After 3 days of listening to a fear-laden B&B owner telling
5:30 AM wakeup call, with our backpacks and an omelet stuffed into a baguette to go, we headed down the quiet, darkened alley where a couple of dogs slept on the ground and one soup stall was open. By the time we had reached the street, our taxi had taken off, so a steward from the B&B ran down to the main street and hailed another one.
The travel agency assigned us the last two seats on a bus—Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We boarded and found our seats at the back of the bus, a step-up and on the engine, seating us a foot above the rest of the passengers.
The bus started rolling and the engine rumbled + vibrated and like little babies, we fell asleep immediately. When I awoke, I found the French-speaking Vietnamese man next to me had fallen asleep with his head resting on my shoulder, tilted back with his mouth wide open. He was in a stammering sleep, periodically snorting and slightly awakening long enough to lift his head off my shoulder, then falling back to sleep again with a thump. This event repeated for about 2 hours or so but I found him endearing, so I let him snuggle in a bit while I looked out the window at the passing scenery.
the Cambodia border
When we arrived at the Cambodia border and were instructed to use the restrooms at customs. While a dozen of us waited in a long line at the women’s bathroom, a well-dressed woman stormed past the crowd, made her way straight to the mirrors, fiddled with her hair for a second, then turned around abruptly, stepped into the beginning of the line, and took the next open stall. A couple of girls tried to get in front of me but I stood my ground until another group of ladies tried to butt in line. This time, I stayed silent and let them pass because my tingling spidey senses (intuition) told me that they were looking for a bathroom brawl.
Last in line, and after waiting cross-legged for what seemed eternity–I finally did my business. Then I met up with Bob and we passed through customs and boarded the bus again. Heading towards Phenom Penh, we came to a wide river and the bus boarded a ferry.
As we cruised, I got off and walked around the ferry deck to view the water, passing village houses, hillsides, and an elaborate stone Buddhist temple lining the river. While Bob stayed on the bus and sat there uncomfortably as a little girl in a bright yellow dress stood on a railing ledge across from his window and stared at him the entire crossing.
hole in the floor
Once on the other side, the bus drove for a bit then stopped again for another bathroom break. We paid the driver $2 and were pointed towards a series of small tin-roofed shacks on stilts, nestled along the waterway. He escorted us along the dirt road to an open doorway.
We walked into a home constructed of thin flimsy wooden planked floorboards with walls of bamboo strips, cut and piecemealed together like crochet. With each step, the floorboards creaked + bowed and my heart started jumping to a rapid beat as we made our way through the living room/kitchen, where a family sat on the dusty floor around a huge pot of boiling broth.
The group formed a waiting line for the bathroom—a hand-cut hole in the floor, along with a plastic trough and a handled cup to gather water to wash one’s parts. Even though I had been in Asia for a while now, I still couldn’t figure out how people could wash without soaking their clothes. So, I did the normal squat + hover and used my own toilet paper that I had brought and now accustomed to carrying with me at all times.
The bus hit the road again and made a rest stop once more in a small Cambodian village. This particular village was known for its tarantula spiders and had a huge black tarantula sculpture in the center of town. Inside the shop, we ogled piles + piles + piles and bags + bags + bags of hairy tarantula treats and snacks, like popcorn but more crunchy and hairy, but with a creamy middle (I just gagged a little writing this). This is only speculation because I didn’t actually try them–although I was tempted to eat one to gain street cred, but then I just got grossed and creeped out.
After we made it to Phnom Penh, we ate lunch, then boarded another bus to Siem Reap–this bus was much more luxurious. We met a nice young solo traveler from London, named Evie. She had been living and teaching English in Vietnam for one year and this was the end of her stay and she was sightseeing. Evie was talkative, personable and very knowledgeable about poetry. She spouted off poems by memory and chatted about her dreams of becoming a writer, as we passed large pastures of rice fields
and farmers transporting large bags of rice.
Herdsmen working their oxen and carts in the fields.
Small handcrafted houses of palm with tin roofs on stilts.
a strange turn
Overall, it was a relaxing trip but as soon as night fell, the bus took a strange turn—literally–down a gravel road. The driver kept stopping and picking up his friends–a young well-dressed man, a tiny woman nursing a baby, and two giggly party girls who kept making sexy cellphone calls.
For the next four hours, the nursing mother had a drag out yelling argument with a man on her cellphone. The entire bus sat there listening to her yell at him, and him yelling back at her through the phone receiver. Over and over and over, she would hang up and he would call back and they would scream at one another and she would hang up again. The phone kept ringing ringing ringing ringing ringing ringing ringing ringing… I swear if I ever hear that ring tone again, I will go bald from pulling my hair out!
Evie made the ride much more enjoyable as we chatted over the annoying goings-on, pretending everything was great. We talked at length about her future, while Bob zombied out on Xanax and Itunes, as the bus continued to stop at bars + restaurants + homes to let the freeloaders off.
When we stopped for a
life in Cambodia
In Siem Reap, we took a taxi to the boutique homestay we had booked and were welcomed with a delicious fresh fruit juice and told they had made a mistake with our booking and would take us to a 4-star hotel by tuk tuk.
They showed us the room we would have had and it was so beautifully decorated that I wanted to crawl into the big comfy fluffy white bedding and crash but that wasn’t going to happen.
The owner was so upset that he could not accommodate us, that he insisted we stay for a drink. We told him we understood the mix-up and were not upset but just extremely tired. He continued to insist and opened a very nice expensive bottle of red wine.
We sat in the most charming tropical garden by a lit midnight colored pool sipping wine and talking. The owner shared experiences about his life in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, and the genocide that killed over 2 million people. He had lived through unspeakable horrors and told us about how he had suffered and lost most of his family and friends.
As he explained, he leaned back in his chair and stared off as if reliving the moments of violence, remembering the times when all the elders and intellectuals were rounded up and murdered, leaving him and the other children to do hard labor and fend for themselves. He told us that he and everyone in Cambodia still feel the heavy effects of all they have lost. Tears began to fill his eyes but then he sucked them back–trying not to lose
In town, we checked into our hotel room and found it quite curious. It had a strong musky smoke stench and yellow stained walls, no smoking signs plastered all over the room but had ashtrays on every table.
In the bathroom was a “
Completely drained of all energy, we crawled into the damp stinky sheets of our separate twin beds, and looked at one another with black bagged eyes and exchanged weakened assuring smiles. Acknowledging that the day was overwhelming but heart opening as well. Both knowing that tomorrow would be another adventure of meeting new interesting people, and a day of exploring the Buddhist temples, and the Angkor Wat ruins. As I turned over in my bed I said, I love you, and Bob replied, I love you too.