The Agony in the Air Con

Posted by - November 20, 2011 | Category: Asia, Cambodia, Escapes

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The bus departs and I find myself in that most enviable of positions – solo traveller with adjacent seat sinfully vacant.


heaven bus

As close to heaven as you can get on a bus of course.

But 15 minutes in, dreams of 6 blissful leg-stretching hours go out the aggressively tinted window. A  Cambodian gentleman, unnerved by the horn-heavy hands of our driver, meanders down the aisle and stakes a claim to my little piece of Shangri-la. This man, whom I will grow to call Tormentor, will be my sidekick and nemesis for the rest of the journey. It’s part of a new reality.


This is the luxury VIP bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. I had taken the local bus on the way up here, and when my hotel said that for only a fraction more I could have the VIP treatment on the way back, I thought, “Why not?” Even budget travellers need a splash of the good life now and then. And for only $2 extra, the good life comes cheap in these parts.

Most of the folks on this bus are Japanese – part of escorted trips through Cambodia making their way back to the capital. The only Cambodians onboard are the bus company employees, and Tormentor.

Tormentor is just shy of 30 years old, but mentally he’s still wondering what high school will be like. I know this because he likes video games. For the bulk of the journey, he plays one of those rolling ball games on his phone. You know, the one where you have to wiggle your ball through a maze in such a way to avoid getting it in the hole? I think it was Labyrinth Lite.

labyrinth lite rolling ball game android iphone

Elbows out, he shimmies port to starboard, aft to bow, and seat to sky – pipe-cleanering himself into inhuman positions. Then a shrill, ‘Aye Aye Aye Ayyyye…”

Ball in hole.

Curse, then repeat.

Those elbows have to go somewhere, and mostly, they favour my side or my ear.

Video game addict on a bus

Oh Lord.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

What you can’t see in the photo is his choice in footwear. I notice because one of his feet is resting comfortably (for him, not for me) on my lap. He’s wearing another one of those strange sights in Asia — bear claw Crocs.

bear claw crocs asian footwear

Granted, his are a more manly shade of green, but really, how manly can one be sporting Crocs? I suppose the claws do give him that fierce element though. I’ll give him that.

The only time he sets the phone aside is to perform a deep dive into his nose, negotiating a juicy pearl from its depths. Then, seeing no VIP snacks forthcoming, he fires his find into his mouth.

Tormentor is not the only one conspiring against me on this trip though. The air conditioning is up to no good as well.

It’s so cold here that passengers have begun to stuff tissues, towels, and even the bus curtains into the vents. It’s an effort on the scale of the Bangkok flood preparations, albeit against a ventilated aggressor.

air condtioning vents on bus stuffed with tissues and curtains siem reap to phnom pehn cambodia

All the while, a Cambodian Abbott and Costello plays on the television screen up front. A comedic backdrop to a comedy of errors. The first error being…agreeing to take the luxury bus.

Even though there are ratty seats, no air-con, and no television, sometimes the local bus is a hell of a lot more comfortable. Then again, sometimes it’s not.

Which do you prefer? Luxury bus or local bus?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Subscribe to the Man On The Lam Newsletter

Get a monthly round-up of travel & lifestyle articles, plus unique content & hush-hush extras only for members.

70 comments - add one
  1. Brilliant story, I hate traveling by bus, and I get easily annoyed, I simmer gently if I get sat next to space grabbers. Many times I’ve been tempted to jump off and find alternative transport.

    1. I know someone who does that all the time. Once she got on a bus, just had a bad vibe about the people, and said, “You know, I’m not going to do this today.”

    1. My first intro to bear claw Crocs was in Pai, Thailand — a couple of biker dudes — weathered faces, tattoos, leather, and of course, orange and pink Crocs. 🙂

  2. I just laughed my crocs off!! No,no, that’s a lie but I couldn’t resist. Making my way across Turkey all the time by coach and for up to 24 hours a stretch, I know exactly what you are talking about.Earplugs, sunglasses, a huge pashmina scarf and a stoical dispositon do help.

  3. This post would be a dream example of the term “irony” in any English lit class. What a horror show! This is clear cut evidence that too much video gameplaying fries the brain.

    That guy had no concept of how inappropriate he was being. God bless you for giving you an overabundance of patience and goodwill. I would have been taken off of that bus in handcuffs.

  4. i prefer the vip bus but its way out of my budget thats why i always go for the cheaper one… funny post man… love the bear claws slippers… never actually saw anyone who wears them except kids…

  5. You know they wear those things all the time here! Guys left and right will be on the street pimping in their crocs. Juicy pearl? Ewww that is hilarious. I’m reading the post out loud to Mike who is laughing his ass of on the couch. You are too funny.

  6. We took one VIP bus on our SE Asia trip from border of Laos to Chiang Mai because a German guy insisted that the regular bus was just terrible. We found it to be not any more comfortable and the A/C was too cold! Oh, and the snacks were gross. After that we stuck to the local buses 🙂 Even if they’re rough sometimes, they are usually make for a better story 🙂

    1. Yeah the funny thing was the local bus was a lot more comfortable, even with the ratty seats and the smoke fumes. At least the people were friendly and the temperature wasn’t set to freeze dry.

  7. You sir, are playing with our gag reflexes yet again! And no, you didn’t win … yet. But close.

    We keep talking about traveling that way in the new year, but seeing hawking, spitting and nose picking doesn’t interest us at all. Shocking we know.

    Nancy & Shawn

    1. There are some things, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we will it away, that will stick in our memories forever. Bear claw Crocs are your cross to bear.

  8. At least you got entertained by the juicy pearl he
    was playing with 🙂 freezing air-conditioned buses are common in SEA, that it had become automatic for me to bring jacket anywhere

  9. The guy wears crocs with claws, puts them in your lap, and eats his own boogers?

    That’s not purgatory, my friend. That’s hell.

  10. You’re a better man than me. I’m patient, but I’d have given that guy a serve the moment he hit me more than once.

    And damn sure his feet wouldn’t be touching my lap.

  11. I must be behind on the fashion trends. I had no idea crocs had claws now! Sounds like the bus ride from hell. I haven’t traveled by bus too much, but you can encounter these sorts on trains and planes too. I once had a whole group of smelly men from Bangladesh crowd into my train compartment in Rome. There were plenty of empty compartments, but I guess they all wanted me to smell their lack of showers.

  12. I would have been tempted to try the luxury bus too, but after reading this I think I’ll stick to local buses!

    I’ve had similar situations on planes. Sometimes it seems that the only comfortable people on board are the ones who have no regard for other people’s personal space.

  13. Oh man, sorry that you had such a terrible ride. Great post though, I really enjoyed it and you described everything perfectly, I could feel your pain. yep, I’ve had a few annoying seat mates myself. Not fun.

  14. oh too funny Raymond! You had me laughing out loud! I personally can’t believe he picked his nose and ate it – ugh!!!

    those shoes are something. It’s like someone looked at a croc and said ‘How can we make this even uglier?’ then they put nails on them!

  15. Under what set of circumstances did he feel comfortable with his foot on your lap? I can imagine a gag reflex when he ate the nose pickings. urgh
    A wonderfully funny post!

  16. It depends. I’d take a local bus over those godawful sleeper buses in Vietnam any day. But in Laos I’d always go for “luxury” to avoid sitting on plastic chairs in the aisle…

  17. How did you get the photo of him elbowing you if you’re sitting by the window or… were you sitting across from him in another seat?

  18. I feared you were going to say he fired his boogie into his mouth…blah.

    As for the bear claw crocs, never seen those before – mighty interesting. I hope they don’t catch on in the US.


Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.