We started our Cambodian adventure at the an office while still in Thailand. Our bus stopped in case anyone needed to "make" a visa. Not long after the office we abandoned our bus, loaded our luggage in a push cart, and started the walking voyage across the border. Our walk was about 1.5k which was full of customs for both sides, markets with "Louis Vuitton" purses, and countless casinos. The casinos were on the Cambodian side, but we were told only foreigners could actually gamble.
After getting our stamp and our final check our adventure begin. Quickly we noticed we changed sides of the road and were driving like Americans. Never knew a two lane road could become a three lane going 60 km. As we drove along the roads it was about like driving down I40 when it is due for repair, and needless to say this road was in major need of TLC. We drove past everything from a push bike pulling sacks of grain to motor bikes pulling loads 10 times their size. Think of a Voltswagon pulling a semi, that's like we were seeing.
The bus driver was never frightened as he passed while stratling the center yellow line. Without having to clinch the seat on every pass we looked out to the fields to watch the farmers harvesting what we were told was the second crop of the four crop growing. Their combines were as big as a f-150 and seemed to work as efficient as the much larger ones in the states. Granted each field was only as big as a few a acre. Along the way you would see tarps laid out to dry the rice via true solar power. Coming from Arkansas you see much larger farms, with much more complex equipment. It takes you back in time to the family farms that seemed to work well for the USA. What is a past time for us is a reality for the Cambodians.
The trip went along what seemed like forever but finally we stopped for a leg stretch and lunch. The lunch was amazing Thai food that would still take Thai money. It was the last place to get rid of our last of our Thai bills. With our bellies full, air con blowing and the bumps of the ride, we slept until we drove into Siem Reap.
The public bus ride
We were awoken by the clinks of hammers even before the alarm went off. With a bit of egg, bread, coffee and coke we loaded the public bus for the next city. As the tour sized bus navigated the rather narrow streets, we got to see the bustling city come awake with the hazy sun peeking through the buildings and down every alleyway as we passed. The street cart vendors were preparing to take their spot while the ice vendors chipped each block of ice to keep the cokes, meat, or veggies cool till they were sold. The shop owners swept their sidewalks in front of their stores, while others sprayed water to keep the dust down where there was no side walk. With the beep of a horn and sometimes a few, the bikes and cars seemed to know to move to the side, and the only time we would stop at an intersection or pull off was only when the truck coming toward us was much larger.
We pulled out of Mien Chi and set off for Sui Low. The bus started out to just be us and a few others, but with each passing village the bus became full. After three or so villages they started to hand out stools to those getting on to sit in the Isle. We realised it was full when this gentleman sat down beside us. Not knowing how he was not his nature we assumed the worst and clinched our things in case. With the bus full we only stopped to pick up packages or drop folks off. At one point it started to seem as if the driver was doing personal business with them loading fresh water shells under the bus with our bags (you can only imagine the smell). He was passed what only looked like a wad of American dollars and pulled out with few words.
Mid way through the trip the man said a few words in English and conversation was born. We spoke about everything from religion, politics, family, and more. He longed to see the Statue of Liberty, the shores of Sydney harbour, or any other English speaking nation. He told us of his attempts and failures to immigrate. As we pulled into his village you could see. The joy on his face as he was going to see his family that he had been away from for two weeks working to earn a living.
Further down the track of dirt and somewhat paved roads we arrived into our city for the day. Ready to explore the miles of city before us. We unloaded from the public bus toward our hotel.
Bus to Phnom Penh
Yet to wave another city goodbye, we loaded a private bus to the next city. While this bus ride was not as adventurous, we saw many interesting sites along the way from the dusty side streets to fried insects for sale. Passing from village to village along the way you would see families doing what they could to make ends meet. Wether it was the farm family plowing the field with a tiller like tractor, or the merchant hauling his whole supply on the back of his motor bike, they were all trying for survival in this harsh reality, there is no Wal-Mart to just run to and buy your needs. Wants are too luxurious and expensive. The average family makes less than $5.00 a day. Another time on the rode just makes us think how lucky we are but also how lucky they are. They don't have the rat race of keeping up with the Jones, and they all have the latest things, after all "Louis Vuitton" it is dirt cheap at the local market. I love a culture that teaches things don't matter.
Phnom Penh to Homestay to beach to Phnom Penh
These bus rides had the same scenery and all ended at our next adventure. From big city life to humble country villages we traveled by bus, we spent A LOT of time on a bus. But we would not trade the sights, sounds, naps, or conversations along the way. As we pulled out of and into the major cities you could quickly see the stark differences in the houses and people. The folks in the county villages were nice and skilled, but you could also see their tired faces that had been traveling by scooter or push bike to get groceries for the day, or perhaps they were stocking up their supplies for which they sold in their remote communities. As we traveled along the paved road you could see the western influence (especially the toll road that had been built by America through the mountains). The other roads along the way we're mostly paved, but there was your typical road construction as well as the dirt road through some villages.
The most interesting parts along each of the journeys were the people we met and passed to and from each village. There was the local hog farmer hauling his pigs to the market upside down on the back of his motor bike, the rice farmer preparing the field for the upcoming monsoon season, the merchant hauling newly bought goods on the back of a moped or crammed into a minivan so tight he used ropes to help of it all in with the back door propped open. Either way or witch ever way, you could tell that each load on the road was treated as if there was no wasted trip. One of the more interesting sites was the tuk tuk school bus that was simply a wagon with 2x4's for seats. The children looked just as happy as they would on the old yellow ones we all grew up riding.
The sites of the van loads of people packed in like a clown car and made for a funny picture, these sites often made you appreciate the comforts we enjoy today, but it also makes you think of the stories told by our great grandparents of when cars first came out. They often told of the long rides into town in the back of a truck or in the back seat sandwiched in together. Cambodia travel for the locals is much the same, wether on top of cargo truck or the family of 4 on the motor bike with the kids asleep between the parents. I would have to say Cambodians know how to pack them in and how to make transportation cost count. We all oh and awed at the sites along the way and it left us both with a greater appreciation for those family stories, while clinching our seat when the wild cows felt the need to stop traffic. Driving in Cambodia made riding in the back of the red trucks in Honduras a breeze.
Crossing border into Vietnam
We started to grow tired of the random cow stopping traffic or the horn of the bus driver blowing the horn as he made a narrow two lane road a three lane highway by taking his half literally down the middle. The bus attendant came on the loud speaker and told us to prepare our belongings for border crossing. Sad to see the country we had grown to love in the rear view, we offloaded the bus to immigration as we walked to get our Cambodian stamp goodbye. The crossing was painless and we loaded the bus to drive 800 yards to the Vietnam border and gathered our bags to be granted access. Thinking of the history our two countries have make it seem a little frightening, but we were greeted with a smile and ease. As we gave them our bags to get back on the bus for Ho chi minh, we stopped to enjoy our first sights toward the new adventure.
Goodbye Cambodia....Good Morning Vietnam