In saying my farewells at the border of Thailand and Cambodia, I believe I shook everyone's hands on the bus, grinning as athletically as I could. It had been a hot, crowded, mildly unpleasant journey from Phnom Penh, but I still remember it 30 years later as one of the great treks of my life by means of a public conveyance.
My fellow passengers, all Cambodians, had been very kind and thoughtful toward me. When they were not intently watching me, they were feeding me - or pointing out something along the road I needed to observe.The scenery was magnificent throughout the six and one-half hour journey. A chain of mountains called the Cardamones could be seen to the west. While they only reached an elevation of 1700 feet, they had about them a brilliant gaudy green hue that gave them the appearance of a cheap stage drop in some high school auditorium.
I will always remember this country and its truly happy people. Cambodia was and has remained for me the most beautiful country in the world. I saw all that I could of it during the few days I was there.
My diary contained these lines, "This country is so fertile and the people so very pleasant that only a war or incredible mismanagement by the government could produce real hunger or poverty."
I was, of course, quite unaware of the extent of the dark happenings by the communist forces of Pol Pot in the northern jungles of Cambodia. Not only did hunger and poverty come to this country, but these sweet, gentle people would experience a systematic, planned annihilation of over 3 million of their population by the communist-led insurgent forces of Pol Pot once the country was under their control.
The lights would soon go out in this paradise, just as they had in Uganda and Nicaragua.
With the customs and immigration formalities completed on the Cambodian side of the frontier, I crossed over to meet with the Thai counterparts. It was immediately obvious to me that the Thais loved starched, pressed uniforms and lots of braid. The guards carried only American-made weapons - none of the captured Sten guns or AK-47's I had seen in Cambodia and Vietnam. There was also an immediate absence of the pretensions of Frenchness in Thailand. Paris was just another European city to the Thais.
I asked a Thai officer where I might find a bus that would take me to Bangkok.
"I would advise you to take the train from Poipet to Bangkok. The buses are overcrowded and seldom run on time."
I agreed with him, a crowded bus would simply never do. "You will like our trains. The State Railway of Thailand is the best in all of Southeast Asia. They are comfortable and expertly run. I would, however, suggest that you avoid the air-conditioned sleeping cars. The air-conditioning works far too well. Buy a seat on the wooden sleeper. I always do. They have wide berths and a shower room. This is not a shower room as such, but only a large stone jar and a wooden scoop. It works quite well."
Again my diary, "The advice given to me by the short army officer at the border was excellent. The train to Bangkok from Poipet was first-rate. The stone jar sluicing brought back my will to live and see home again. I am sharing my compartment with a Thai couple. They are either husband and wife or identical twins. I cannot decide. They are both the exact same size and just as fat. She has a round face like his and the same cut of hair. I am sure they are husband and wife and in the course of years acquired this astonishing resemblance. Watching people is one of the great pleasures of travel. Good night."