Bad karma is coming to that travel agency!

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Dec 12, 2012

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Thursday, November 29, 2012

Battambang is considered by many to be the hidden jewel of Cambodia.  There are supposed to be incredle sites outside of town, over 800 historical buildings in town that a German preservation society is trying to save and restore, beautiful French colonial homes still in the hands of the third and fourth generation descendants. and the countryside is said to be National Geographic beautiful.  Since my original plan was to spend two days here, but I cut it down to one to see more of Angkor Wat, time really is of the essence, and has to be used wisely.  (Everything is compact, so easy to see and get around, according to everything I've read; I first learned of the city from an article in the New York Times, which I then researched further.) 

So, with my $5 ticket, I get up early to make my way to the bus station, and am charged $3 for the tuk-tuk ride.  The driver helps me get to my bus, my luggage is loaded into the hold of the bus, and I am shown my seat; another foreigner also waits for the same bus, he sounds American.  When 7.30 comes and goes, and we are the only two passengers.  From lots of experience, I know that if a bus isn't full, it isn't going anywhere, so I try to be patient.  But something seems amiss, as there are no locals waiting.  I ask the ticket control person when we will be leaving, and she tells me 8.30, as there is no 7.30 bus -- WTF?  When I tell her, and show her, my ticket that says the bus leaves at 7.30, she insists there is no 7.30 bus, that it leaves at 8.30.  I am pissed.   

Sure enough, no 7.30 bus exists, just posted for the tourist dollars, as the locals don't start arriving until almost 8.30!  Since they are early travelers, they would have opted for the 7.30 bus if one really existed.  However, with locals on the bus, and it is now past 8.30, we still don't go anywhere.  I ask again when the bus will be leaving, and I am told, "Maybe 8.45."  That time comes and goes and we just sit, with my blood boiling.  But before I continue with this part of the story, let me share another.   

During this long wait, there is a man who appears to be the driver, as he gets on, starts the engine, lets it run for a bit, then shuts it off.  I notice that he is constantly rubbing his penis through his pants.,,,and I mean CONSTANTLY.  These bus drivers are crazy enough as it is, but since this one DEFINITELY won't have both hands on the wheel at all times, that means we will be more at risk for being in an accident!  I am now both frightened and pissed.  In the end, he turns out to be the ticket taker on the bus, along with the resident masturbator.  When he tries to hand me back my part of the bus ticket, while he's also rubbing himself, I decline it.  A little after 9, the bus starts up once again, but this time we pull out of the station, looking for passengers to fill the few seats that remain empty.        

While every publication I have read states that the bus ride takes about 3 hours, maybe a bit more if there is lots of traffic, it took me SIX hours to get to my destination!  I'm now beyond pissed, and realize there is nothing I can do, so just try to make the best of it.  Of all the things I wanted to see, I have to quickly revise my itinerary.  I am now down to only two sites: the bamboo train and the circus, both of which are located a distance from the downtown area, and at opposite ends.  What little I get to see of the French colonial architecture comes from being wisked from one destination to the other while in the back of the tuk-tuk that I hired for the afternoon.  I also passed by Angelina Jolie's foundation that is located here to work with land mine victims and orphans; there are tons of foundations located here, Cambodia's second largest city.  

The bamboo train was originally started to transport goods from one area to the next by the locals.  The trains are nothing more than a flatbed made out of bamboo strips, which are then placed on some makeshift wheels that were refurbished from US militiary machines left over from the war...very ingenious.  Each train is only one car.  Somehow the tourists found out about it, turned it into a tourist activity, so now human cargo is the main thing that gets transported.  For $10 a train, you get to ride up one end, then down the other, which takes about one hour.  When you reach one end, there is a tiny village where the people are out selling their wares.  The kids make jewelry out of bamboo, and adorn the visitors with it.  Since it is a single track, when two trains meet, there are rules that determine who has to remove their train from the track (takes about two minutes), and who gets the right of way.  The Cambodian government is working to revive its train system, so the bamboo train is on its way to extinction.  But given the way things work around here, it'll be way, way out in the distant future.  The trains are powered by a motorcycle engine, and do get going at a nice speed. However, when the tracks aren't aligned nicely, when the train goes over it, it is like an uncomfortable jolt, but it is a fun, enjoyable activitly.

The second thing I did was attend a circus that is run by some French organization.  They work with the local students via the arts -- dance, music, painting, and such -- as a way to keep them in school and give them employment afterwards.  The circus is more of a play with circus acrobatics thrown in.  The night i was there, the play had to do with discrimination.  It was really good.  The stage is very small, but they were doing all kinds of things that wowed the audience.  The performing troupe currently consists of 13 members; it used to have 15, but two of them were given scholarships to attend prestigious dance schools abroad. 

So much is made of those double-dutch jump ropers in the US.  However, they have nothing on some of these acrobats when it comes to getting over the jump rope. When a big rope on fire was swung, these acrobats not only jumped over the rope, but they did so while turning flips.  Then a few layed on the ground, then levitated themselves when the rope came by them, and they lifted themselves off the ground, the rope passed, they were back on the ground, then continuted this process several times over.  The lead actor/acrobat was really good, he had great facial expressions when needed.  The others could do the dance moves, but one of them was a born natural -- he sure had the moves that the others didn't.  The two musicians who played during the entire one hour performance were incredible.  After the show was over, you were encouraged to dine at its restaurant; I didn't.  It was now 9 pm, and I had another bus ride early the next morning to Phnom Penh.

When I arrived at the hotel from the harrowing bus ride, the front desk told me this bus company is notorious for being late, and that I should have taken another.  For tomorrow's ride, they suggest another company whose buses leave on time, so I throw my blind faith to their hands, and they buy me the ticket.  Regardless, I am going to post on and the Thorn Tree forums to stay clear of this one bus line.  While the company may think it can be dishonest to unsuspecting travelers, it should be held accountable, so I'm going to post my experience, and tell people to go elsewhere.  I hope it realizes a loss in ticket sales to foreigners after my posting.  If it had told me that there was no 7.30 bus. then I would have been okay.  But to mislead so blatantly?  Karma now comes back in the form of the internet in this day and age!    
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