24 hours from Cambodia to Thailand

2009-06-25 08:06:00-0700

As I was planning, and thankfully the hackers were keeping up, I was able to jailbreak my iPhone and install network unlocking software on it which would enable me to use it as a phone outside of AT&T's network. I downloaded the tools to do this and did so while I was also diagnosing and reconfiguring the shoddy wifi signals at my hotel. I was able to successfully unlock my phone while doing nearly all I could do with the wifi network in order to make access at least a little more than non existent to the 4th floor. There was still one huge core change I wanted to make but didn't want to risk taking down the upper floor networks due to inaccessible 802.11 APs which were acting as chained repeaters rather than point-to-multipoint bridges, which would've been more efficient.

In the end I had chat and e-mail worthy and nearly web surf worthy wireless access in my room, and a jailbroken and unlocked iPhone 3g. With that completed, I headed out to get dinner and to find a SIM card to test out the network unlock. I was already to select from a list of about 10 carriers, but my AT&T card wasn't working on any of them so they were no more use than information on what was available.

I got dinner at a chain restaurant I've seen around here called NYDC which serves east coast American food and offers free wifi to its patrons. I had pizza and my first glass of wine in nearly a month as I played with Cydia, which was somewhere between the glory of my first jailbreak experience and the horror of my second. Some of the things I wanted weren't immediately available, like iPhysics and Trism.

After dinner I walked around looking for SIM cards and ended up at the Siem Reap night market, which was just like the day market but more cozy and warm and quiet, but with still the same "hello sir, can i help you sir, you buy a t-shirt sir" people. I was offered about 50 tuk tuk rides that I didn't need, motorbike rides which was maybe a first for Cambodia but was frequent in Vietnam, weed and cocaine among countless trinkets and novelties. I was really just out to see it though, just to verify that there wasn't anything worth seeing beyond the experience of having visited the night markets in Cambodia. Many people were having fun bartering and buying, but progressive minimalists like myself had no business in a place like that. With that in mind I went to a market, bought a bottle of Singha and an international SIM card and headed home.

I stayed up late chatting with Tien and friends who were waking up on the other side of the planet. Unfortunately I wasn't able to open the tray that held my AT&T SIM card, so I wasn't able to try it out. That was OK though, in time I'd figure it out. It was more of an educational experience anyway, I didn't really need it.

In the morning I woke and chatted, listened to music, which had surprisingly been missing in my entire Siem Reap experience, showered and headed out for the much needed coffee and breakfast. I found a restaurant I wished I'd have found a few days earlier. It was a little hole in the wall stall across the street from the more ritzy western restaurants, and they had bread, eggs and white coffee for $2. I was delighted. I also managed to find a cool trick to get the SIM tray on an iPhone open without using a paperclip. Just shove a round toothpick into the hole snugly, then pull the tray out. There is enough grip to open the tray, and so I was able to swap my SIM and being trying out this Asian mobile scene.

I couldn't figure it out. I forgot which provider was mine, and the girl at the restaurant didn't know the logo.

I was getting tired of Siem Reap and wanted to leave, so I wandered a block and found a travel agency to check out what options I had for leaving. It turned out I could leave to Bangkok in 3 hours for $145. I went back to my hotel, grabbed my passport and three $50's, checked the SIM card provider info I'd gotten, headed back to the travel agency to buy my ticket and on the way saw a man at a fruit stand showing a tiny ~.22 caliber pistol to a local boy of about 13. What followed was a hurried series of events which involved me paying for my ticket and handing over my passport, hiring a tuk tuk driver to take me back to the hotel and wait, packing my bags as fast as I could because it was exactly check out time and I had to be at the airport in 30 minutes, checking out, going back to the travel agency to pick up my ticket and passport and then heading straight to the airport. To top it off, my tuk tuk driver barely spoke english and drove a slow tuk tuk which was passed by more than one on the way to the airport.

I was happy though. The rush was a little bit of excitement in my very lazy Cambodian experience, and I was finally leaving Siem Reap. It was a western town with lounges and western restaurants and expensive drinks and meals. I was tired of not being able to look people in the eye, trying to avoid contact with people for fear of being hounded instead of smiling and greeting and talking with people.

On the way out of town I saw a kid with a Che Guevara t-shirt on, which was more interesting in Cambodia since he was a communist who murdered hundreds of innocent people senselessly, just like the Khmer Rouge.

On the way out of down town I set my iPhones cellular network to the one correlating to the SIM card I had and it soon began working. I had a phone for the first time since leaving SF almost 4 weeks ago.

We passed many large hotels, bigger hotels than any downtown, five star resort style hotels. I felt like I was driving through Aspen until I saw a guy on a scooter with about 20 dead chickens hanging by their legs. I then saw a Nikon D200 advertisement and wondered if it had really been there for years.

We arrived just after noon which gave me slightly less than the suggestion of checking in two hours before departure. That was ok though because checking in at the airport, passing through security and passing through Cambodian passport control was easy. There were few people there, it was a tiny airport with only 4 gates and only one was in service. There were 3 flights scheduled within the hour. Prices were astronomical, $3 for a small bottle of water, $3.50 for a can of soda. I bought a bottle of Japanese "wine" and found out it was 20% alcoholic soju after I poured a glass. I didn't bother finishing the bottle since it tasted like vodka and I had no intention of getting wasted. Plus there were ants crawling on the marble bar.

I decided to use my international minutes while I still had the chance and called My, my friend in Bangkok, and told her I was pretty much on my way there. It was short notice, way shorter than I'd planned on giving her, but it was notice all the same and if she couldn't pick me up I was planning on finding my own way. Luckily she had nothing going on and said she'd see me soon.

Do not wash in the urinals I walked around a bit and looked at the airport. It was a nice building with decent tropical landscaping outside. It felt like the kind of airport you'd see in a tropical resort, and then I remembered that's pretty much what it was. I saw a sign in the bathroom instructing men not to wash in the urinals. (Note: I'm an idiot, that sign is about trash, not washing.)

I walked around the shops in the airport and was happy that I could actually look people in the eyes without the fear of them aggressively hawking their goods. It was nice. I was tired of having to pass through a crowd as if I saw nobody, it felt alienating and I was the alienator. I took some photos of the airport and as I passed the bar the bartenders teased me about being drunk, but I wasn't since I hadn't finished even half of the bottle. It was funny and we laughed about it. I played around with the networks and stuff on my phone, trying to figure out the details of this SIM swapping thing that is so different from the US. At one point two Japanese girls came running by, quickly passed through the gate and ran for an airplane that was out on the tarmac.

I boarded the plane and the flight attendant gave the usual speech about disabling communications devices and I thought about that annoying sound that the iPhone puts into some speaker systems. There was no safety demo and we were quickly in the air. I was sitting underneath the wing with a prop engine outside my window. We had a meal and I ate my first muffin since leaving SF where muffins with coffee were a pretty usual breakfast. I had coffee with my meal and it was the worst coffee I've had in years. It reminded me of the hot black tar we'd drink at Actiontec while working 80 hour weeks.

As we flew I looked out at the beautiful clouds and remembered my flight from Hanoi. I looked down at the earth and thought about all of the beautiful places that were hidden in those green polygons. I saw the reflection of the sun passing from rice paddy to rice paddy and then the earth disappeared behind a turbulent cloud.

On our descent I noticed that the land surrounding Bangkok was back to the familiar Vietnamese landscape of rice paddies for miles. The next thing I noticed was that people were driving on the left side of the road. I only had time to listen to two orbital songs before I had been told to take my headphones off for landing. The entire flight was less than an hour and at 2:50 I was in Thailand. The new airport in Bangkok is eye catching and modern. Entering the country was very easy and no visa was required.

After passing through passport control I went and found a new SIM card with a phone number that people could call me on. In Thailand, inbound minutes are free. With Skype, you can redirect inbound calls to a phone number in any country that they support. I have a California Skype number. I also have an unlimited world calling plan. Those three things together allow people to call my Skype number in California and ring my cell phone in Thailand without incurring any additional fees for international calling. My SIM card also provided data access, which is actually a little irritating since any network activity on my phone will drain my phone balance, and iPhone OS 3 has no feature to disable only cellular data. I had a working phone though, and I was again thankful that the iPhone cracking team got the 3.0 unlock out just in time for my arrival in Thailand.

I called My on the phone and told her that I was several hours earlier than I had expected and she said she'd be at the airport in 15 minutes. In the time between I walked around and took in the crowd. There were many beautiful girls, many fashionable people, many people who looked like transvestites, and many girls who looked manly kinda scary and made me wonder about this sex change capital of the world.

My was there in the 15 minutes she said. I passed right by her as I was walking out of the airport, then we both turned around and caught each other taking second looks. Her father whisked us away in a luxury Toyota sedan. I hadn't been in a car that wasn't a Saigon taxi in a long time. The highway system was very modern, the airport surroundings were very modern, the landscape was clean. This was very first world and it was odd. There wasn't a single scooter around, which made sense since we were going over 120km/h. When we got off the highway though things started to look more familiar. I saw some bicycles and scooters and cement apartment buildings that weren't painted and it felt like the SE Asia I know.

My's family's place was more modern though, more like what I'd expect to find in Korea given the Korean movies I've seen. It was a three story building with air conditioning, several laptops set around on desks, wifi, and a Wii. There was a book called "Engineering Mechanics Dynamics 11th Edition" that was full of complex mathematical algorithms with diagrams applying the principles to real world things like cranes and roller coasters. There was a piece of paper inside with a hand sketched on it and delicate decorations around the word "sleep" and I could tell what My's classes for her automotive design major were probably like.

We played on her hacked Wii for a bit, did a round of golf and a round of bowling and played Wario something else that was really crazy, then she, her father Max and her sister Mint went to dinner. I hadn't had a Thai meal in about a month. I quit eating Asian food a week before leaving San Francisco in order to get my fill of American foods so that I wouldn't crave them, but I love Thai food and had been anticipating eating here. It was delicious. I got a desert and it was also delicious. It was heavenly. I can't wait to eat again.

We talked about school and America mostly. Mint is My's younger sister and she will be going to the USA in a few years for a foreign exchange program. This is the same program that introduced My to Alaska and my aunt Wendy, which is how I met her. My said that she travels 2 hours one way to get to school, which I think is ridiculous.

After dinner we walked around a little sidewalk market and then went home to do what any wired, high tech group of people does; we geeked out. They have a room that they keep air conditioned where most everything happens. There's a TV, refrigerator, a few computers, cups, a sound system, a few couches, a few guitars, a bunch of desk toys, etc.. Basically a really playfully packed office living room kitchen. The cool room reminded me of my grandmother's sitting room in Texas where she would sit and cross-stitch while watching the discovery channel or the movie channel.

My friend George helped me test out the inbound calling setup that I had rigged with Skype and it worked great. We talked for about 30 minutes about life and what we've both been up to and it was good to catch up with an old friend one-on-one, essentially off the grid. It was also great to have at least the inbound function of my phone working again. It is also good to be in Thailand. I wasn't really sure what to expect since I'd heard so much about it and it has so many different reputations. I'm still not entirely sure what to expect, or even what I'll do tomorrow since My is going to be busy all day, but I'm sure I'll figure something out. There are certainly more options here than in Siem Reap.

By Daniel, Category: blog

Tags: journal / life / technology / travel / airport / bangkok / cambodia / friends / siem reap / thailand /