After six hours on the bus from Phnom Penh if the first stop had been Hell I'd have been thrilled to get off and roast in eternal damnation. First of all let me make one thing perfectly clear -- Greyhound is the Concord of the bus world. This Chinese monster of a bus was hilarious. I sat across from and next to two Japanese Catholic nuns and though we couldn't speak the same language the fact that we'd all been raised in civilization gave us many opportunities for shared glances and laughter
. The first came when we were told where to sit. On the flight here on President Airlines (the advertisement say that they're "afortable" by the way) there were no seat assignments and neither the rows nor the seats were labeled. On the bus however you'd better be in your correct seat by God or they will boss you around within an inch of your life like retarded school children. As soon as we were told where to sit (it was complete chaos by the way and at one point the "steward" lost my ticket) we were ready for refreshments. We were all handed little bottles of water and then some odd Danish things that I ate and have yet to throw up. Now if truth be told I hadn't expected the pastry and was pleased with the gesture. Then they brought the motorcycle on. This is when my Japanese nun friend across the aisle and I really bonded. We were in the third row and when we saw two boys start hoisting up a damn motorcycle we stared at each other in complete disbelief. As if by magic and by maneuvering the handlebars left and right and then over seats they were able to get this thing to the back of the bus and that was truly something. It also left a trickle of gasoline in its wake. Roughly twenty minutes after we'd departed we pulled over and she and I glanced at each other wondering why we'd stopped. Well, why else? To pick up the huge damn windshield at the gas stain!
But wait ladies and gentlemen the hits just keep on coming
. No sooner were we barely out of the city limits that the television and loud speakers came on. I was just tucking into my book written by the guy who Julian Sands played (what happened Julian?) in The Killing Fields when the Cambodian pop music cranked up. Oh my sweet Lord the nun couldn't take it and shuddered but we were relieved when the ear piercing level was promptly turned down to a level that merely shattered glass. I am thrilled to report that though the lyrics scrolled at the bottom of the screen no one chimed in at the sound of their favourite tunes. If however they had wanted to sing along it would have been quite a challenge as all the DVDs skipped, dragged and several times stopped altogether as I breathed a sigh of relief only to be hammered back even louder seconds later. All the while this was going on our driver laid on the horn at every passing vehicle, pedestrian and random wandering livestock. It took me a while to figure out what was going on and then I realized when I looked up that every time he was laying on the horn he was passing something like a woman carrying a poll across her back with two baskets of produce on each end and at one point when I glanced up we passed a truck with two levels of live swine bolted in cages. Many times when he laid on it for longer periods and pumped the gas he'd gone off the shoulder to avert a head-on collision with a truck loaded with about 30 peasant workers. Now if truth be told we'd have had the advantage over those people since we were seated and had a roof and it seemed only fair that we logistically lost that game of chicken --had it been poultry cargo however I'd have been a bit crestfallen and ashamed
We stopped for a few bathroom breaks (though I was promised a Coke and a toilet onboard when I booked my 8 dollar trip but nevermind I wouldn't have used it anyway) and those produced hawkers lingering by the toilets like you wouldn't believe. One woman was selling whole barbecued baby
chickens. No, these were not those cute little Cornish rock game hens my grandmother would roast for me for my birthday these things were maybe a week out of their shell and I saw a woman gnawing on one of their feet. That's nothing! The best part is something that I've heard about and knew that I'd get to see but I didn't think they'd be offered in such abundance and they were much larger than I thought they'd be: deep fried black spiders!
Yes for the love of Almighty God these women were parading about with trays piled high of crunchy spiders and the locals were tearing those things up like rednecks on a bag of chitlins.
Another rest stop was not planned but half the bus decided to take advantage of it and there were no toilets in sight just bushes and fields. Do you know what country is one of the most heavily land mined in the world? Do you know which country is crawling (and I mean that) with land mine victims everywhere you turn? You guessed it! God Bless the USA we've done a great
job, by God
! And here these people were running all over the countryside in search of a nice spot to relieve themselves. For crying out loud I was so scared for them. When a white girl jumped off the bus the Japanese nun just about lost her mind and slapped my arm with her mouth agape and I'm pretty sure that she crapped her habit she was laughing so hard.
The oddest aspect about this journey today is that after I stopped looking out of the window every time he honked the horn and grew numb to the "music" videos I was actually able to read and block it out. Oh there were still times that I was ripped from the pages by a blast of sound or fear of imminent death but I didn't let it get to me anymore. At one point though I did have to interfere and that was a difficult decision because I do not want to interfere into other people's world because I am a guest in their country but this was too much. For about 10 minutes a segment of video repeated roughly 50 times and jumped halfway through each word and then restarted. I had to say something because I knew that this was wrong but no one else was saying anything and then I thought how most people will put up with anything and I'm the one who usually has to jump up and look like the asshole. I got up and hunched over and tried to explain and then the "steward" finally turned it off. Mercifully no one tried to kill me and the lady in the front row thanked me
. I was surprised the nun didn't plan a novena for me she was so grateful.
Arriving in the town of Siem Reap after dark was thrilling simply because it wasn't a bus. Then I hired a nice tuk-tuk driver to take me to my hotel and I love it -- it's so charming and has wooden shutters that lead onto a balcony. I immediately headed out for a gin and tonic and strolled around this amazingly quaint and rather quiet town packed with beautiful restaurants and shops. This town is more or less the only place people stay when they come to see the temples outside of town so it's teaming with travelers but it's still incredibly charming.
Seeing how one needs at least three days for these temples and most people say that you should spend at least 12 hours there each day this is going to be an early night town for me I suspect. I may have to stay extra days just for the late nights cocktailing.
Almost the second I arrived here I told the bartender that I was probably going to stay longer than I thought. When planning this journey one attraction that was impossible to leave out were the archeological wonders of Angkor Wats outside of the town of Siem Reap. It is a massive complex of temples and is the largest religious building in the world but I arrived at dusk and will have to wait until dawn for the first of three days of temple trekking.