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This blog is from 2007 - 2008. When this was going on: I'm trying to drive three Trabants 15,000 miles from Germany to Cambodia with a bunch of international accomplices. We set off from Germany on July 23rd, 2007, and hope to be in Cambodia by December. To see the route of our global odyssey, which we're calling Trabant Trek, go here: http://www.trabanttrek.org/route or www.myspace.com/trabanttrek

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Trabant Trek: The TV Series

It's been TWO YEARS since the last post.
TWO YEARS.
Is anybody still out there?

Well even if I’m hollering into the void, I thought I should let you fine people know that the The Trabant Trek has been picked up by The Travel Channel. I’m told by credible sources (well…Tony Perez) that a six-part series will be starting in June. That’s right, six-whole-parts, made up of the footage we shot while out there.
Apparently you can get The Travel Channel on Sky channel 251 and 252.

There’s a trailer here: http://vimeo.com/19055068

Cheerio

Monday, 14 January 2008

Finale

Finale
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
January 9th and 10th, 2008
By Dan Murdoch

“The riders in a race do not stop when they reach the goal. There is a little finishing canter before coming to a standstill. There is time to hear the kind voices of friends and say to oneself, 'The work is done.'”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. American Judge and Jurist.


HOW do you finish a trip like this?
Where is the end?
Well, Sihanoukville, that was the finish line, right?
Actually no, it’s when we’ve visited the last charity. That’ll be the end.
But then there’s an interview the following day, so maybe that’s the then?
Actually I still need to write this blog, once I’ve posted it, then we’ll say it’s over, ok?
Well maybe, but I'm hanging around for a few weeks. Maybe once I'm home?
You just don’t want this to end do you?
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WE’D hoped to arrive in Sihanoukville early evening, but a series of press interviews delayed our departure from Phnom Penh.
The Americans had replaced a missing screw in Fez, restoring the pressure in a cylinder and solving the car’s power issues, but the brakes were still broken.
OJ, who was my new driving buddy following Carlos’s departure, refused to let me drive after witnessing me collide with a scooter in the city that afternoon. It is the first accident I’ve had in 16,000 miles of driving and it was entirely my fault- I’d attempted a tight u-turn at Hamilton pace on a major road, but we don’t have any wing mirrors and I hadn’t checked my blind spot. As Fez neared a right angle with the flow of traffic, a scooter with three people on board slammed into the driver’s door. Ooops.
Luckily no one came off, nor seemed hurt, but OJ, who has never been comfortable with my roadside manner, was not prepared to take any further risks.
It is only four hours from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, but the BBC reporter we’d spent much of the afternoon with was adamant driving was a bad idea.
“You really shouldn’t drive at night. The road is terrible. It’ll be pitch black. I wouldn’t do it, seriously, why put yourself in danger?”
But if we’d always followed advice like that we would never have left home. And when you’ve crossed the narrow, winding Anzob Pass at night, flanked by sheer drops and dodging unstoppable lorries, then driving to the beach holds few fears.
We were right to go for it- the road was beautiful, and in Fez we were able to stay close enough behind Ziggy to use the spread from its headlamps to light the way (Fez lights are pitiful).
I was happy to let OJ drive, but disappointed that after six months of driving Fez I wasn’t going to be able to take him over the finish line. Luckily OJ is a kind and noble gentleman, a few miles out of town we stopped to take a last photo of Trabant Trek on the road, and he handed me the keys.
“Do you wanna drive Fez in?”
Hell yeah.
It was strange standing there, the four of us, posing for photos with our arms round each other.
“This is it, the final stretch,” Lovey said.
But it still didn’t feel real.
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Shortly before midnight we pulled up to Monkey Republic, the bar-guesthouse where Carlos had booked rooms, to find the Spaniard with a small crowd of fans. Some sort of fireworks were set off, with a banner and lots of cheering. Characteristically we were about four hours late, so everyone was pretty merry, and the excitement in the air was palpable:
“We did it.”
“I can’t believe we actually made it.”
“We’re here.”
What else is there to say?
“How do you feel?” people would ask.
“Very strange.”
I don’t think I ever doubted that we would make it, and pretty much since we reached South East Asia it’s felt like we’re nearly finished.
“I’ll feel like it’s over once we’ve visited the charity,” I told people, and myself.
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More hugging was followed by a trip down to a beach bar, for intensive celebrations culminating in Lovey and I having a violent falling out. What a way to finish the trip.
The following afternoon, with sore heads, we headed to our second charity, M’Lop Tapang. The wonderful children there put on a show for us, with traditional Khmer music and dancing complemented by more modern moves, break dancing and theatre.
The kids were great fun, and were obviously having a laugh dancing around on stage. There was plenty of hand holding and waving and jumping on the cars.
I'm not sure what it is about Cambodian children, they are just so smiley and sweet and friendly, it’s so touching. I'm not sure what they thought of us though, giant and pale with these odd cars.
We were given a tour of the school. It’s not as big as Mith Samlanh, but follows the same educational principals, minus the vocational training. Another group of people doing fantastic work for children with few opportunities. A worthy cause if ever there was one.
The last official engagement of Trabant Trek drew to a close, and we headed back to Monkey Republic.
“How do you feel?”
It still didn’t feel over. Maybe it would once I’d said goodbye to Carlos, who was leaving the following day to go to Canada and continue his travels. Nutter.
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He drove Fez to the bus station, then handed me the keys, which felt pretty symbolic- that’s definitely the last time my co-driver will hand me the keys.
We hung around to wave him off. Strangely, in giant letters across both sides of his bus were the words “Child Sex Tourists”. I know there is a problem out here, but I think it’s a little more underground than carting bus loads of paedos around the country. There was some writing underneath the slogan but I couldn’t make it out…

I didn’t like saying goodbye to Carlos. I’ve only known the little Catalan for six months, but it was a pretty intensive six months. We spent a lot of it together in a little plastic box- I must have slept with Carlos more than any other man in my life. Despite what could have been a suffocating proximity, we remained good friends throughout, and other than a few weeks following a brief falling out in Ulaanbaatar, I always felt like he had my back.
Full of energy, he is always the first up in the morning, and normally stands by the door, or leaning against the car, looking pissed off and waiting for everyone else to sort themselves out. The length of time it takes to get going used to really wind him up- but by the end he just took the mick out of us all.
“So OJ can we go? Or do you want to take your top off, do some press ups, watch a film then moisturise?”
And the eyes, the ‘Spanish Eyes’ as they were quickly dubbed- the brooding, faux sexual look he pulls for cameras (and women), the dark, angry Latino stare he uses to show displeasure. Makes everyone crack up all the time: “Don’t do the eyes at me. He’s doing the eyes.”
His surname is Gey, which he pronounces ‘Hay’. This could be a little like Mrs Bucket pronouncing her name Mrs Bouquet. Or it may be the correct Catalan manner, who knows? Either way it means he is often simply referred to as The Gay. Or sometimes The Losbian, a cryptic play on Carlos Gey.
He has a passion for terrible puns, which always make Lovey crack up just because of their sheer awfulness, and he likes some terrible Spanish music. Countless times I have woken in Fez to see Carlos driving with his headphones on singing the female lead to a frightening Catalan love ballad at the top of his voice.
A friend once called for him on our China number.
“Can I speak to Carlos please?”
“What’s the passord?” I asked.
Without a pause he just said: “GAY.”
We laughed about that for a long time.
Despite his smaller stature and girl’s hips he walks a lot faster than me, often with his hands clasped firmly behind his back like Inspector Clouseau. I prefer to saunter around new places, slowly breathing it all in. But once Carlos has chosen his destination he is head down and get there.
Sometimes that is exactly what we needed on the trip: “Carlos gets things done,” OJ once said, quite correctly. Though sometimes I think maybe he acts a bit too quickly. He decided to go to Canada a while ago, set a date in his head, and has never wavered from it, despite only getting to spend a few days with us in Sihanoukville. But that’s Carlos, once he’s decided to do something he goes ahead and does it.
His English is good, and he picks up new words, phrases and insults quickly. But he is also good at making it appear that he understands, when really he doesn’t. So a typical conversation in Fez might go like this:
Me (lying in passenger bed): “I’ve checked the tank, we’ve got about four litres left.”
Carlos (returning from stall with sticky rice): “Okay.”
Me: “There’s not much life around here so we should probably stop at the next place we see and fill up.”
Carlos nods. Then a pause. Then he gets out of the car: “I'm just going to see how much gas we have left.”
Me: “No, mate, wait. Carlos…”
But he’s already out of the car, hood popped and checking the tank.
Because when Carlos decides to do something he goes ahead and does it.
I’ll miss that Spaniard.

TO SEE OUR PROGRESS ON VIDEO, PUT TRABANT TREK INTO YOU TUBE.

IF YOU READ AND ENJOYED THIS BLOG, WHY NOT SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION BY MAKING A SMALL DONATION?
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Ends
mrdanmurdoch@gmail.com
For more of Dan’s blogs visit: http://danmurdoch.blogspot.com or www.trabanttrek.org

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Victory Parade

Victory Parade
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
January 7th, 2008
By Dan Murdoch

“I can’t believe we’ve got Trabants in Phnom Penh.”
OJ

THERE have been days on this trip that I would rather forget.
But others I know I will remember forever.
Driving the cars to Mith Samlanh Friends, the Phnom Penh charity that we are raising money for, was one of those days.
I had no idea what to expect.
A cup of tea and a pat on the back? An informal chat with some volunteers?
But pulling up to the gate gave me butterflies, I could here clapping and drums, and see photographers and a cameraman.
The reception was astonishing: a corridor of 400 screaming, clapping kids, led by a band in traditional costume beating drums and dancing.
We stepped out of the cars into a bubble among the throng and just stood there while hundreds of people cheered and waved.
None of us were quite sure what to do. We probably should have jumped on the roofs of the cars and raised our hands like triumphant Grand Prix drivers, lapping up the crowd.
But instead we all got a little emotional, it was lump in the throat stuff seeing all these little kids and what our trip meant to them.
We stumbled about, hugging each other and smiling so broadly we got cramp.
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Eventually, after an age of cheering, a head of house appeared with a microphone and a translator and gave a speech basically saying that we were awesome.
Then a representative from the kids spoke and expressed his gratitude, talked about how much the money means to them and how they’ve been following our progress.
It was pretty emotional and I didn’t really want it to end.
“I was welling up,” said OJ, “I was pleased to have the camera so no one could see me.”
“I almost cried,” TP.
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The kids all swarmed to the cars, we opened them up so they could sit in and play with the wheel, and we posed for photos. I was literally wading through children, hundreds of these tiny, smiley little kids staring up, waving and holding hands: “helloooo…hellooooooo” they would shout and cling onto me.
I couldn’t stop laughing. We spent an hour with them, so many smiling faces. We were told they were expecting us to arrive in big cars, they thought it was hilarious that we’d crossed two continents in these tiny Trabbis.
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After the kids had been called back to class, Mith Samlanh’s communications women, Sophea Suong, took as on a tour of the facilities. It is truly a stunning project. At the city centre base the organisation takes more than 800 disadvantaged kids a day, aged 0-24, and puts them through informal education and vocational training. These are kids who would otherwise be living and working on the streets, doing everything from petty crime and drugs to prostitution.
“About 90% of the children here came to Phnom Penh from the provinces looking for opportunity. But they end up on the street or living in the slums,” said Sophea.
“We get new kids here everyday, so we are always trying to reintegrate them. Getting children back into school is very important, and we reintegrate about 500 children a year.”
There is also a healthcare centre providing free medical care and counselling services. The charity also works to try and reunite children with their parents or close family, and if that fails they help with adoption, but only into Cambodian families. Sophea: “We think it is important that these children live in their own culture.”
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As part of the core curriculum, everyone learns numeracy, literacy, English and health education including HIV awareness.
On top of this the centre provides training for aspiring hairdressers, seamstresses, mechanics, welders, beauticians, electricians and cooks.

Tony loved looking around the garage, where students learn theory and do car repairs, and the welding area, where the kids were repairing metal beds from the dormitories.
In a room next door there was a class taking apart TVs and radios and soldering circuit boards. Nearby is a room full of sewing machines where the children were making clothes to sell at the Friends shop. They get paid for their labour, and the charity keeps any profits.
Across the hall we saw a class of barbers watching their teacher give a haircut.
“After training our students are ready to work as hairdressers,” Sophea explained, “many of them go back to their village and start their own company.”
When they have completed their vocational training, the students also do a business class complete with mock interviews to help prepare them for the real world.
I sat down in an English class. On the white board where the words: “Has anyone seen my wire whisk?”
The kid next to me struck up a conversation.
“Hello, what is your name?”
We shook hands.
“How many people are in your family?”
I told him.
“How long will you stay in Cambodia?”
“A few weeks maybe? Your English is very good.”
“Oh thank you,” he looked embarrassed, “this is the first time I ever spoke to a foreigner.”
I felt touched at this: “No? You are the teacher of this class yes?”
“No, no,” everyone laughed, “I am a student.”
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There is so much laughter in that place. The kids are ridiculously cute and friendly. Everywhere the children do the hands clasped greeting, like a little prayer- it is such a sweet and respectful hello.
In nursery the toddlers greeted us as ‘father’, and wouldn’t stop waving till we were well out of sight. They made me a little origami car, painted like Fez with the word ‘Trabantterk’ on the side. Tony, our mechanic, was given a paper hammer.
TP: “I’ve been smiling so hard for so long now that my cheeks are hurting. I don’t think I can smile anymore.”
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My favourite area was Club Friends, a school hall style building with a basketball court, a stage where kids learn traditional and modern dance, a library corner and an art corner.
A little boy there had painted a Trabant on a brick, it’ll be built into the centre’s wall of friends.

At the end of the day two giant trucks turned up to take all the kids home. About 500 of them live around the city, mostly in the slum areas. A further 300 live in the charity’s two houses, a boy’s house and a girl’s house.
They kept waving and shouting as they boarded the truck.
I wish Carlos had been around to see it. But he went ahead to Sihanoukville a few days ago to meet his mum. I felt bad for him.
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After waving goodbye we went to the excellent Friends restaurant just by the school, and treated ourselves to the most expensive meal we’ve had in months.
Tapas and cocktails.
We were all exhausted from a long afternoon, but elated, absolutely on top of the world.
Lovey: “That has to have been the best day of Trabant Trek. I'm not kidding.”
OJ: “That really has made it all seem worthwhile, that was just awesome.”
Everyone agreed.
It felt like the closure we needed. After six months on the road, it was a strange feeling to arrive in Phnom Penh a couple of days ago. I sat down with a beer and sort of thought, well is this it? Is this what we did? It was a bit of an anticlimax.
But the welcome we got from the kids, who made us feel so special, and looking at the work Mith Samlanh does, and how we’ve been able to help, really put it in perspective.
What a day.
I just wish we could have raised more money. But there’s still time.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

TO SEE OUR PROGRESS ON VIDEO, PUT TRABANT TREK INTO YOU TUBE.

IF YOU READ AND ENJOYED THIS BLOG, WHY NOT SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION BY MAKING A SMALL DONATION?
www.firstgiving.com/trabanttrek
100% of your donation goes to Cambodian children’s charities.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Ends
mrdanmurdoch@gmail.com
For more of Dan’s blogs visit: http://danmurdoch.blogspot.com or www.trabanttrek.org

Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Final Frontier

The Final Frontier
Poipet, Thai-Cambodian Border
January 5th, 2008
By Dan Murdoch

“This could be the last border crossing of Trabant Trek…if you make it in.”
MTP

MY PASSPORT wasn’t valid for entry into Cambodia.
It hadn’t expired, but there were only two months left on it, and to get into Cambodia you need a passport that is valid for six months.
I had already been warned at the Thai border.
And I was worried.

The chances of getting busted and not being able negotiate my way out of trouble weren’t high. But the penalty for getting busted was- I would have to go back to Bangkok, if they would even let me into Thailand, get a new passport, and try again. So I would almost certainly miss the end of Trabant Trek.
I didn’t like the thought of coming so far over the last six months and falling at the final border crossing.

The signs on arrival weren’t promising. OJ was filming quite blatantly, and the Thai border guards weren’t happy.
One guy was a real prick and seemed determined to give us shit. A shouty little man in an immaculate uniform that looked like it’d been picked up in an illegal French SS memorabilia eBay auction. Maybe the kit had rubbed off on him, he kept shouting: “Papers. Show papers.”
He looked through my passport, but I managed to divert his attention when he was on the expiration details. And for some reason he made me unpack a fold up chair in front of his cronies, but didn’t ask to look in the boot.
They spent half an hour questioning us, photocopying passports and poking around in the cars.

The only non-uniformed personnel who seemed to have the freedom to roam the border were the kids, ragged little urchins who tap on the car windows and ask for money. They looked sweet, but you wouldn’t want to leave your car unattended. Little tykes.



We attracted a lot of stares, large crowds pointing and laughing.
Watching is a big hobby around here.
Since we left Europe the rules on staring engagement have shifted more and more. It is now open stare warfare, with laser-guided looks constantly locking onto us.
I noticed the cultural differences when we parked the Trabbis on Khao San. The Westerners sidled up to the car, often adopting a blasé approach to conceal their interest. They’d fake a look at a nearby stall, then swivel and cast a glance at the car. You have to greet them to show it’s ok to come and have a look.
“How’s it going?” I’d break the ice.
“Oh, oh,” mock embarrassment, he wasn’t really looking at my car, “yes good thanks.”
“You recognise the car?”
And there we go, now they are free to explore.
But with your typical countryside East Asian there is no such façade. He will see the car from his perch in the shade, walk straight up to it, tap the hood, peer in through the window, push on the spare wheels, pluck at the wipers, then stare me up and down, sometimes laughing, sometimes looking troubled.
Maybe it’s because a lot of the places we visit are pretty light on entertainment- less computer games, cinemas, theatres, clubs, TVs, radios, music. So people take advantage of any form of fun they can get, and watching Westerners drag a brightly coloured plastic car down their High Street is about as good as the scheduling gets that week.
I’ve often wondered how much conversation we’ve caused on dinner tables across the world. Not that they use dinner tables in a lot of the places we’ve been.
At all those little villages we passed and caused a stir I'm sure people were talking about it afterwards.
“Hey did you see those stupid white people earlier? What was that all about?”
We’re probably victims of all sorts of speculation and gossip. The proud father boasting that he knew the name of the car, the grandfather claiming we were Russians, the old woman thinking Tony was from Pakistan.

After the Nazi was satisfied, and we’d got out stamps, the Thais waved us through and we drove down to the Cambodian side of the border.
The Thai’s and Cambodian’s have made full use of the 150m stretch of no-man’s-land between them. In the last few years this untaxed zone has become a haven for duty free trading, with people selling everything from clothes to blocks of ice, and a plush casino cashing in on the tax break- The Tropicana Resort.

Thankfully the Cambodian border guards were more friendly and less organised than their Thai counterparts.
We filled out our forms, paid our dues, got in line and….da da da…i got my stamp.
Elation.
But we didn’t have permission from Phnom Penh to bring cars into the country, so there was a small altercation at customs.
Luckily the official was easy going and let us in: “As long as I don’t get in trouble.”

The Cambodian border town of Poi Pet is not a pretty place. Its stinks of the decomposing rubbish that litters the streets, a treasure hunt for wild kids and wild dogs questing for morsels of food and money. The architecture is grubby and crumbling, the streets are unpaved, pot holed and dusty, and the 50km stretch of road out of the town is the worst we have driven since Mongolia.
But we’re in Cambodia.
Cambodia. Our 21st and last country. The final frontier. Six months and one day since I flew out of London, eight time-zones and 15,000 miles later, we are nearly there.

TO SEE OUR PROGRESS ON VIDEO, PUT TRABANT TREK INTO YOU TUBE.

IF YOU READ AND ENJOYED THIS BLOG, WHY NOT SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION BY MAKING A SMALL DONATION?
www.firstgiving.com/trabanttrek
100% of your donation goes to Cambodian children’s charities.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Ends
mrdanmurdoch@gmail.com
For more of Dan’s blogs visit: http://danmurdoch.blogspot.com or www.trabanttrek.org

One Night In Bangkok

One Night In Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand
January 3rd-4th, 2008
By Dan Murdoch

“Very Bond right?”
Tony, on tricking our way into Thailand

DIVERTING to Bangkok was a controversial decision.
It meant a longer route, but on better roads, and it would add another country to our hit list and let us pull the cars into the travellers Mecca of Khao San Road. But I had no particular desire to go and I was worried about driving into and out of that sprawling, congested city, and concerned that we could easily lose a few days.
But Lovey pretty much forced the decision by leaving his bags there when he went to collect the box of spare parts a few weeks ago.
We made the drive from Vang Vien in Laos to the Thai capital in one hit, stopping off in Vientiane to eat and collect a parcel of car sticker’s we’d been sent from the States.
The journey took about 26 hours. Carlos did most of the work on day one, driving from 10am till 3am, then I got to take over for the last six hours of highway and three hours of traffic. I hate that early morning shift, from dark through sunrise into the blazing noon, and I still felt ropey from New Years, so it really took it out of me.
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The drive was pretty straight forward, except we weren’t sure how we would get on at Laos customs. We’d brought three cars into the country but, having dumped Dante on Christmas Day, we were only leaving with two. In many countries this would result in a fine of thousands of dollars, but we didn’t know how organised the Lao were.
We arrived at the border, the Friendship Bridge that links Lao with Thailand across the Mekong River, and began the process. But it soon became clear that the Americans had lost the car papers for Ziggy, and the guards weren’t going to let the car across without them. We stalled and stalled, but OJ couldn’t find them. Although we no longer had Dante, we did have Dante’s old papers and Dante’s old plates.
So, right at the border, in full view of guards, police, military and passers-by, the Ziggy crew began switching the plates.
“Very Bond right?” Tony asked.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Kind of Bond. It took 20 excruciating minutes. I'm sure in films it’s over in a flash.
Now the car plates matched the papers, although the model, year, and engine numbers didn’t, but luckily the guards didn’t check.
We made it across and entered Thailand, our 20th country.
But the long drive took its toll on Fez, which broke down three times in the Bangkok traffic: brakes seized, spark plug popped, cylinder head smashed up.
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Petrol stations can tell you a lot about a country. They weren’t bad in Laos, were they mostly had pumps, unlike Uzbekistan where we bought our gasoline in old coke bottles. Thai petrol stations are a wonder of cellophane-wrapped indestructible snacks that are so pumped with e-numbers and preservatives that only they and cockroaches survive the WW3. Hot dogs, microwave burgers, instant noodles, frozen meals and dried out pastries compete with the chocolate, crisps, coffee, tea and every soft drink under the sun thankfully kept chilled to a Siberian cool.
If these things had been available along our whole journey the trip would have been considerably more comfortable.

The big camera that we’ve been using to film this whole debacle broke at some point in Vang Vien, so we found a Sony repair shop in Bangkok. It would take about a week to fix, so we decided to leave it behind and OJ would collect it when he flew out of Bangkok later in the year. We still had the mini cam so, although it was a disappointment, it wasn’t show-threatening, we could still film the end of the Trek.
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As expected, Bangkok traffic really is shocking- worse than Beijing, worse even than Budapest. The only way to avoid it is to pay a hefty fee to join the elite on the toll roads that exist high above the mayhem- a rollercoaster circuit of swerving overpasses built over the maelstrom.
Unfortunately Carlos and I managed to get thoroughly lost on this racing circuit (Carlos: “I know the way.” He didn’t.), paying repeated tolls, losing the Americans and having to return to the underworld to get to our destination anyway.
We parked the car at one end of Khao San to wait for Ziggy. We got quite a lot of attention, handing out fliers and telling our story, and everyone was pretty impressed with what we’d done.
It felt good to sit there with our battle-scarred cars after all we’ve taken them through- though the police didn’t seem to think so, but we’re good with police now. In fact it was a joy to be pulled over for the first time in months. I’ve lost my driving license, but we managed to wing it.
We had the usual offers from tuk tuk drivers: “You want see ping pong girls? You want see show?”
Carlos was asked: “You want girl? Very beautiful, just 15 years.”
So the guy basically had Carlos pegged as a paedo straight away. Something about the glasses maybe?
Khao San may have gone a little upmarket since I was last there, almost seven years ago.
The bars look a little trendier, a little better decked out. There’s more premiership football, more internet at the pubs and a bit of wifi floating about. It’s not so filthy and there are more ATMs as well as a McDonalds and a Burger King. Still selling pad thai and fried grasshoppers though and there are still pirate CDs, but now pirate computer games too and even Mac programmes.

There was some discussion over what the Spaniard would do next. His mum arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to meet him on January 1st. It was now the third and we were still a few days drive away.
So Carlos was planning to fly out from Bangkok to the Cambodian capital ASAP, then we’d catch up by Trabbi in a few days. But when we crossed into Thailand we had registered Carlos as the driver on Fez’s car documents. So we weren’t sure if he would be allowed to fly out without the car, or if we could get the car out of the country without him.
In the end we decided it wasn’t worth the risk and he would drive with us to Cambodia, if we had serious delays across the border he could always get a bus to meet his mum.
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I almost wasn’t allowed into Thailand at all. My passport expires in three months and it is Thai policy that your passport must be valid for six months. The border guard eventually stamped it, but gave me a telling off and warned that I wouldn’t be allowed into Thailand like this again, adding that Cambodia wouldn’t let me in either.
I got in touch with the UK embassy, who said it was impossible to extend my passport, I would have to apply for a new one, which would take a week.
No one was willing to wait in Bangkok that long, so I had a couple of options. I could try to get a new passport, then fly out to meet the others. But that would put me behind by a week and mean I would probably miss the end of the trip.
I could go to the Cambodian embassy first thing and beg for permission to enter the country. But what if they refused and made a note of my passport number, guaranteeing I wouldn’t make it into Cambodia?
There was a chance the border guards wouldn’t notice and I’d sail in. Then I could apply for a new passport in Phnom Penh at the end of the trip.
But there was also a chance I could be refused entry into Cambodia. By that point I would already have been stamped out of Thailand and unable to return. So I’d be caught in no-mans-land with a valid but expiring passport and no country that would take me in.
This wouldn’t be ideal.
In the end I decided to go for it, we’d blagged plenty of borders up till now- just one crossing left.
We planned to leave at 5am to give Carlos the best chance of meeting his mum. I was still feeling pretty terrible so I got an early night, as did Carlos, but the Americans stayed out drinking till the early hours and didn’t enjoy getting woken up at 4.30am.
“I'm still drunk. There’s no way I can drive,” Tony told me when he made it down. I felt rubbish too, whatever I had was more than a New Year’s hangover, it cant last four days, so I just lay down in Fez hoping I wouldn’t wake up again until the border.
But we’d only been driving for twenty minutes when Ziggy pulled over. The Yanks shouted out the window at us: “Have you seen the mini cam?”
Shit.
We raced back to the hotel, but it had gone and no one there knew anything about it. Tony thinks he may have left it on the floor of the hotel when we drove off.
Photobucket
So now we were in a race against time to find a video camera and cross the border. We phoned the Sony centre, but the one we dropped off wasn’t repaired yet. We looked at buying a minicam, but it was expensive. So Lovey phoned a contact at the Foreign Correspondents Club and they put us in touch with a company that loans professional quality cameras. For $500 a week we could borrow one identical to the awesome Sony that was being repaired.
It seemed the only option so we went to grab it, but by the time we’d waded through the thick Bangkok traffic, collected the camera and got out of the city, there was no way we were going to make the border before it closed. Sorry Carlos’s mum.
We drove to Aranyapratet, six kilometres from the border, found a hotel and slept.
It felt strange being so close to our goal. If all went well, the Trek could be over in just a few days.
But first I had to make it across the Cambodian border with an invalid passport.

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