In December we had the opportunity to go to Cambodia just before Christmas. We were in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is. It was a really great experience, definitely top two for the entire time we were in Malaysia. Our first few hours there, though, gave us quite an opposite impression.
Before we even arrived in the Cambodia airport, we were a little weirded out. Southeast Asia has this strange thing where they fog their airplanes before they land. I have no idea what it is for, but apparently it is an aviation law in that part of the country. Most of the flights we went on did this, though not all of them explained what was happening. When you see something like this, it tends to get you a little worried. Thankfully, though, it was just some kind of anti-bacterial fog and not the plane filling with actual smoke.
And since I’m a photo nerd, here are pictures of our first views of Cambodia:
As for the actual arrive, arriving at the airport wasn’t so bad. That was actually the easy part of the evening. The landing was smooth (which you will learn to appreciate traveling around that part of the world) and we were able to get off the plane without any drama. We had applied for and received our visas before going to Cambodia, so we were able to get through immigration fairly quickly, too. And since we had filled out our arrival cards on the airplane before landing, we were in line for a very short amount of time, maybe about 10 minutes at the most, got our visas examined, our arrival cards scanned, passports stamped and off we went.
This is the card we had to fill out (on the other side 😛 ) before being admitted to the country.
My Cambodia visa! I love my photo.
Troy’s passport photo. He does look pretty good, doesn’t he?
It was after leaving the airport that things got a little strange.
We arrived in Phnom Penh about 4:45pm and had booked an overnight bus to take us straight to Siem Reap. The one we’d booked didn’t leave until about 6:00………..but that’s not the one we got on.
When we got outside the airport, we snagged a little tuk-tuk to take us to the bus stop so we could get there early and not risk missing it. One thing that is common in Asia is that time is relative. Buses and trains rarely ever leave on time, but you never know which day they will leave early or which day they will be running late, so being decently early is a good idea. We figured being about 30-40 minutes wouldn’t be so bad. Our tuk-tuk driver, though, had other plans. Once we told him where we wanted to go, he got all excited and told us that he knew of another night bus heading to Siem Reap that was leaving right then and there. He said it was better than the one we had booked and that it was the exact same price, so he wanted to take us there instead of to the one we booked.
Um? Well, yeah, great. We’d love to be on a bus that is leaving now. But, dude, we’re not there. We’re still at the airport. We’ve already missed it.
Not to be deterred, our faithful little tuk-tuk driver drove all over Phnom Penh to track down the bus. It was hilarious at the time. He went to the bus depot and found out the route the bus was taking and took all these little side streets to get to each pick-up spot as quickly as possible. It was actually pretty neat to get a super speedy scenic tour of the city before leaving. These are some of the interesting things we saw.
Our view from the back of the tuk-tuk as we left the airport.
We were super excited to be in Cambodia.
Snack carts are so popular here. Most of the time people just push them, but this one was unique because it was attached to the guy’s motorbike.
This is off to the side of one of the main streets in Phnom Penh. Every so often you will see a congregation of food carts and people coming to get snacks or meals.
Typical convenience store. This one was next door to the bus office.
And you think YOUR traffic is bad. This is actually not that bad of traffic for this part of the world. At this point, our tuk-tuk was halfway on the sidewalk, but nobody really cares about that here.
Scooter gangs are the most common site on the roads in Asia.
After driving around for about 20 minutes and stopping at two places, we made it to this little hole in the wall shop. And I mean that literally. There were several doors lining a portion of the wall down an alley and that is where the tuk-tuk driver took us. I thought we were asking directions again, but the tuk-tuk driver came back outside and told us that the bus would be here any minute and that we could get tickets by paying the man inside. So, we paid the man and got our tickets. We were pretty happy about getting tickets for a bus that left an hour earlier than the one we’d reserved. And we were also happy that we didn’t have to pay to reserve a spot on the other bus, so it wouldn’t matter about taking this one.
This is about $10.14 USD.
Once the bus arrive and we got on the bus, we started to realize we may have made a grave mistake. This bus…….was………awful. And it was non-refundable. So, we were out of luck.
The first thing we noticed about this bus was that it was not a sleeper bus. Troy had reserved us seats on a sleeper bus and this one was definitely NOT a sleeper bus. This was a double-decker travel bus…..kinda. There was a downstairs where all the luggage went that was tall enough for people to walk around, but it wasn’t set up so people could sit down there. The people went on the upper level………which was just seats, no sleepers.
This wasn’t our bus. It’s a lot nicer than the one we rode one (the carpets were a lot dirtier, the seats were grey and they didn’t have head clothes), but it was the same style.
It looked comfortable enough, though, after we got on and looked around, so we just sat down and off the bus went. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the craziness.
After the bus stopped a few more times, we realized people were looking around and picking specific seats. Once we actually looked at our tickets, we realized we had seat numbers, so we got up and found those seats. And immediately wished we hadn’t. What we hadn’t noticed upon entry to the bus was that most seats only had one arm rest. The other arm rests were either missing or the plastic was gone, leaving only the metal body, which was rather sharp. My seat had the metal body on one side and plastic on the other. Troy’s had plastic on the outside, so we were at least fortunate that only one of us had sharp metal stuff. I put Troy’s hat over my one gimpy arm rest so I wouldn’t get my arm all scratched up.
The other fun part about our seats was that mine leaned back really far and wouldn’t sit up. Troy’s sat straight (and I mean STRAIGHT) and wouldn’t lean back. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, Troy’s seat wouldn’t stay on. lol. The first bump we hit, he slid forward, flailing his arms around and almost tipping sideways into the aisle. It was sooooooo funny. Every time the bus hit a bump, he would slide forward and have to catch himself. It was pretty funny the first 5-6 times. But by the 20th time, it wasn’t so funny anymore. He eventually wedged his backpack between the seat and the seat in front of him, but that meant he had nowhere to put his legs and had to straddle the backpack.
For the first hour or so, we sat like that: me leaning almost all the way flat and Troy with a backpack between his legs. I was able to doze for a bit, but couldn’t stay asleep for long because ‘things’ kept crawling on me. And it didn’t help when Troy got super excited because down the stairs on a piece of luggage was a spider the size of a half dollar. He turned on the flashlight on his cell phone and went down to check it out. Thankfully, the dang thing didn’t bite him, even though he moved luggage around to find it when it ran away from him. I stayed put and amused myself by watching all the locals lean over to try and figure out what he was doing. It was pretty funny.
After Troy came back upstairs and sat back in his seat, the bus hit another bump. I felt so bad for him. He got pretty upset and said he wasn’t going to be able to sleep because of the discomfort, so we traded seats. I am pretty good at making myself comfortable and falling asleep in strange positions, so I figured I could make something work and told him he could have my seat. He was a lot more comfortable with the seat leaning back and stuck his jacket beneath his head as a pillow. Once he got situated, I curled up on top of his backpack and used my jacket as a pillow on his stomach. It wasn’t ideal, but I’m a lot more flexible than he is and it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable for me to put my knees against the seat in front of my and curl around to where my head was on Troy’s stomach. We both fell asleep like that for an hour or so before the bus stopped at this tiny little place on the side of the road.
This rest stop was the strangest I’ve ever seen. We were a little nervous to leave Troy’s camera bag on the bus while we went to the bathroom, but it was so dark out there and there were no lights, so neither of us wanted to get separated.
When we first got off the bus, there were some little tables with food and a school lunch style counter with food that we couldn’t identify. We also didn’t want to stay near it since it was rather stinky. Most food in Asia has a rather unpleasant aroma. We booked it behind the covered eating area to where they indicated the bathrooms were and ended up walking down this dirt path with no lights. We had both left our phones in his backpack, so Troy ran back to get them (and some toilet paper) so we could see where we were going. I kinda of wish he hadn’t. The path wasn’t that bad, but the bathrooms were. They were pretty much just holes in the ground with walls around them. There was fecal material and lots of liquid on the floor as well as cockroaches on the wall. It was awful. I turned off my light so I couldn’t see any of it. There were bugs buzzing around and the doors didn’t stay shut, so it was a little difficult to try and use the restroom while trying not to touch a cockroach on the wall and hold the door shut as well as keep my pants off the floor all at the same time. Thankfully, I succeeded. And then we walked as quickly as we could away from there.
The bus ended up staying at this place for 10-15 minutes, so we looked around a bit. One table had chips and soda, but don’t ask me what kind of chips they were. I wish I’d taken photos, but it was so dark that they wouldn’t have turned out even if I’d tried. There were a few little dim lights here and there, but all they did was illuminate a few feet around them and that’s it. Even with the dim light, it was easy to tell that those chips weren’t Cheetos or Doritos. *sigh* We didn’t want to buy any in case they had flour in them. No sense getting Troy sick right when we get there.
Eventually, people started making their way back to the bus. I’m not sure why we stayed there so long. I don’t think anyone grabbed anything from the snack table or the buffet. I think all anyone did was stand around and talk quietly. Or sit at one of the tables. But it was nice to get out of those seats, so we didn’t complain. Once we got back on the bus, we resumed our sleeping positions and dozed off and on for the rest of the ride. There were ants on our seats, so it was a little difficult to sleep with them crawling around. The bus also hit quite a few bumps, so that tended to jolt us awake periodically.
Thankfully, at 2am, we made it to Siem Reap. We were soooooooooooooooo happy to get there! And we were even more happy that our hotel had sent someone to pick us up. It was a nice guy named Sarat. Troy thinks he was saying Sarak, but I thought it was Sarat. They’re close enough, so I’ll just keep calling him Sarat.
Anyways, Sarat loaded us onto his tuk-tuk and took us to our hotel, which was only about 10 minutes away. We were very excited to have made it to the hotel, but tempered our expectations because of our awful bus ride. What met us in our room, though, was quite a pleasant surprise.
(I stole this picture from a hotel website)
Our room was clean, quiet, comfortable and a lot nicer than we were expecting. We were very happy with it. We were probably a bit more excited than was warranted, but we were hungry, exhausted and very sore. We threw our suitcases on the floor, took turns going into the bathroom to change into our pajamas, got ready for bed and then crashed out. We needed to get to sleep quickly because we’d arranged with Sarat to meet downstairs at 7:00am to get started with our adventure of seeing Angkor Wat.