Over the past four months, I’ve completed a number of arduous bus rides, which have varied in comfort, length and safety. From the border of Laos, my bus was packed full, with people crammed on plastic stools down the centre, it had a cracked windscreen, and the roads were awful.
However, it was to get a whole lot worse.
After staying at the super cute Le Tonle Tourism Training Centre, I boarded a mini bus, which would take me to Siem Reap. I paid an extra US$3 to get there in 6-7 hours and not 11 hours by the large coach company around the corner. I now know why the coach takes 11 hours, and it took us 7.
The driver was a complete lunatic!
Seriously. I feared for my life.
After we had left the small township of Kratie, and got on the long stretch of road, he floored it. Weaving in and out of traffic, going bumper to bumper with huge trucks, overtaking on corners and generally driving extremely fast.
The roads were terrible too, huge potholes everywhere, loose gravel and great big verges you could easily swerve off into.
For those people reading my blog from Christchurch, New Zealand. It would be like driving down River Road, or Avonside Drive at 100kmph!
I was sat at the back of the bus, so perhaps the feeling was worse, but I got bumped up and down, and thrown from side to side. Holding on for dear life.
I was one of the only westerners on the bus, and at some points, I looked around and all the other passengers were sat there happy as Larry, talking, reading or sleeping.
How can they sleep, when we are overtaking a huge truck on a corner?!
Halfway into the journey, we stopped at a roadside ‘restaurant’ area. I say restaurant, as it is probably the closest thing to a restaurant that rural Cambodia has. A small shack, with red plastic chairs, and a few stalls, some selling western foods, such as Pringles and Oreo cookies (I swear, I never want to eat another Oreo Cookie in my life, they have become my staple on long bus rides). A layer of dust sat on the lid of the Pringle box, as if they had been sat there from the dawn of time. Locals queued up for some form of insect on a stick. I had fruit and water in my bag, and so hedged my bets that I’d reach Siem Reap alive, and that I’d get a decent meal.
Another 2 hours of shocking driving, and we had made it. I was alive.
As soon as the bus pulled up, a group of 10 or so Cambodian men stared through the bus window with expectant faces. They were holding up signs advertising accommodation, and the word TAXI brightly printed on it. It was like a scene from Oliver Twist, they were like Orphan Children staring in the window at a family having a feast on Christmas day.
The door opened, and the Cambodian men’s choir began to sing ‘Ms Ms, taxi, taxi, tuk tuk, where you stay? Room, cheap room.’
I pushed passed them, grabbed my rucksack and went to a table area and sat down for 5 seconds to try to get my bearings. I knew where my hostel was, I was just trying to work out where I currently was.
A tuk tuk driver followed me over and chipped ‘lady, you want tuk tuk’ .. I gave in, ‘yes, I do’ then I began the price negotiations.
I want to go to Jasmine Lodge, please.
$6 he said, without hesitation.
Too expensive, I said.
It is far he replied.
$2, I said.
I said, ok $3.
No, no, $5.
Ok! He said $4.
We walked to his tuk tuk. He again asked me where I was going, and then called over his friend lying in a neighbouring tuk tuk. In broken English he said, you want Jasmine Lodge, that is far! $5 not $4, I said no, we agreed on $4. Then he started babbling on about taking me on a tour of the Temples.
I was tired and grumpy, and said “NO, no tour, no temples, take me to Jasmine Lodge now, and I pay $4.’,
But again he started talking about how he was a licenced your guide. So I said fine, and walked out of the tuk tuk, rucksack over my shoulder.
I looked around to see if there were any other willing tuk tuk drivers to take me to where I needed to go. Then the first tuk tuk driver ran to me and said ‘lady, why you get angry. I replied and said, ‘I’m angry because I’m asking you to take me to my hostel, and you are talking about a tour, I just want to go to Jasmine Lodge!’
“ok ok, he said, lets go’
Credit to him, the hostel was quite far, but still in Cambodia $4 is quite a lot for a tuk tuk driver to be paid. Along the way he talked a lot about the Temples of Angkor Wat and how I could hire him for $20, and he’d take me everywhere for the day.
As I was meeting Liesbeth, my Belgian friend I met in Laos, I had a get out clause. I said that I needed to see what she wanted to do first.
I paid the $4, jumped out, and wandered into my hostel. The pool glistened in the sun, it was an oasis away from the crazy World outside. I met Liesbeth, and said ‘I need a drink’.
It turned out, that her bus and tuk tuk journey from Phnom Penh was equally as bad as my journey was.
Welcome to Cambodia!
If you are planning on travelling from Kratie to Siem Reap, I’d take a large coach instead, It is cheaper, takes longer, but is much safer.
For a good coach company in Cambodia, I’d use the Giant Ibis Company. They are unable to drive over a certain speed limit, and are a very reputable company.