Published: December 4th 2012December 3rd 2012
On the road to Kep
Well, just around the corner from our hotel in Pnomh Penh - but it was the start of our journey.
The car collected us at 1pm and we were on our way back to Phnom Penh. The 314km drive to Siem Reap comprised some very interesting driving strategies and we were pretty sure we would be reliving some of them on the return trip. I think we were all hoping the drive back would be not as stressful. On the outskirts of Siem Reap, the driver pulled over and swapped with someone else, so maybe that was a good start; a fresh driver. No wonder he wasn't very talkative prior to the swap.
In the five and a half hours it took to reach Phnom Penh, I think I was calm for about half an hour. The car was silent for most of it, broken occasionally by a little nervous chit chat. It was on par with being in an Eyptian bus at night time with no headlights. In Cambodia, we have figured out that you are expected to pass the vehicle in front of you. If I was driving, I'd still be in Siem Reap because I'd be too afraid to go around. Passing uphill around a corner? Sure. Passing a bus in front of an oncoming truck. No
problem. Just like in Vietnam, there's no aggression on the roads, but nobody is content to sit behind another vehicle for longer than 15 seconds. So the poorly constructed highway (picture the Hume, NSW side, 15 years ago) is full of all types of vehicles criss-crossing the road to pass the one in front. When I thought we were about to have a head-on collision, the driver squeezed inbetween two vehicles on the right (Dean described it as 'threading the needle'). Despite what we would consider reckless indifference to our lives, Brad felt fairly confident in the driver's ability because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. Although Brad was afraid to ask him to turn the radio on because he felt the driver didn't need the additional distraction (his mobile was enough). The driver did appear to enjoy looking at the photos Eleanor was showing Brad, though.
Arriving in Phnom Penh safely, we didn't speak of the journey until we had sat down to dinner half an hour later. We all thought it was fairly terrifying, however we were more confident in the driver's ability than ours in the same conditions. One positive from the trip - we didn't have
to stop at the tarantula restaurant. We did zoom past one that had two enormous spider statues out the front. I presume tarantula was their speciality but we were going so fast that I couldn't make that out.
After dinner, Dean and Brad went to the restaurant where they had made some Cambodian friends over kickboxing a few days before. Eleanor and I retired to the last twenty minutes of the Karate Kid before falling asleep, dreaming of the drive to Kep.
At 8:55am, Brad hadn't surfaced. Our car was due to arrive at 9am, so we dispatched Eleanor upstairs to find out if he was conscious. At 9:05am, he emerged and climbed into the Camry (the car of choice for taxi drivers). The Cambodian holiday meant the rate was doubled, so I had hoped for a little more luxury. No, we got an early model which was, in Eleanor's words, stinky.
Anyway, we set off on the three hour journey (150km) in high spirits. We hadn't even left Phnom Penh before we were held up by fallen power lines. A cross-country detour, where the driver had to stop a few people to seek directions, eventually led
us back to the main road. At times during the detour, we collectively held our breaths as the car gingerly moved through pot holes and wet boggy tracks. Brad was half expecting to have to push our way out of Phnom Penh. The rest of the drive was uneventful, passing the usual traffic and driving through villages where butchers, barbers, fishmongers and others were plying their trade metres from traffic. I didn't feel half as scared, so my heart rate was only just above normal when he dropped us at what was to be home for the next three nights.