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Mr. Toad's Wild Ride Through Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 24 June 2007 | Views [798]

With entry stamps and passports in hand, we load into a new mini-van, packed with two additional Cambodians needing a lift, and the original 11 of us tourists.  The driver attempted to drive off, without any A/C, and with that many people packed in the car, it was stinky and dreadful.  I finally ask him to kindly turn on the A/C that we had paid for with our package tickets.  Be begrudgingly complied, bummed that he'd have to expend the fuel to make our ride somewhat comfortable.  We are transferred, after an hour or so, to a boat.  Not sure where we were and no one running the show speaking English, we all blindly pile into this long wooden boat that has a motor that you'd expect to find on a farm tractor... it spews out thick black smoke the entire way, and Darrin and I were lucky enough to have the back seats right underneath the motor platform.  We arrive on the banks of some new town and are directed to walk across town with all our bags to a restaurant where we should eat and await a larger bus to transfer onto.  We now figure out that we are in Stung Treng.  Two Europeans drop out of our traveling circuit, they're concerned they're suffering from symptoms of dengue fever, and are needing to rest their aching bodies.  Darrin and I exchange glances, silently, thankful that we don't feel as ill as that couple, and hope our luck continues.  It's at that moment that the bus guy tells us all that we are to board the larger bus which is now going to Phnom Penh.  Apparently some of the people on the bus had changed their plans and no longer wanted to go all the way through to Siem Reap, and that we would no longer be stopping and staying the night in the town of Kampong Cham - bummer for us, as we're now be going 4 hours out of our way for the convenience of the bus company.  The tour package guy insists that it's all "same, same" but we know better... same, same, but different, and he was of no use answering any of our questions - such as, could we still get dropped off in Kampong Cham and catch the morning bus to Siem Reap?  Either he didn't understand what we were asking, or probably the more likely scenario, he didn't want to accommodate our request to take us to the place we had paid to go, because it was cheaper for him to cram us all into one tiny mini-van now that we had fewer people.  No pint in discussing further, and we all board the bus, headed south, stopping every 10-20 minutes to pick up locals for a subsidized ride into town.  We're now used to this drill, and expect actual travel times to take at least double the published actual time.  

We finally do stop, at 8:00 p.m. - yes, only a mere 12 hours since our start time this morning - in none less than Stung Treng, the town that we were supposed to have arrived in this afternoon at 1:30 p.m.  They tell us all to get off the bus, and that we're all needing to cram into a mini-van for the last two hours to Phnom Penh.  We look around - there are 11 of us, plus the driver, and all our packs, and no roof racks.  We plead with the driver to let us stay there the night and take the morning bus to Siem Reap, but this guy knows no English.  They pile us, the driver, plus three more local Cambodians into the small van (which can uncomfortably squeeze in 11 passengers including the driver).  All our bags are hanging out the back of the van, strapped in by only a small rope, with the back door half strapped over them - but with the pouring rain, all our stuff is drenched.  Not only are we concerned that our bags may not survive the ride, but we're also concerned for our own safety.  They've crammed 4 large people into the 2 person front seat.  The driver (not a small guy) is literally sitting on top of another passenger while attempting to drive the van.  The headlights barely work, and they've got all the interior lights on so that other cars on the road can see us, and swerve to avoid us if necessary.  Unbelievable.  In hindsight, we should have just gotten off the bus in Stung Treng, but we were in the middle of no-where, in the midst of a monsoon downpour, no other people or cars around, in the pitch dark.  So, we continued on with our other fellow travelers.  

Our van finally reached Phnom Penh at 10:30 p.m. and they drop us off at a pit of a guest house (#10 Lakeside Guesthouse), in a completely grungy backpacker area by the lake.  I walk up 4 flights of stairs, weary and exhausted from our all-day travel ordeal, only to find a mosquito infested room with blood stained sheets and a fan that doesn't work.  By this time, I'm about as close to a melt down as I've been on this trip.  I fly out of the guesthouse to find Darrin and our bags.  The owner of the guesthouse is chasing after me shouting, "you stay here, we have your bus tickets," and I turn around in the most non-culturally sensitive reply, I tell him his hotel room is filthy  and I can't stay there.... "But", he chases after me, "I have more rooms that are clean, you stay here!"  "No, I say firmly, near to tears at this point, "I find a new guesthouse (pointing to the one down the road) that's recommended by Lonely Planet," and I trudge off to the Grandview Guesthouse - at least this one was in the Lonely Planet, and still had rooms.  I get us a $3 box with a bed, fan and bath on the 5th floor.  At least it's a little cleaner, the fan works, the room is barely big enough to fit the double bed and our packs are wedged between the wall and door.  Upside, there's less floor space for cockroaches to fester.  We take our cold showers and put on our same nasty travel clothes, vowing not to open our bags in this place until we get to a cleaner place in Siem Reap.  We now need to go back downstairs to #10 Guesthouse to fix up our bus transfer to Siem Reap for the next morning, and Mr. Guesthouse Manager was not happy to see me - in fact, he ignored me while he chatted on his cell phone.  I stood right on top of him, waiting for him to acknowledge me, "the customer."  That's one big realization traveling has brought home for us in a big way.  the "customer" is not "king" outside of the US.  In fact, very few establishments think about their customers or their needs beyond the customer's ability to pay- which they typically get the payment up front from you when you check in.  Leaves not much of an incentive for them to provide services after collecting your cash.  Mr. Guesthouse Manager finally gets off the phone and tells us to be at his reception by 6:00 a.m. to catch the 8:00 a.m. bus - the timing doesn't quite add up.  We see our Israeli travel buddies from the bus ride in the restaurant, and they tell us they don't have to be ready for the bus until 8:30 a.m. for a 9:00 a.m. bus.  So I go back to deal with Mr. Happy Manager, to revise our tickets, and he replies, "fine, same same" and shoos us away.  When I ask what time we need to be there to take the bus he still says 6:00 a.m.  I'm frustrated, I can't seem to communicate to this guy, and he doesn't seem to care about getting us on the bus with our travel buddies anyway, so I call it quits for the night.  We order up hamburgers at the restaurant there, and 30 minutes later (after watching all the other tourists eat their yummy hamburgers) the restaurant guy brings us some nasty beef strips with gravy on a baguette.  I take a deep breath, point to it and say "hamburger?"  He says "hamburger finished."  He points to the dish he brought us and says "same, same" and I chime in "but different!"  I ask him to take it away... "no hamburger, not same same, no eat."  Instead, I order a plate of french fries, it's now midnight.  We retire to our prison cell box room to sweat all night and count the minutes until we can wake up and get out of this place.

Tags: Misadventures

 

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