My body was wracked with weariness and my eyes begged to let me close them but the rush of adrenaline that was flowing through my system refused to let things be. The air rushed past my face and smelled of warm saltwater. ‘Ten hours,’ I said to myself, ‘ten hours of that to get here…’ I looked around taking a deep breath and letting it out again. ‘Yeah, it was worth it…’
…Eleven hours previous…
‘Hurry Mike, your tuk tuk is here,’ Tom the guesthouse manager called to me. I was still putting my daypack stuff away trying to make everything fit into a single efficient pack. Almost six months of traveling had made it a quick and painless process but that call from Tom, well, made things a bit more hectic.
My last couple hours in Siem Reap had gone by quickly, more quickly than I had imagined it would. A little but of time here, a little bit of time there and before long it was time to go. Even though my overnight bus to Sihanoukville didn’t leave until 8pm I was to be picked up promptly and delivered to the bus station at the edge of town by 7:15pm.
I was a little leery of the bus. The pictures had been nice but in this part of the world the pictures and reality usually vary quite a bit. The X Express was the bus of choice of those who had taken the road to Sihanoukville before me and so that too was the bus I chose.
Night buses themselves are pretty shady no matter what line you chose. Trying to get sleep in any form is usually a Herculean task. The seats are usually not wide enough, or they don’t recline enough (or too much), or you get an interesting neighbor. Other factors of fun include random or frequent stops and vendors wandering about the aisles selling food while you’re trying to get some shut-eye. Sometimes, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, you get some wild maniac trying to prove that he could have been an Indianapolis 500 driver.
So, when Tom showed me a picture of a bus with beds I was a bit suspicious but went with it. I’d never ridden one before and I was up for something new. Besides, it was cheaper than the daytime express by $4 (night bus $14, day bus $18). The pictures made it look like a prisoners barracks but, well, it looked like fun and ‘heck,’ I thought to myself, ‘it might actually be comfortable.’
As I climbed about the softly humming vehicle into the inviting dark things did actually look comfortable. A thin grey pad separated us and the metal frame and the length seemed just about right to stretch out. The bus driver had been kind enough to switch me to a single on one side which was longer than the doubles on the other. Later, I actually regretted that move, but that was later.
Things started off smoothly. I lay back on the reclined surface and stretched my legs out. ‘Not bad,’ I thought with a Cheshire grin on my face. Outside the window the scenery of Siem Reap began to flow by. ‘Goodbye Siem Reap, you were a fun town,’ I said with a little wave.
Then the roads through and around Siem Reap ended. I know exactly when they ended because the regular road began with a large pothole sending everyone on the bus into the air (about an inch). From then until I was finally able to pass out an indeterminable time later there was a series of constant, random, and very large bumps that rocked through the solid metal frame like it was a piece of steel conducting electricity.
Listening to music helped, a bit. I was able to focus on the lyrics and sounds enough to finally drift off a little but then would be jolted back into reality by an especially mean length of road. It was a long session of half-asleep, half-awake that was reminiscent of my trip from Chiang Mai to the Friendship Bridge crossing into Laos.
Despite the horrid zombie-like condition fell over me like a blanket I couldn’t help but laugh. In the middle of it all I realized that I was in Cambodia and this was the state of life. To get angry at it or at my situation would serve no purpose. The only thing I could do was chuckle to myself (in a slightly maniacal way) and think what a story I’ll be able to tell my kids one day.
On and on it went, hour after hour. Outside the window Cambodia sat illuminated in part by the moon sitting high in the sky, in part by lighting flashing from tall storm clouds in the distance. A sight that normally would have been awesome to stare at for a long time but I just turned over and tried to get back to sleep.
An endless time later my eyes bleary opened to a midnight blue sky turning sky blue. Outside my window the outskirts of Sihanoukville were flashing by and far away I could just barely catch glimpses of open water through the houses and trees.
As with everywhere else in Southeast Asia, the tuk tuks and mototaxi drivers gathered like sharks around the bus door each shouting for our business. I was too tired to deal with any of it straight off the bus and bulled my way through the crowd. Determined driver after determined driver approached me as I squatted off away from everything. I needed a moment to get my feet underneath me and let them know that quite clearly…in a friendly sort of way.
About ten minutes later I had finally caught my breath and adjusted to where I was. It was Cambodia, another town, same-same-but different, as they say here.
‘Alright,’ I began to the group of four drivers surrounding me, ‘how much to Serendipity Beach and the Ocean Walk Inn?’ ‘Two dollars mototaxi, Three dollars tuk tuk.’ I smiled, the prices I had read about on the internet. Thanks to the hour of our arrival and an informal agreement with all the drivers at the bus station what would normally be a $1 ride became a $2 ride.
I shrugged knowing I had to go with the flow in this case. ‘Okay, mototaxi it is.’
With my bag stuffed in front of him and me behind him the mototaxi driver took off. I was too tired to worry about simple things like a helmet or if my driver was hopped up on meth and just let it be.
We sped through the city, empty in the early morning hours. Five thirty and people were only just beginning to stir. Then we came up over a rise and I saw everything. My breath caught in my throat as all the crap I had endured to get to Sihanoukville dropped away.
In front of me in all its glory the Gulf of Thailand sparkled in the early morning light. To my left the sun was making its way slowly upwards casting an orange pink light on everything. To my right thunderheads rose up into the sky and flashes of lighting rode their way to the ground. Combined with the thrill of riding through a new town in a foreign country on the back of a motorcycle, I wouldn’t have wished to be anywhere else.
‘Yeah, it was worth it. Welcome to Sihanoukville’ I laughed to myself.