never got asked again.

Do not exit Cambodia to go to the casinos.

Otherwise, you will have to cross into Thailand and get a Thai entry/exit stamp combination. You will also have to get a new visa for Cambodia. Contrary to what some people claim, the casino area is not in no-man’s-land; it is a duty-free zone that belongs to Cambodia.

I am not a great fan of gambling, so I just peaked into the casinos and otherwise spent most of my time at True coffee shop (attached to one of the casinos) to log into the Thai mobile network and do my banking. They have got friendly staff, great coffee, all kinds of delicious milk shakes,  and good WIFI.

On the other hand, if you are coming from Thailand and plan to stay for a few nights at the casinos, you may want to formally enter Cambodia first, before heading back to the casinos. For this you will need to pay for the Cambodian visa, which is available before the Cambodian arrival immigration (coming from Thailand on the right side of the road).

Otherwise Thai immigration might not let you back in for the lack of a Cambodian entry/exit stamp combination, and Cambodian immigration might create problems because your Thai exit stamp and your proposed entry date into Cambodia don’t match. (If in doubt, ask Thai immigration what options foreigners have for visiting the casinos.)

There are several restaurants (Japanese, casino buffet, beer-garden style, burger outlet) to choose from in the duty-free zone. I found walking around the area quite entertaining: you get to mingle with all the casino goers from Thailand, China, Korea, etc., and you can also watch Cambodians pushing wooden carts with all kinds of wares back and forth. There is a huge border market, Talat Rongkleua, on the Thai side. To get there, foreigners have to exit Cambodia though.

In the following, whenever I refer to “on the right side of the main road,” I mean on the right side coming from Cambodia. The road is National Highway 5. Distances are given from the roundabout close to the Cambodian immigration.

Where to stay in Poipet?

There are several guesthouses at and around the roundabout to choose from. I stayed at Phnom Pich guesthouse, which is about 500 meters before the roundabout on the right side. The room was totally adequate (aircon, hot water shower, fridge, small flat-screen TV, WIFI, $11). They also have fan rooms for $7. Best of all, I was still able to get a strong Thai GSM mobile signal there.

Poipet Phnom Pich Guesthouse

At night, I found the area around the roundabout quite vibrant. There is an outdoor sitting area offering burgers, pizzas, and beer on the left side. Further down the road (towards Cambodia) you’ll find a few small restaurants that serve Khmer dishes and beer and offer Karaoke. I had a nice chat with two Cambodian fellows who, as it turned out, make a living pushing carts between Cambodia and Thailand.

What else is there in Poipet?

Poipet is more than the main road to the border.  In fact, it is a city of 100000 people, and unlike in the past, now most side streets are paved. In the streets to the right of the main road, you’ll find restaurants, rooms for rent by the month, and the spotty-clean new market with plenty of shops around (about 1 km before the roundabout).

Poipet inside the new market Poipet inside the new market food stalls

Walking around for a good day, Poipet appeared to me just like your typical Cambodian town where people go about their daily lives.

People are friendly and if you flash someone a smile, you are bound to get one back. Some of the houses look quite fancy indeed; cross-border trade, the Cambodia-wide building boom,  and the casinos seem to have brought in more than enough money to revamp this city. This isn’t to say there isn’t any poverty or seediness (and you should watch your belongings as in every city you don’t know), but the place has come a long way.

Poipet around the new market Poipet modern architecture

On the left side of the main road is the old railway station.

Behind the station, they are rebuilding the tracks for the railway line that is going to connect Cambodia and Thailand, and there is also a smaller market.

Poipet old railway station

Poipet rebuilding the railroad

Air-conditioned coffee shops:

I had good coffee at True Coffee in the casino zone and at Amazon Café on the main road (1 km before the roundabout on the right side). A bit further down the road from Amazon is Destiny Café, a large NGO-run café that also features western and Cambodian food.

Transport to Battambang and Phnom Penh

I often use Capitol Bus to travel between cities in Cambodia. They generally charge tourists and locals the same price. As of January 2017, Poipet to Battambang  is 15000 Riel and Poipet to Phnom Penh is 30000 Riel (6:30 am, 8:00 am, 9:00 am, 10:30 am, 1:45 pm). Capitol Bus is about 1 km before the roundabout on the right side. As of January 2017, it is marked as being on the left side in Google Maps, which is wrong.

To get to Capitol Bus from the border, walk past all people telling you to get on the free shuttle and continue along the road until the touts have stopped bothering you. Hop on a moto taxi to avoid walking in the heat.

Last Words

Poipet is an interesting place to check out. I am not a big fan of gambling, but just watching the border area, taking a look at the casinos and strolling around town make for an interesting overnight stay.

A Relaxing Sunday Afternoon at Battambang Resort

Today is Simgle’s Day – and. I didn’t even know. 🙂
Battambang Resort is a beautiful resort hotel, located about four kilometers from town on the road to Banan Temple. It’s in the ricefields (dirt road on the left side coming from town) and makes for a perfect weekend retreat. They grow their own organic rice and veggies.The pool is actually a saltwater pool, and very clean.I am enjoying the sunset. What a great afternoon.

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Room with a View

The rainy season has finally come back to Battambang. It is an interesting time. Sometimes you can’t go out – the road in front of the house turns into a creek, and things start slowing down. Last year, many villages suffered from severe flooding, so severe that many houses and huts were submerged and most of the rice destroyed. Still, people here need and want the rain. No rain, no rice – too much rain – no rice as well.

I welcome the rainy season. It is a peaceful time, and also an excuse for not going anywhere. I recall, about eight years ago – I was living in Taiwan – and Taipei had just been hit by one of the worst taiphoons in decades. The subway system had been flooded, people parked their cars on elevated highways, and the road in front of my house had turned into a river as well. I was actually supposed to go to the airport and fly to Shanghai for a company meeting. I rang our Shanghai office’s manager and told him that I wasn’t sure, I could get to the airport – because yes – there wasn’t even a road in front of my house. He just couldn’t understand and tried to exert pressure by going like this: The meeting is really important, we can’t reschedule just because of the weather, and so on… Late in the evening, I somehow managed to get to the airport. It felt terrible, and I should have stayed at home like most Taiwanese did.  I hadn’t respected the weather.

Here the people respect the weather – If you can’t go out, you can’t go out. And so do I. Yesterday evening, I had only instant noodles, a bit of cheese, and a can of tuna at home because I had planned to go out for dinner. I looked outside and it became clear, I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t mind – even though I really don’t like instant noodles very much:-)

The pictures are taken from my window a few days ago. The camera lightened up the sky a bit though. It was actually quite dark and very much looked like rain.

Have a wonderful day or evening wherever you may be.

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Chinese Pulled Noodles – Lanzhou La Mian Restaurant in Battambang

Battambang-Lanzhou-lamian-WindowOnAsiaOrgHave you ever eaten handmade noodles? Handmade Italian spaghetti, German spaetzle, or hand-pulled Chinese noodles? Factory produced and processed noodles can’t even apply to play in the same league :-). The owner of my favorite lunch restaurant in Battambang pulls noodles out of fresh dough – by hand – interesting to watch and very delicious to eat. You can either have fried noodles or a noodle soup and have the choice between beef, chicken, pork, and prawns plus vegetables. If you are a vegetarian, do not fear. He also offers his noodles with tofu and a healthy load of veggies. In addition to his noodle dishes, the owner makes fantastic dumplings, filled with minced meat, spices, and vegetables. Have them boiled, fried, or deep fried. Mix your own dip with garlic, chilies, vinegar, and soy sauce. Delicious!  The restaurant also has quite a few rice dishes on the menu, and  in case you get bored, just ask for something completely different. If the place is not too busy, the boss will pretty much do any Chinese dish for you.

The boss (man on the on the shop sign and the photo above) is originally from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in Northwestern China. He moved to Cambodia a few years ago and initially worked as a cook in Chinese restaurants in Phnom Penh. Luckily, he met his wife there and decided to setup shop in Battambang.

Apart from being an inexpensive choice for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the restaurant is also a good place to meet locals, expats and fellow travelers, and listen a bit to what’s going on in town. carrotsporkegg-WindowOnAsiaOrg

 

Lanzhou La Mian is on Road Number 2, next to the Bus Stop Guesthouse in Battambang, Cambodia. For a map on Battambang, click here.

What is your favorite noodle dish? BanMian-WindowOnAsiaOrg

New University in Battambang

Dewey International UniversityHi everyone,

Dewey International University (DIU) is  a new University in Battambang. It offers a local, as well as an  international BA program, an English language program, and an international school.