A bus too far

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February 11th 2010
Published: February 13th 2010
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The road northThe road northThe road north

All running smoothly at this point
We knew it was going to be a long day, but didn't anticipate it being quite as bad as it was. After waiting for the bus to pick us up at 7.15 we eventually left Sihanoukville at about 8.30. The bus took us north then west between the coast and the Cardamon Mountains, heading for the narrow strip of Thailand that pokes into Cambodia. All good so far.

However, at the top of a hill there was a bang and a jolt that sounded suspiciously like a tyre going pop. Sure enough, the driver and his helper got out some tools and started trying to change the tyres (they were doubled on the back axle so they needed to remove the outer to get at the damaged inner). These tools included a wrench and a large pipe which they used as a lever. Unfortunately the wrench wasn't strong enough and broke in half, leaving us stuck in the middle of nowhere.

The driver turned the air conditioning off so the bus warmed up quite quickly in the midday heat and there was virtually no shade outside. At this point it became evident that Sihanoukville, despite being some distance inside a third world country, was within range of the British chav. Several of them had got on our coach and now got off to smoke, look at the tyres, take photos, stand in the middle of a busy road and generally act stupidly.

This could have gone on for a while because none of the cars or coaches (owned by other companies) stopped to help. Fortunately there was a mobile phone mast on the top of a nearby hill so the driver was able to call his company, and, luckily for us, they had two (full) coaches coming up the hill half an hour behind us. Between them these two coaches had a spare wrench and a spare assistant, both of which they left behind. After another hour they had swapped the tyres and we were back on the road.
We reached Krong Koh Kong (yes it really is called that) later in the afternoon and began the lengthy process of crossing the border to Thailand. One guy found his passport and money had been taken from his bag during the trip, despite being in the undercarriage of the coach. Unlucky for him, although it seemed improbable that there had been someone in there during the trip as others were claiming or that it had been taken during our forced stop.

On the Thai side we transferred to minibuses to get to Trat. The roads were much better but the first leg of this trip was extremely uncomfortable because they had crowded too many people into the small vehicle. While half sitting on a seat with poor air conditioning and a low ceiling I had to listen to a British couple wagering how long it would take to get to Trat. The guide book suggested about an hour but their estimates forced me to check a map. Fortunately the guide book was correct and we pulled up in Trat to swap passengers and minibuses about an hour later. After this the roads got even better and we zoomed (relatively speaking) up towards Bangkok as the sun set. As the minibus got dark the reading books went away and several Ipods came out and stopped most of the conversations. About an hour later the British woman piped up to remark that she thought we had now reached Trat and the two of them began discussing how much money the husband owed the wife. I began to wish I had an Ipod to block my ears too...

Around 10pm, after a 14 hour journey, we arrived in Banglamphu near the Khao San Road and checked into our hostel. It was not quite what we expected, perhaps being the worst place we'd found after the place with the voracious rat in Laos, but it was late and all we needed were clean beds to sleep in and air conditioning to mitigate the humidity of central Bangkok.


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