The Road to Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Independent travel can take its toll- you have to make all the arrangements and count on things to go wrong. Normally we don’t mind but before we departed for Cambodia we saw numerous signs on Koh Maak offering direct minibus service to Sihanoukville, our next destination.
Inquiries were made, associated costs discussed and eventually we settled on a package that would include high-speed boat to the mainland, pick up by deluxe minivan at the dock and onward to our next destination. Keep it simple.
On the appointed day, we headed to the little dock next to our Makathanee Resort in a downpour. To the east a magnificent water spout was rolling across the water, backlit by morning sun- it was eerily beautiful but dissipated before hitting any land mass.
Our high-speed motorboat was an adventure as we bounced along over the waves at a record pace. I enjoyed watching the passengers seated in front bounce about as if they were bobble heads.
Of course once we arrived at the port, we were informed that the minibus was in fact at a stop down the long pier and some ways up the road. Once we marched to the rendezvous site, we were informed the minibus would be along at 9:30 am and would in fact only take us far as the border. Once we crossed into Cambodia, a BUS would herd us to Sihanoukville, which was at least five hours from the border- so much for our luxury mini van tour!
On it went- it was chaos at the border as numerous touts tried to steer us to the proper booth. I had obtained an e-visa through the very efficient Cambodian website, but decided it was easiest to let the touts steer us through customs for about $5. We affixed bright coloured stickers to our shirt so our “guide” on the Cambodian side could easily identify us and lead us to our bus. But of course no one was waiting so we walked on down the road a bit and amazingly, a bus did arrive, and our tickets were confirmed. We bumped along into Koh Rong (great pun), a town decimated by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, still struggling to return to some sense of normalcy (virtually every professional and bureaucrat were murdered by the Khmer Rouge, including all the city planners and engineers).
We stopped in a red dusty field that served as the bus depot, and were informed our bus would depart for Sihanoukville in about an hour’s time. Without much to do, we took shelter in a small shop where we purchased cookies and waited in the shade of the canopy. The bus did hit the road, and we were assigned seats, which was a good thing because as we rolled along we picked up more passengers until it was sold out.
About half way through our journey, we disembarked at what we presumed to be a bus stop, where we purchased baguettes and curry (gotta love the French influence!). We noticed a minivan pull up next to the bus and some of the farangs boarding. When we inquired, apparently we were meant to switch back to mini bus although no one had informed us of this small but important detail. We grabbed the last two seats before the driver tried to shoe horn in another passenger. We protested that the minibus was full and the poor Cambodian was forced to share the front seat with another local.
The countryside was magnificent as we crossed into the mountains, switching back as we climbed and dropped down into valleys that were crisscrossed by large rivers. Cambodia was turning into one of the magical places that seem out of time.
We did eventually get into Sihanoukville, but not before the driver stopped to hook up a broken down minivan and towed him for almost an hour with jury rigged tow bar made of bamboo. We came down over the pass into our destination, where we were greeted by the ever faithful TukTuk tout contingent, who were in our faces before we were out of the van. Prices negotiated, bags aboard, we rolled into our next stop: The Beach Club Resort.
Today was just one of those days, right from the get go. Things were just a bit off. First it rained as we were walking out to the dock to catch the boat at 8 am to the mainland. Then, as we waited to get on the boat, we spied a waterspout in the distance. We watched transfixed as its tail reached down to stir up the water while it seemed to twist and turn right towards us. Fortunately, it dwindled to nothing well before it reached the dock and we were able to board and take off. Slightly delayed by this phenomenon the driver made up for lost time; I wish I could say it was a smooth ride, but it wasn’t despite the fact that the water was not rough. Chris noticed a definite extra bounce in his nether regions for the hour-long journey.
Upon arrival on the mainland, there was no mini-van waiting for us as promised by the travel agent on the island we had just left (one minivan ride all the way to Sihanoukville she had reassured us several times). We had to walk down the dock (about 400 meters) in the muggy muggy heat and then turn left to find the waiting spot, a sort of cavernous, depressing looking open restaurant where a woman at a desk assured us minivan would be coming at 9:30 am. I was able to use the luxurious facilities (ha) while we waited for the vehicle, which finally arrived only 15 minutes late. We chatted with a fellow passenger, an interesting Russian fellow who had earned his Masters in English as a Second Language at the U of Alberta, so the time to the Thai/Cambodian border passed by quickly. We only got scammed twice as we made our way across it: once when we went thru “quarantine” which involved standing on the other side of a wooden table while a woman pointed what looked like an asthma puffer at our faces, gave us a yellow Health Dept. paper, and then asked for 20 Baht. Next, a local guy helped us through the visa process. Fortunately we had our e-visas in order. Picture snapped, fingers prints taken, our helpful assistant gave us our passports and then requested a tip, which meant we were to pay him 100 baht each. No negotiating. “I have to feed my family.” Ah, what the hell. It was only about $3 each.
We then walked through the no man’s land between borders and suddenly we were in Cambodia where we got onto a bus that materialized out of nowhere. We laughed about the green BB stickers we had been given to wear when we had waited for the minivan on the mainland. Somebody from the bus company was supposed to have helped us find the bus at the border. None of the other farangs we encountered on the bus were wearing them; we also learned that a couple had walked right past the quarantine area and then dealt with the passports themselves, so they were 240 Baht richer than us.
The bus was surprisingly nice and uncrowded – just a sprinkling of farangs on board. But of course, this was not to last. A short distance from the border we pulled off the highway onto an extremely rutted red dirt road, which led to the bus station, which was on one side of a gigantic red dirt field. We were asked to get off and show our tickets at a little table. We were given new tickets and assigned seat numbers on the bus we had just been on and then told the bus would leave in 40 minutes. Now what? We spotted what looked small restaurants on the other side of the lot so we ambled across under the hot sun, kicking up little puffs of red dust with every step. No one was cooking anything and we weren’t about to eat any of the suspect looking cooked chicken drumsticks that were sitting in a couple of the glass display cases. I spied some potentially tasty cookies at the end stall and a veritable comedy routine ensued involving three of the staff and several other passengers who had suddenly decided they wanted to buy some cookies too. We did not have Cambodian money yet but we could pay with Baht but determining how much the cookies were was tricky. Transactions were eventually made. They were smiles all around and somehow we ended up with three packets. Fortunately, they were good.
Onto the waiting bus again to find our assigned seat numbers; not as good a spot as I now had to put my feet up on what seemed to be a wheel well. The bus finally left, turned onto the main street of the town we had stopped in and then halted at the side of the road. The bus had now turned into a local transport bus. After a long wait, a couple of locals climbed on board (couldn’t they had gone to the bus station just around the corner?) and we took off again. We gathered more and more people until the bus was completely full. Several big farang guys had been assigned seats at the very back of the bus and a couple of small Cambodian guys were squeezed in beside them. None of them looked too happy.
After a couple of hours, we pulled into another bus station, which actually had restaurants with fresh cooked Cambodian and Thai food. Just enough time for a quick chow down and tour of their luxurious facilities behind the restaurants where young men were making some banana chips. The door of the loo was right next to them and had a rectangle cut out of the top of it so I could easily gaze upon them as soon as I stood up.
Rushing back to the bus to find Chris asking did I leave a bag on the bus? as we were to change busses. Racing on board, I retrieve my bag and then joined Chris where he was waiting with a handful of our fellow farang passengers for the new “bus”. Ah. A brown beat up minivan was to be our next chariot. It seated 11, just enough room for all the farangs and our luggage in the back, the driver and one of the pretty Cambodian women who had joined us at the local bus stop near the border. But wait. The driver and another Cambodian passenger, who I also recognized from that local bus stop, had appeared at the side door. Apparently, we were to make room for this new passenger. But there was absolutely no room and there were howls of protest. The man had no choice but to share the Cambodian lady’s seat in the front.
We were sitting in seats that faced the people behind us so we could have played cards if we had had any and if we had been so inclined. We chatted instead. There were two young English girls on board, a funny huge guy from England named Andy, a surly older German guy who spoke only to yell at the driver, a couple of nice chatty older guys – one French and one Spanish, and then two silent young guys who only looked out the window or stared straight ahead. It was very hot. I produced my trusty fan purchased in Bangkok for just such occasions and fanned the girls.
About an hour later, we let off the Cambodian woman who appeared very miffed as she walked by us. Onwards for a short while and then another stop to hook our minivan to another minivan that was stranded on the side of the road. We slowly towed this for another hour all the way to our final destination where more comedy ensued when we stepped off the van and were all instantly surrounded by touts who wanted to take us to wherever it was we were going. Fortunately, Chris and I did know, and we were quickly deposited at our new home for the next few days – the Beach Club Resort. We had made it safe and sound, on five different modes of transport, and only about two hours later than we expected. So much for one minivan all the way!
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