Published: July 28th 2012July 28th 2012
An Overnight Bus Trip Tops All Nightmare Bus Rides In Asia ... Is That Even Possible?
We left Sihanoukville excited for the next part of our adventure in Battambang. It was time to head there to visit Kai again and I couldnt wait. After enquiring on our various options, we found out that we needed to get a bus to Battambang via Phnom Penh which was backtracking hugely but there was no other way... The second decision was a day or night bus... and since it was a 10 hour bus ride, we decided to forgo a nights accommodation and do it overnight, essentially giving us an extra day up our sleeve.
We were told that you got the bus to Phnom Penh then from there the bus branched out to either Siem Reap or Battambang which, if you look on a map, are on opposite sides of Tonle Sap lake to each other... Picture a triangle with Phnom Penh at the top of the 'lake' and the two cities forming the bottom of the triangle directly opposite each other... Essentially it was 10 hours to either Battambang or Siem Reap from where we were depending which bus
Why am I explaining this to you? Well its essentially how we ended up in our own personal Cambodian transport nightmare! We started off excited in Sihanoukville when we jumped on our bus and saw it was this way cool sleeper bus (see the picture) and we were on the top bunk.. we settled back in our reclining 'bed' ready for a smooth 10 hour trip to Battambang... expecting to be there by approximately 5am!
The novelty soon wore off after a few hours, its really not the most comfortable place to sleep, especially when its pitch black outside, the bus driver was constantly on the horn and when the bus stopped for a toilet break it was a mad dash to get to a toilet (squat toilet in the dark with no toilet paper or taps) and get on the bus before it left without you! Luckily we had the foresight to stock up on food before leaving as there were NO food stops along the way!
The confusion (and fear) set in around midnight/1am when the bus stopped in Phnom Penh... A Cambodian jumps on the bus yelling out various town names for
people to get off and get on a new bus... and told us to stay on the bus .... After chatting to other travellers, we realised that all the Battambang and Siem Reap people were on the same bus.... Hmmmmm how is this going to work?!! And which way will it go first?!?!
Much to our dismay when we woke up at daylight, and after much detective work on road signs, we were dismayed to find we were an hour out of Siem Reap..... ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This meant our 10 hour bus ride was already going to be at about 13 hours by the time we hit Siem Reap and then we were expected to stay on there another 5-6 hours to Battambang! So much for saving a day!
We had a toilet break not long after sunrise... and while I was sitting back in the bus, I saw the most amazing site which as mad as I was, put life in perspective.. it was a tiny hut (well a wooden plank on stilts with a cloth roof) and a family of 4 were living in it... It was like their own little shop/home all in
one. It was amazing to see them going about their morning preparations of getting the store set up as well as cooking breakfast and looking after the two small children... When you see the picture you will see what I mean... Its moments like these in Cambodia that really ground me and I wish so much that I was in a financial position to take a 12 month sabbatical from my life in Australia and come over to work with these beautiful people... Anyone feel like paying off my credit cards so I can!??! :-p
As we neared Siem Reap, it was amazing to see the extent of the flooding, and lucky that we could even be travelling by bus around the country given the amount of water around...
I was really quite upset by the time we rocked into Siem Reap about the bus ride from hell... it wasn't just about the length of time.. it was the constant beeping of the horn, the bumps and swaying of the bus and the fact we had been totally misled! I can't even describe how bad it was now, but back then, my world was coming to an end
You think I would be an expert at Asian travel by now but NO! ... I literally was NOT staying on that bus another minute NO WAY. A few frantic phone calls later, we had swapped our accommodation dates in Battambang and Siem Reap and there we were.... suddenly in Siem Reap! I had negotiated our accommodation in Siem Reap to honour the price we were originally quoted, even though we were upgrading our room.
We headed over to our accommodation at Bopha Angkor and upon arrival were talked into paying the extra by Management.. I wasn't entirely happy about it, but it was only a little bit more (about $10 a night each) and at that stage I just wanted a shower, a decent feed and to relax... Our room wasn't going to be ready for a few hours, so we had breakfast in their restaurant and then went to chill at the pool for the morning. It was a gorgeous pool area and I was so glad to be there and not that stupid bus!
After we were able to finally check into our room we had showers to freshen up then hit Siem
Reap town! First stop was my favourite restaurant VIVA for some Mexican. While dining, we had the usual school kids trying to sell us everything under the sun... we eventually engaged with a young boy called Jerry who had only one leg. He lost a leg when he was 7 and then his father died when he was 8. The story was too much, so Danni bought a couple of books off him..
While eating at Viva, a guy sitting at another table came over and asked if he could join us... His name has now escaped me (How bad do I feel!?) but Danni was clearly smitten with him (and likewise)... After a few more Margaritas we all headed off to have a look around the town. We stopped in at a Fish Spa (those things are everywhere these days) then headed to the local markets for dinner. It was pouring down rain and the tarps above us were heavy with water... we were a little nervous at the amount of water pouring through the tarps onto the dodgy electrics/lights.. surely an accident just waiting to happen!
Scammed... Or were we?!
While sitting there
at the end of our meal, a small boy came up to us, grabbed a handful of scraps (literally bones etc) and took off out of the market... He was seriously gulping down our scraps... He was barefoot and wearing clothes that were soaking wet.. All three of us felt we could not just sit there... I ran off down the street after him and bought him back. to the restaurant.. I told him to order whatever he wanted to eat and assured the restaurant staff that it was okay. He told the staff that he didn't want to eat it there as he wanted to take some home to his mother... I told the staff that was okay.. to give him something to eat now and pack up some food to take home to his mother.. He sat down with me and ate like there was no tomorrow... While he was with me, a group of boys came up to him and there was an exchange of words which didnt seem friendly... I was told by the staff that these boys were bullying him wanting the food! While this was all happening, Danni went off and bought a pair
of shorts, tshirt and shoes for him to wear!
In the end we grabbed a tuktuk and told the tuktuk to take us to the boys house with the food and clothes... When we got there, he took off up his driveway, leaving us for dust! lol... We were going to go with him to speak to his mother but there was a massive big puddle of water we were struggling to get around, a vicious dog coming at us down the driveway and it was pitch dark! We decided it would be wise to just leave.. however just before we drove off, the mother came out and was very thankful... She didn't speak alot of English and it seemed like they were arguing... The little boy then told us he had left his pushbike back in the city and needed to go get it... We were like WTF?! Our tuktuk driver told us that his mother was wanting him to stay there and he was refusing and wanting to go back to the market... We had told him we were dropping him home which he had agreed to... and now he wanted to go back in (at like
10pm) ... We felt a little scammed by him but I guess for them its just the way of life... The reality is we were not going to take him home to be safely tucked in bed where he should be... or where we think he should be!
Oh well, it made us feel good and ripped off all at once, but that's Cambodia for you.. it tugs at your heart strings every which way you turn!
After that a drink was needed so we stopped in at a bar called Banana Leaf. I had a Kampot Pepper Mojito which was very yummy, but by that stage I was exhausted and ready to call it a night. I left Danni with her new friend (still cant remember his name) and I headed back to our hotel to call it a night.
Flying Solo and The Dilemma of Handouts to the Beggars...
The next day I woke to an empty room and realised it was going to be a solo day for me :-) After lazing around the pool in the morning, I headed into town for a look around... On my way there, I
had a little girl about 6 years old start begging. I asked her what she wanted and she kept saying something I couldn't understand. I said to her that I wouldn't give her money but if she was hungry I would buy her food. She literally dragged me down a street but I still couldn't understand what she wanted. She was shoeless and had no shirt on.. just a pair of shorts.. so I told her we would go to the markets for clothes then she could have some food.
Now I know there are two camps on whether we buy beggars food/clothes and/or give money... and I am usually in the camp of not giving money to beggars. I have been guilty of doing so in the past as well as feeding kids in Cambodia.. and for it, I've been subject to many people emailing me through this blog to tell me how bad it is... so for those that think I am doing the wrong thing.. I GET IT! I understand the negatives and positives and for me personally, taking a child through a market is BAD.. its getting them to trust us strange Westerners and to
accept gifts.. and lays the groundwork for those disgusting pedophiles that end up in these countries preying on the poor ... HOWEVER right there, in that moment, its very easy to justify why you are doing it!
I bought the girl some really impractical pink Disney shoes and a t shirt to wear (so now she was at least clothed) and then I allowed her to drag me out of the markets in search of this thing I didn't understand what she wanted so desperately (I just assumed it was food)... Next thing I know we are standing in a chemist and she is pointing at a tin above my head... I looked up to see a tin of baby milk powder... that's what she had been saying "MILK" ... I spoke to the Chemist who spoke to the little girl... The little girl was out begging for milk for her baby brother.. Her mother was too sick to be out begging and the little girl was trying to get milk to feed her brother.... and then the Chemist was worried that the $10 for milk was TOO much... NO not for me, its not.... I bought the tin
of baby milk and gave it to the little girl.. and off she disappeared... She didn't even hang around for food! SO yes, BAD ME.... but in the heat of the moment, when you are standing there, so blessed to have a life where you can travel to these countries, its very hard to turn a blind eye to everyone that crosses your path.. I think you just have to do what feels right at the time and do it for the right reasons.
Yummy Food, Shopping and Relaxation
After my little adventure, I decided it was time to eat.. I headed to soup dragon and the menu looked amazing... I couldnt decide what to have.. but settled on a Vietnamese Pho Bo which I have been craving ever since leaving Vietnam in 2009... I also ordered a fresh coconut drink AND an iced tea! I then headed back into the market to do some shopping... I bought two gorgeous dresses (which I still love almost a year later!)
Exhausted from the heat and shopping, I headed back to the hotel for a swim and when the skies decided to open up I went back
to the room to do some reading and freshen up... During my last trip to Cambodia, I met a lovely man, Tekea who was a waiter at Viva... We had added him on Facebook and he had emailed several times after we left Cambodia. We kept in contact and he had invited us to spend a day with his family, stating his grandmother wanted to cook us a meal.... How exciting! Tekea turned up at the hotel late afternoon and we confirmed that we would meet him the following day to go meet his family... After he left, I decided it was time for more Viva so headed into town. On the way I passed a temple where a large group of Monks were chanting/praying... I stopped to watch and listen for awhile.. it was hauntingly beautiful.. just as I was about to leave one of the Monks approached me and said hello... He was very lovely and quite handsome!
I arrived at Viva and by chance ran into Danni and the 'new man'.. we had dinner together, then went for another fish spa. We decided to try a different spa that night as the fish werent biting real
good the night before... we certainly got one that made up for it this time! Ouch! I then called it a night and left Danni to hang out with her new friend! We had plans to head out to my friend Tekea's house the following day so I needed an early night....
Stay tuned for the next installment... Life is never boring with me....
There are more photos below