Well, every trip is bound to have at least one adventure, I just didn’t expect it to happen in the first week of my travels. I guess I was getting too lucky with my first few days of traveling from Korea to Phnom Penh, via Kuala Lumpur, going so smoothly. After a few days in the city, I decided it was time for a change of scenery and booked a bus ticket to Kampot. Referred to as a sleepy riverside down that tends to kidnap its inhabitants I was intrigued by what I would find there. I went middle of the road and booked a bus ticket for 9:30 figuring that if all went well I’d arrive sometime in the mid-afternoon, but when does anything ever go according to plan.
Our bus left late, no surprise there, but I wasn’t about to complain after all it was only costing me $6.50. I found myself lucky enough to be seated in the last row, but thankfully there was only one other person sharing the row of three with me. The first few hours of the trip was pretty uneventful, around 12:30 we stopped for our bathroom break and snack purchases and then it was back on the road. Along the way, we had been picking people up from the side of the road so I eventually had to give up that extra space in my back row. A bus ride wouldn’t be complete without some obnoxious music, but at least it wasn’t like Korea where you’re made to sing along (noraebus anyone)? I decided I wasn’t a fan of the music choice so I popped in my earplugs and settled into my book. At one point I thought I’d heard a weird noise but quickly dismissed it, until I smelled a burning smoky scent which was accompanied by a haze in the back of the bus. Another passenger shouted for the driver to stop and we were soon piling off, congregating in the patchy field on the shoulder of the road. Oh dear, it’s the Philippines all over again – but this time on land.
My only complaint was that our breakdown took place during the peak heat of the day and there were no trees on our little patch of grass. Thankfully, this Khmer woman got to work and asked a family nearby if we could sit in their front yard, complete with children, dogs, cows, chickens, and thankfully some shade. The children were the highlight of the first hour, especially the youngest boy who said “hi” to us about 18,000 times, eventually accompanied by the high five which one of our travelers taught him. And so we sat there, playing with our new friends, reading books, and starring off into the abyss willing a bus to come. At one point a minibus pulled up and a few people rushed over and started piling in. I heard someone say the driver wanted $5 to drive us the rest of the way and they were planning to pack that thing as full as possible. $5 may not seem like much but when you already paid $6.50 and are on a long-term travel budget, every dollar counts. I knew the company would be sending a replacement and I had nowhere special to be so I stayed put. The van drove off and in roughly another half hour another van pulled up, we lost another 7 or so people to that one, same deal $5. Eventually, there were only 10 of us, waiting patiently for our replacement bus, promised to arrive before too long.
At roughly 3:15 our bus driver called us over and sure enough, there came our bus, a nice big coach for the 10 of us that decided to wait it out. No more back row for me, in fact, we had our pick of seats; we just had to share them with the 10,000 mosquitoes that were already on board – lucky for me they don’t like me. The rest of the ride was highly uneventful although I was seriously intrigued by the fact that our bus was Korean. All of the ‘Aisle/Window’ seats were in Korean and there were a few other leftover signs. I could recognize the same horrible curtains that are on most noraebuses in Korea and started to wonder what kind of deal Korea has with Cambodia, how exactly do they get these buses over here? This wasn’t the only one either, as I sat in a café the next day I saw a bus drive by that said “I love Jeju” on the back. Actually, I think every day since I’ve been in Cambodia there’s been something to remind me of Korea: k-pop, Korean beauty store owners, and noraebuses, can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings, but for now I'm just happy to done with buses for a few days. Maybe tomorrow I'll rent a bike.
Only recently has this country shown up on the SE Asia tourist route. With a dark, harrowing past it's amazing to see the smiles spread across the locals faces. I've met travelers with mixed impressions, but if you're lucky enough to connect with a few locals I'm confident you'll fall in love.