…and other transportation near-woes.
(NOTE: This post will not be very picture-heavy because there isn’t a lot of room to have your camera at the ready when you’re jammed between people. These cell phone pictures will have to be okay for now)
After staying an extra day in Battambang (this turned into a theme – I’ve found it hard to tear myself away from places the longer I am in Cambodia) I left by bus for Phnom Penh. The Tonle Sap lake lies between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and there’s an express boat that connects the two, but not sure about Battambang and Phnom Penh. I feel as though there should be a boat that can make the journey. I just did a (lazy) google search and didn’t come up with much, but now I’m interested so I may do some more digging. “Some more digging” usually means asking someone who looks like they’ve been here awhile. “Been here awhile” usually means they have dreadlocks and their parents don’t know when they’re coming back.
The last time I took a bus (not including the B62 from Greenpoint to Williamsburg) was in Nicaragua. Keith and I got on a school bus from Rivas headed to Grenada and it was a pretty funny time. There were screaming children and a nice man behind us caressed Keith’s neck for the last two hours of the ride.
This is also where I took this three photo series of a man selling something that wasn’t delicious:
Anyway, that was Nicaragua and this is about Cambodia. But, that was my last local bus ride.
I should have been prepared.
The woman who sat next to me with a cob of corn was completely prepared. She’d even come with one that was big enough to break in half to share with a friend as she demonstrated to me just before we left. I declined, but was really looking forward to seeing her dive into it. I later learned that this is actually a pretty great car snack. My new friend ate each kernel individually, picking them off with her fingernails, which I was really impressed with. More recently I sat in a shared taxi with 4 people eating corn who ate them the traditional way. The way you might at an American BBQ between handfuls of beans and beer.
NOTE: Why doesn’t America sell corn on the cob as a street food snack? After all these years, we still only get pretzels, street meat (WHITESAUCEHOTSAUCE) and hotdogs. Why? If I’m wrong and I can find such a thing somewhere, let me know.
Anyway, I guess I’d forgotten just how lawless the roads are in many developing countries. From the moment we left Battambang, the two official lanes of traffic turned into four unofficial lanes of traffic. A truck is going too slow? NO PROBLEM! We just zipped to his left and stayed there for a while until the driver saw another truck approaching in the lane we now occupied. Just to make sure he wasn’t mistaken he stayed in the lane for as long as he could until I assume he thought, “Yes! I suppose it IS a truck that will kill the people in this minivan if I don’t somehow swerve over right this second!”
He managed to save us every single time. A hero! If someone asked me I’d say we had at least 24 close calls, but the corn-cob eating woman only grabbed my arm and bugged her eyes out once, so by Cambodian standards it might have just been one close call.
We were in our rightful lane when a double-decker bus tried to pass someone and headed straight for us. I guess he misjudged the room he had and when he couldn’t manage to get back into his own lane, he avoided a head-on collision with us by careening off the road completely. I didn’t look back to see how that turned out for the people on the street (corn-cobber had a pretty hearty grip on me,) but I like to think they all jumped out of the way just in time and are now eating corncobs happily somewhere.
After that the rest of the trip was a breeze.
I recently had another entertaining trip from place A to B. A few days ago I went from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville just before the start of Khmer New Year week (they celebrate a three-day holiday for ten days it seems) and I wasn’t able to get a bus. The only option available was a “share taxi” which should have been pretty cheap – about $5. These are typically a regular car that is jammed full of as many people will fit inside – the number of actual manufacturer installed seats don’t factor in here. I spoke to a woman who sat in a Toyota Camry (my first car!) with five people in the back and four in the front.
Mine wasn’t quite so dramatic. I sat between a Welsh woman and a Russian man named Vladimir, who bought everyone a beer. Turns out Vladimir had had a rough time the night before took a nice solid nap about an hour into the trip.
Up front was Welsh woman’s daughter and the driver who asked us to call him “Schumacher.”
TRAVEL NOTE: Oftentimes locals will choose a Western name that’s easier for Westerners to say. Given that it’s not actually their name it sometimes takes a few tries to get them to respond. Imagine if we got a lot of Vietnamese backpackers in NYC and I said, “Hey! It’s no problem! We’re friends! Call me Nguyen.” I would probably not respond the first 5 times either.
Imagine zipping through Cambodia in someone’s car, wedged next to a napping Russian man and every so often saying thing like, “Schumacher, I think you’re going too fast!” or “Schumacher, I think it’s raining inside the car” or “Schumacher, the corn fell on the ground.”
That was this trip. Click here for a video. NOTE: I’m sorry about always having to click to see these videos. I’m still weighing the pros (features!) and cons (money that could be spent on kilos of mangoes) of getting a more advanced account. If I go for it, I can embed videos which will make your user experience SO MUCH BETTER.
At one point the Welsh woman could no longer take it and screamed, “Schumacher, I don’t like this! This is not safe! Pull over!”
Shumacher just giggled and eventually we arrived. I never had any doubt that we would arrive safely. Mostly because Vladimir kept saying very loudly, “I put all my trust in Schumacher!” If Schumacher is good enough for Vladimir, he’s good enough for me.
There are lots of ways to get lots of places, but if you can try to make sure your trip involves corn.
I thought Phnom Penh would remind me more of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, but it’s absolutely different. While it’s cosmopolitan enough, it’s still got a bit of a slower feel than HCM. I only spent about two days in HCM, so it’s hard to make a real comparison and others might totally disagree, but I has happy for this difference. I love the slow feel of Cambodia. While there are huge Samsung neon signs in places, just behind them and around a corner you’ll fine a street stall selling Beef Lok Lak.
More on Beef Lok Lak (my new favorite meal on earth – even more than chicken fingers and fish sticks) some other day.
We’ll see ya.