Have you ever wondered what it is like to ride a bus from Battambang to Siem Reap? That’s what I did today and it was quite a day. Bus journeys in places like Cambodia are pretty different from, for example, a drive from San Francisco to LA in your own car. Or even a bus.
My bus adventure started shortly after breakfast when my hotel manager offered to drop me off at the bus station about half an hour before my bus was supposed to leave. I was charmed, although at the time I didn’t know he intended to take me on the back of his motor bike. Still, I have been traveling on motor bikes enough by now that I enjoyed the ride and survived it with a 25 pound pack on my back.
After we arrived at the bus station, which was a corner in the middle of town, I asked whether we were really going to be riding on that bus over there for 5 hours. That bus over there did not look capable of going further than the Khmer Solar store. No, no, that’s just the bus that will take you to the bigger bus with air con. And it did and the bigger bus did have air con but also some of the features that made me nervous about the little bus. Yes, this was a private tour company running between two major cities, but I should have reconciled my expectations with the $6 ticket price.
I was happy to see that my ticket assigned me the front seat even though the bus was full. In recent years, I have made a point to tell booking agents in advance (truthfully) that I will throw up if my seat is in the back and it works like a charm. I settled in with my Kindle and my water bottle, and rested my feet on top of my pack. One thing I noticed right off was the bus horn because the driver started using it within 12 seconds after we got on the road. That horn was louder inside the bus than any bus horn I have ever heard from the outside. As a survival tactic, I got used to it pretty quickly so I wouldn’t be miserable for 5 hours of horn honking at 12 second intervals. In Cambodia, the horn is not used to express road rage but to startle smaller vehicles and mammals so they will move further on to the shoulder. The rule in Cambodia is biggest/fastest has the right-of-way.
I had heard the major highways in Cambodia are now modern and fast. If you discount the potholes and the unpaved parts and accept that you will be traveling on a two lane highway that drivers treat as if it were a four lane highway, the roads seem fast. This is usually because a truck coming toward you in the other lane is not a deterrent to your bus driver passing the farm tractor up ahead. After a couple of hours of this, I was actually rooting for my driver to step on it because he made it look so easy.
The man sitting next to me was very shy and shook his head at my efforts to ask why we were stopping and whether the rice fields were about to be harvested. I had one of those mildly paranoid moments where you think someone knows something about you they couldn’t possibly know, like Mags had told him to ignore me when I do that. The man had a five year old boy on his lap the whole way. The amazing thing is that the little boy never moved or said a word for five hours. I thought about how at that age Gabe would have talked to everyone on the bus, played 300 rounds of game boy and poured everything out of my purse within the first hour. I was exhausted just thinking about it, and then I got sentimental thinking about how much I miss him.
I started to nod off about the time the bus came to an abrupt stop by the side of the road. Riders were getting off the bus. The little boy was gone. We were in Siem Reap! And as I stepped off the bus, I was an immediate favorite with every tuk-tuk driver in town.