Thursday, June 18, 2009

First Cambodian bus ride

Our first Cambodian bus ride was hopefully a unique experience. We bought tickets from an internet cafe on an island in the middle of the Mekong River and had little bargaining power. We were told we would take a bus to a boat to a minibus to the border to a VIP bus to Phnom Penh, but that is not what happened. We walked to the boat, boated, then waited for a half hour for our minibus to show up. Then we minibused to the border and then our minibus turned around and went back to Laos. Only later did we realize that our bag of precious souvenirs was on that bus... We checked out of Laos, walked to the Cambodia side, and found our new minibus, at which point our fellow tourists started wondering where our VIP bus was. It was revealed that there would be no VIP bus, alas nor any air conditioning nor on-bus karaoke, and we, four Malaysians, one Englishman, three Americans, one Slovakian, four Frenchmen, and one Korean, would be crammed into this minibus for the next eight hours. We thundered along, then stopped for lunch in the town of Kratie, whose French colonial architecture was spared from late 20th century bombing. For unexplained reasons our luggage was unstrapped from the roof and shoved into the vehicle, where it would ride under our feet for the next several hours. Maybe the driver knew it was going to rain. As we bumped along on a shortcut off the national highway, we heard a thud and then a dragging sound and asked the driver if he cared to stop and investigate. He seemed like he planned to ignore it and keep going. Turns out our spare tire had fallen off about 1000 feet ago, but it could have been worse. Eventually we stopped at a gas station in another small town for a bathroom and snack break. We ate some "larb"-flavored pocky pretzels and grass jelly drink. Then we learned would be '"consolidating" with another van that just showed up. Nineteen people and their luggage were crammed into a 14-seater van. John, the Korean guy and I were unfortunately the last ones to get in and eyed the last remaining seat. The Korean was advised to sit on the wheel hub. John got the seat and I got some backpacks to sit on. A small boy scrambled up onto a tower of backpacks between the driver and shotgun. Finally we arrived in Phnom Penh. Surprisingly we got our bag of souvenirs back today (for a $20 reward and minus several beloved items from China).

Like I said, hopefully a unique experience. Tomorrow we take our second Cambodian bus ride to Siem Reap.

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