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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.