|Our Really Big Adventure|
| None of the choices
is good. No matter what route we take, it still looks like we are in for
one hell of a journey. Transport in Cambodia is bad at the best of times
and we are trying to find some way to prevent our journey back to Bangkok
turning into a two-day odyssey. The conventional approach would be to get
a four-hour truck to Sihanoukville, hopefully in time to catch the midday
speedboat to the Thai border, hopefully in time to cross the border before
it shuts at 5 pm, hopefully in time to catch the last bus to Bangkok (6pm)
from a town 90 minutes further.
There is one other possibility. We had heard rumours that the Cambodian military had opened a land route to the border. This would involve changing trucks three times and estimates as to how long it would take varied between 6 hours and two days. After much discussion, largely centering on cost, we decide on the land route. Our guide from the previous two days generously offers to go to the truck terminus at 7am the following morning to negotiate passage for us. We are incredibly grateful; aware of the amount of grief and hassle he is saving us
7 am - We are ready to go, bags are packed and we wait for our guide to turn up. We are hopeful of, but not expecting, a prompt departure. Ten minutes later he arrives on his moped with good news he has found a minibus that is going all the way to the border. The fare will be $10 each a fair price.
7.10 The minibus arrives at the hotel. We look dubiously inside - it seems remarkably empty. Based upon our previous experience of Cambodian transportation it still needs another 14 passengers to be considered full enough to leave. We are probably in for a two-hour wait while it fills. We get on board and sure enough we head straight back to the bus station.
7.40 Doors are shut and we leave the bus station, but the bus still seems too empty. By our judgement there is room for 6 more people.
7.45 We fill up with petrol and then its back to the bus station.
8.00 The bus leaves again, still about 3 light. We are pretty sure this is just another feint.
8.02 The bus crosses the bridge that leaves town, we are overjoyed. We are on our way. Our chances of crossing the border today have vastly improved.
8.10 We pick up two Muslim ladies. They arent too keen to sit beside us and crowd in with the established group in the front seats; occasionally they glance back and giggle at my beard. We are still slightly confused as we have an extra seat, and it is unheard of in Cambodia for transport to leave without being completely full. We speculate that we have actually paid for the extra seat.
9.30 First stop at a market town. It is chaos out there, with hordes of people piling in and out of various types of transport from scooters with families of five on them to trailers of 20 pulled by a motorbike. Dozens of Cambodian ladies are selling tempting baguettes from straw baskets they carry on their heads and soon our minibus has the aroma of a bakery.
10.00 - Breakfast hunger pangs sated by several warm baguettes we leave. The road is good with the tarmac only broken every hundred meters of so.
10.40 I wake up, the good road had lulled me to sleep, but something is different and a sharp pain beside my temple indicates that it has just collided with something sharp. The good road has turned into a compressed dirt track and apparently my head was lolling uncontrollably as we lurched from pothole to pothole.
10.45 We stop at a river and I look up and down but can find no sign of a bridge. In front of us is a small line of cars and I get out to have a look. Cars are being loaded onto a ferry. That is, if you can classify 3 boats nailed together as a ferry. There are apparently 3 other similar crossings. It looks like we are going to have a considerable wait until we will cross.
11.30 We managed to squeeze onto the next ferry and now we are across the river and driving again.
12.10 Some bastard in a Toyota Camry (all cars in Cambodia are Toyota Camrys) has just passed us. Now there wont be room for us to squeeze on at the next ferry. This is bound to delay us.
12.20 I was right. The flash bastard has taken the last slot on the ferry and we are going to have to wait until it crosses, disgorges, reloads and makes its way back. Given that I doubt the ferry will leave until it is full and there are few vehicles to be seen I reckon we could be sitting on the side of river for an hour or more.
12.35 Hurray, the ferry returns with just one vehicle. Our bus is driven on board. But will the ferry wait until it is full this time? How long will that be?
12.45 With just one other vehicle we cross. I try, and fail, to find somewhere to pee that doesnt have an audience.
1.45 Next river I am informed that it isnt a river at all but the sea. For the first time we havent just missed the ferry.
2.00 - Our fastest crossing yet! Just one more crossing ahead of us. Could 3.30pm be a possibility? We daydream of reaching Bangkok late that night but still recognise that it is a remote possibility.
3.00 We are at the last crossing and the ferry is on our side. Our driver tells us it is just another 30 minutes drive to the border town. If the ferry leaves right now, not only will we get across the border but will also be in time for the last bus from Trat to Bangkok. Aaarrghh the ferry is waiting until it is full.
3.25 We are across, but the delay will most likely make us miss our bus.
4.00 We arrive at the border town of Koh Kong. It is still another 10 kilometers to the actual border and our bus isnt going there. We rapidly negotiate with two motorbike drivers and awkwardly load ourselves and our rucksacks on board.
4.05 At some phenomenal speed we cross the bridge that separates Cambodia and Thailand. Without any form of protection, if we crash, we die but all I can think of is how much it will hurt.
4.15 Arrive at the border. There is a long line to leave Cambodia. The boat from Sihanoukville got in just before us. Luckily Barbara inadvertently jumps the line for us and we only have to wait 20 minutes.
4.35 Thai immigration. Much more efficient this side of the border and we are through in a matter of moments.
4.45 Onto the back of the truck for the hour and a half ride to Trat. We have all but give up hope of making the last bus. We ask the driver how long it will take and he says he can do it in an hour. Our hopes, which have been on a roller coaster for the last 10 hours, pick up again.
4.50 We are clinging to the side of the truck with 8 others as we scream down the road to Trat.
6.00 We arrive at the bus station and hurry inside to buy tickets. There is no problem. After buying some food in the local market we board, not really believing our luck.
6.10 We relax into the comfort of a Thai first class bus. After Cambodia it is kind of like taking a transatlantic flight in first class when all you have ever experienced is cattle class on a cargo ship.
11.30 We arrive on the outskirts of Bangkok. We get a taxi to Khao San Road with two friends we have made on the journey. We dont care about culture right now, we just want a beer and a clean bed.
12.00 - Arrive at Khao San Road
12.30 Drinking Chang Beer and watching the world go by.