The Epic Journey

Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Thursday, March 2, 2006

Everyone always talks about the incredible, epic journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap. One girl I talked to described the hellish experience that she had in the back of a crowded bus on a broken seat next to all the bags that kept falling on her. Lonely Planet warned all those willing to undertake the trip to pack lots of snacks and practice "Buddhist patience". I couldn't wait. The only downside was that I had managed to pick up a parasite on the bus from Phuket to Bangkok (an 11 hr ride that ended up being 16!). His name was Cameron, a kiwi who seemed like a good travel partner when I was alone on a bus in the middle of the night somewhere in Thailand. In Bangkok it was nice to have someone to talk to and wander around with. But slowly the red flags started to come up. The only reason he talked to me on the bus was because I was the only other white person. Then he started to develop some sort of crush and would get extremely jealous if I talked to anybody else. He also informed me that he wanted to go to the Angkor temples in Cambodia to take a couple pictures, but that his real interest in the country was to go to the shooting ranges near Phnom Penh. So here I was, stuck with this guy who annoyed the hell out of me on a day when I had to have Buddhist patience. I was determined not to let him spoil my day. So we boarded our train, settling down in our 3rd class, $1 seats ready for the 5 1/2 hour ride to the border. Now, at first there weren't many people in our car, so it wasn't all that uncomfortable. Padded benches lined the walls of the car, so the views of the countryside slowly going by were right in front of me and the breeze through the open windows cooled me down. There was a mother and baby in the seat opposite me and it was fun to try to make the little guy laugh. I even managed to go to sleep for awhile, squished up against the couple that was sharing my section of the bench. And then suddenly Cameron wakes me up and tells me to get up, that the train police told him to go to the other car. Confused and not quite believing the guy who was so against the idea of sitting 3rd class because he thought he'd get his stuff stolen. But I followed, lugging my pack behind me, almost hitting some poor old woman in the head. I'm not sure exactly why we were moved to the next car. Cameron says the police officer said something about it not being safe, but who knows. If it was really that unsafe, why were there women and children still back there? Were we moved just because we were white? The thought made me shiver a bit. But that's part of traveling, never really knowing what's going on for half the time. And pretty soon we were on a tuk tuk on our way to the border, except that we ended up at a travel agency instead. Now, I was all set to just take care of everything myself and avoid getting ripped off, but somehow we got sucked into the whole operation. First we needed visas, so the woman in charge of the agency took our passports...and for an excruciating hour we didn't see them again. But when we did get them back, the visa was all arranged. Then she practically made us buy bus tickets from the border to Siem Reap. Suddenly the money I had budgeted for this part of the trip didn't seem so possible. My Buddhist calm started to give way as it seemed more and more like we were getting ripped off. Not to mention the Cameron parasite sitting next to me wouldn't stop complaining. I kept trying to drop hints that maybe we should seperate once we reached our destination. He wasn't getting it. We ended up sitting in that little office for two hours before we even got to the border. Then we had to go through the line to get out of Thailand, walk through no-man's land, and then go through another line to get into Cambodia. Finally we got through and I thought that we'd be homefree, except that when we got to the bus area, there was no bus. So there we all were, a group of about 15 sitting around looking at each other in confusion and boredom, waiting to just do something besides wait. And then it appeared, like something out of Romancing the Stone. "Last bus!" our guide yelled out, "Everyone on!" I think it took us awhile to realize that he actually meant that all 15 of us were meant to pile into the hunk of metal in front of us. The seats were fold outs, the bags thrown into the back, no hope of any a/c on this ride, and the front windshield was covered in a spiderweb of cracks. And we're not talking a little spiderweb, we're talking a huge Arachniphobia spiderweb of cracks. I think it was really held together by cracks. Cameron took one look at this thing and refused to get on, screaming for his air conditioning. And then I lost it. I just started laughing and couldn't stop. Of course this would be the bus we ended up with, it was exactly the luck we had been having all day. I told Cameron just to shut up and get on, it was the last bus afterall. I guess my guide liked my attitude or my laughing or just me, because he told me to climb up front to the best seat. It was great! Up front, I met an Iranian guy who kept groaning every time we hit a bump, an English guy named Lee, and a Canadian named Steve. The road was more potholes than road, which actually gave way to dirt and gravel about two hours into the trip, so we were bouncing around all over the place, telling stories and laughing like crazy. My job was to close the window whenever I saw a truck approaching so that the dust wouldn't get in. Eventually we came to a bridge that was broken, so we stopped for dinner at this little place beside the road and waited for it to be fixed. Right when we were sure that we'd be spending the night at that restaurant a cheer went up, everyone got back in their cars, and the bridge was fixed. That still didn't stop us from holding our collective breath every time we went over a bridge, though. As night fell, we all quieted down, getting used to the bumps, some even falling asleep. I looked out on to the countryside, the dots of lights on the horizon, and knew that this is why I came to Asia. Where else would I bounce along a road, staring out through a cracked windshield that kept up a continuous rattle, the wind whipping back my hair and my body covered with dust? Where else would I be in heaven doing this? By the time we finally arrived in Siem Reap and found a place at the Popular Guesthouse, I had fallen in love with Cambodia. One epic journey was over, but I knew that others awaited.
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Comments

bob_sumner
bob_sumner on

Fantastic Story
That was written so well, now I don't feel like I need to do the trip myself. Thanks much!

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