Worst day so far on the road

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
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Trip End Nov 30, 2009


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Flag of Cambodia  , Krâchéh,
Sunday, November 20, 2005

This timeline relates the experience of 11 travellers on a mini-bus between Don Det (on the Laos border) and Phnom Phen in Cambodia. The trip is meant to take 10-12 hours. Initially I was signed up for Kratie, a journey of 6-7 hours however I stayed on and the day ended up being almost 24 hours of travelling hell.

If you want to skip the boring bits it starts to turn bad after around 18:00, coincidentally the time that we were meant to reach Kampong Cham.

06.45 - awake to the noise of neighbour Pierre packing and leaving next door at Don Det
07:00 - get up and pack myself, check out by 7.25
07:30 - meet at Lanexang Travel Agency at the beachy wharf at Don Det, confirm that I'm getting the boat from the border, will be met at Stung Tren by Mr Sung and will get a bus to Kratie
07:55 - get in longtail boat with five others over to the mainland at Nankasa
08:15 - board jumbo (public transport bus) for border with the five others (Mark + Laura, Monica and Scotty)
08:30 - jumbo stops at Laos Customs point, including Phoudi Travel, 10km short of the border for unknown reason. The five of us introduce ourselves and joke about the typical delay.
09:15 - another jumbo arrives with six falang, Pierre included. They've done a mystery tour and picked up people from a neighbouring island, so his effort half an hour before mine comes to nothing, getting here after me
09:20 - in very broken English, I'm told as the only holder of a lucky (or not) Lanexang ticket, to get in the back of a white cargo jumbo which will go to the border. Asking why I can't stay with the comfortable-looking mini bus over there falls on deaf ears. We presently charge down the wrong dirt road, away from the boat riding border at Verkham.
10:00 - after a very slow 7km mission down the rutted and overgrown track to Lao's Don Kalaw immigration checkpoint, I pay $US2 and get stamped out of the country.
10:15 - another Km up the track, I reach the Dong Kralor Cambodian checkpoint at the northern end of a very wide (50m) and flat looking highway road base that stretches off into the southern distance. Visas on Arrival are available for $25 despite contrary reports and I pay another $US2 for my stamp into Cambodia. After entry, we head off down the unfinished highway.
11.50 - after a slightly less rugged, but very dusty 50km we arrive on the northern bank of the Mekong at Stung Tren. No Mr Sung in sight, I'm told to wait for a ferry boat.
12:10 - I help a bunch of schoolchildren with some elementary English as we cross the river on a slighly larger than usual long tail (approx 40 pax)
12:20 - am guided to Mr T's Riverside Guesthouse and Angkor Travel Agency on the southern bank. Lunch time and I'm upsold on a further ticket to second largest city in Cambodia, Kampong Cham (which is a lot closer to Phnom Phen for tomorrow's trip) as I'm making pretty good time.
13:15 - hop in the Phnom Phen bound mini bus, am reunited with the 10 others from the Lao Customs waiting session. They did exactly the same trip as I, except in a crappy mini bus. Debatable as to who got the better deal but by transportation mode definition they did.
13:20 - we pick up two extra local passengers inside, two others who will be travelling on the roof and a bunch of empty but dripping Gasoline jerry jugs, that are promptly strapped to the roof (to drip all over the roof). Packed to the gills, onwards we head towards Kratie.
18:00 - after a number of hours travel down the wide dirt highway base (being worked on in most sections but no way near complete anywhere) we reach Kratie and stop for dinner. We've had a couple of brief rest stops and the travel was ok despite the dust leeching into every corner of the decrepit vehicle, but starting to think that Kampong Cham is still a long way down the road (four hours according to the travel times posted in the restaurant/travel agent) and the six to seven hour total estimate given by the ticket seller is completely full of shite.
19:10 - after a couple of beers, some group bonding and an really long wait for what turned out to be pretty good food, we get the drivers motivated and the full bus heads out of Kratie.
19:20 - we hear a major thump under the bus and the driver pulls off the road. The drive shaft has come apart and is now lying on the road beneath the vehicle.
20:00 - the drive team has used their motley collection of tools to remove the drive shaft and take apart the mechanism. A new part is sent for in town. A tout has stopped and tries to sell us ladies, pot and a trip to the local Karaoke bar (somewhere between 200m and 8km away in an unspecified direction). The falangs talk of going or of just getting beer. The beer is settled upon and those waiting curl up in the bus or watch a brilliantly lit Milky Way do its thing before the moon starts rising at 21:00. Pierre's eukelele gets a good workout.
22:00 - the new part has been put in and then re-sent to town for a spot of late night welding before being refitted to the bus. A case of beer and a few jays have been consumed. Spirits are high despite the loss of three hours and everyone has decided to head for Phnom Phen instead of closer destinations as we're going to arrive in either in the dead of the night and we might as well avoid a new bus trip tomorrow.
01:15 - after a number of hours of good travel despite a few piss stops, we pull off the road 50km north of KC. Flat tyre front left. The drive/bush mechanic team hops into action and sort out the spare. Unfortunately a number of the wheel bolts are tight or oxidised and it takes about half an hour to change to flat. Passengers take the delay stoically.
03:00 - we pull into Kampong Cham (looks pretty nice in the dark), drop a few local passengers off the roof, and after some phone calls whilst driving through back streets, stop in a dodgy looking drive way. Seems as though we're going to transfer buses and get a substitute driver.
03:30 - after repacking and roll-starting the 'new' and crappier mini bus (half of its windows are missing and it's pretty uncomfortable), we get mobile again. People (myself included) are starting to despair as there's still 120km to go to Phnom Phen, which could take hours at the rate we're going.
04:45 - after an amazingly bumpy and cold ride down the shit road between the two major cities in Cambodia, we strike another flat. Back right this time and there is no spare tyre on board. Most passengers are asleep and don't realise. I am too cramped, cold and tired to sleep through this grim reality. Boo.
05:55 - after farting around with the smallest jack on the planet for a good part of an hour, the driver manages to get the wheel off and then flag down (a friend? in) a passing car to get a spare wheel. That is fitted and we're away again.
06:15 - the flat was on the outskirts of Phnom Phen but with the delay we end up hitting a bunch of traffic as we approach the bridge over the river. We will get there...
06:45 - after a stop to make a call and decide where we'll be dropped in order to make the driver some commission on the rooms we so desperately need, we arrive at Mekong Guesthouse, quite near the Lakeside area that we requested. We scramble off the bus, grab our gear and run from it like possessed beings.
07:15 - finally settle into a comfortable guesthouse and have a hot shower. Oooohh...

The captive audience

Thanks everyone for their patience, you were a great group to have a horror travel experience with.

Pierre (French)
Mark (Welsh) + Laura (UK)
Patricia + female friend (Sweden)
Bastie (male - Norway)
Monica (US) + Scotty (female - Can)
David + Yahze (Spain + UK)
Me (Ross - Australia)
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