Sunday, August 20, 2006

Highway to Hell

We didn't want to leave. We shouldn't have.
However good sense won out over intuition and we purchased tickets to get us from Don Det to Phnom Penh. We were told it would be by mini bus. Fine by us. Unfortunately we made the unforgivable mistake of assuming. Turns out mini bus in Lao means a van or mini van. A 14 seater mind you, but a van all the same. Now imagine (or remember) all those sporting events you went to with your school team, how big the van was, how much gear you had (equipment included) and how the roads were. Let me fill you in on how much more comfortable that travel was to our jaunt.

Ok, so we have 14 people who need to fit into 12 seats because luggage has taken up two and there's no roof rack. There were complaints but we were told it would only be a 20min journey. People doubled up and they cranked on the AC. Not too bad a start. The road was hazardous but bearable.
We arrived at a border town to have all our luggage packed into another van, with a roof rack. However our 14 had just been joined by another load of people. Choas ensued. There were two vans full of gear and people and 6 more needing seats. Our drivers tried to get us all to bunch up but our mainland European counterparts were having none of it. Finally the drivers relented and two cars were produced from thin air. Making more assumptions we were on our way, relatively comfortable and secure in our belief that it would be non-stop and hassle free from there on in.

Well the border crossing was indeed hassle free. Got the visa, got the stamp, paid the "processing fee" and officially entered Cambodia.
The fun began in earnest. We had to switch vehicles 'cos some girls travelling together had been split up. No biggy. The road and the driver were bloody hilarious. It was a "new" road but had no apparent markings or signage, but it did have alot of potholes. How that guy (the driver) still has shocks I'll never know. The way he just plowed through those holes had to be seen to be believed. I was suitably impressed. Thought his car may give out at any moment but impressed nevertheless.

Arriving in one piece at the river crossing, the heavens decided to open up to cool us off. Stung Treng is the border town where we stopped for lunch and got packed into yet another vehicle. With a roof rack and not enough seats. Confusion was the order of the day here aswell. One poor chap had his ticket checked and rechecked, people going to Phonm Penh and Kampong Cham were told to get in one bus, then told to get off, the Siem Reap lot the same and so it went on, til we were all lumped together on the one bus with 8 people still needing seats. Another company arrived and we got rid of 2 people from our van, there were arguments in "half-speak" (broken English- of which now after teaching the language I'm completely fluent in), and the other company agreed to take more of our group.
By now we had wisely done away with the assuming and were just hoping to get there.

At Kampong Cham we lost a few more people and could finally stretch out. It was crapmed for me- short-ass that I am- so I really felt for the six foot Dutch chick behind me.
Our driver felt that he needed to test our patience just a bit more. So he stopped for a bit of a drink and picked up 3 more passengers. Unfortunately for him, none of us were moving, so they crammed two in beside me and my mate and the third in the front seat. They bitched and they moaned but we didn't give a toss. I momentarily felt bad, but then fell asleep.
We got into Phnom Penh no worries and our Italian counterpart took over and directed our very unlucky driver towards the riverside and away from any potential commission he would have made. Again I felt momentarily bad. But I quickly got over standing under a hot shower and jumping into a clean bed.

Hellish journey but Heavenly end.

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