To put this story in context I must first tell you I stepped on the bus with a mild case of post traumatic shock. Two days earlier I’d admitted Michelle to the Royal PhnomPenh Hospital with a server case of food poisoning which had caused her to collapse in the bathroom. I’d heard the sound made by skull hitting concrete and entered the bathroom to find her flat on the floor eyes wide open motionless with blood pooling around her head. A classic CSI scene of a body just before it encircle with a calk line and carry off to the morgue. Michelle was released from hospital only hours before we jumped on the bus and the two Children, Natasha and Ben had been up since 4:30am with explosive diarrhoea and vomiting. Their sickness was so intense that I spent the morning looking after them and cleaning bathrooms. So by 1:30pm we were all pretty shattered. But we had decide the day before that we should try and make it to Seam Reap so we didn’t miss Anchor Wat or waste the tickets to Thailand we had booked two weeks previously.
So there we were Ben and Tash asleep on the lounges outside the Velkommen Guesthouse, while Michelle and sat in the chairs with Seb waiting for the bus. The Ford Transit van arrived and we climbed aboard. Our 5 of our 6 packs and cases took up all the available storage space in the rear of the bus and my large back pack had to lie on the floor in front of the door.
We drove a block or so to the bus depot and waited 20 minutes on the bus for the other travellers to load up along with quite a bit more luggage. Finally the driver handed out a few bottles of water and we headed out of Phnom Penh.
Initially the drive was quite smooth and fairly scenic but it soon became apparent that sealed roads stopped a few kilometres out of Phnom Penh. But the deteriorating road surface definitely didn’t cause the driver to reduce speed commensurate to the conditions. If anything the wider unsealed surface appeared to give everyone incentive to drive like maniacs.
We had become quite a accustomed to the single road rule through out Asia. Drive anyway you like but just don’t hit anything. This rule is exactly sufficient when the traffic is traveling at speeds not exceeding 50 km/h. But it takes on a whole new level of foolhardiness when your traveling at 140km/h. In my experience dirt roads stopping distance and levels of vehicle control would seem to preclude this rule. But then I’m not a rally car driver or in this case a Cambodian Mini bus driver. I expect to his credit he did remain on the correct side of the road about 40% of the time.
Invariably I’d look up to see a bus or truck heading straight toward us and another vehicle on our left hand side that to my judgement we couldn’t possibly pass in the few metre remaining before colliding headlong into the oncoming traffic. But each time just at the last second the oncoming traffic would vier to there left and we’d miraculously slip past the vehicle to our left avoiding contact with all vehicle and continue to hurtle along the pot hole riddled, corrugated dirt road which services as the highway between Phnom Penh and Seam Reap.
Eventually I had to stop looking as the intense adrenaline rushes were taking their toll on my body. I was close to hyperventilation or worse still a complete panic attack. I closed my eyes took a few deep breaths and tried to listen to my audiobook. This worked well for the next 100 km and I was starting to get comfortable with the skill of the drive, believing we would make it through this journey without incident.
Then suddenly the bus developed a new noise in the left rear and each time we cornered right it feel unnerving like the bus might suddenly attempt a power slide at 120km/hour. Possibly a fun thing to do in a sedan but freaking scary in a bus. Obviously the bus had broken something which wasn’t entirely surprising considering the speed and road condition. Something had to give.
The driver stopped to investigate so Seb and I took the opportunity to alight from the bus and find a WC. After a short walk to find sufficient cover we returned to the bus to see the driver effecting a road side repair with a piece of webbing. On closer inspection it was obvious we had lost the left rear shock absorber and the leaf spring forward clamp. I new we could survive with out the shock absorber but I wasn’t so certain about the spring clamp. But the driver was happily binding the springs together with a metre of webbing suggesting this would fix the problem.
The fact that I’m here writing this tail is proof enough that he was correct. The webbing held the spring together for the remaining 180km of the trip. You might expect that a breakage would suggest driving a little more sedately for the remainder of the voyage, nursing the broken bus into a suitable establishment for a proper repair. But that not how its done in Cambodia. As soon as everyone was back on the bus the driver took off nursing the old girl for the first few km to establish that his repairs were holding then proceeded to drive in exactly the same manner as the first half of the trip. The picture below I took at a road house 140km from Siem Reap. The repair had lasted 40 km at this point and looked like it would hold for the remainder of the trip.
By the time we arrived at Siem Reap we were pretty dirty from the road dust which unavoidable entered the cabin and of course tired from the continuous noise and rough road but we did arrive safe and sound. I managed to finish my book and start another during the drive and I believe Ben even slept a little but of course he was pretty sick before we started the trip so he might have slept anywhere.
What could I say about the trip. Well its was an experience and as I don’t enjoy flying its certainly and alternative, but I think I felt as equally uncomfortable on this bus ride as I do whilst flying. So next time I’d opt for the shorter time spent on the plane.
We brought our tickets form a little tourist agent called CKK Tours on the the tickets were $10USD per seat. However we notice in Siem Reap that ticket for the trip back to Phnom Penh could be brought for $5.50USD.
These are non refundable tickets so make sure you hang onto them and are on time for the pickup. Our first attempt to travel was thwarted by Michelle hospital visit. Luckily for us the guy at the Velkommen Guesthouse book lots of travel with the CKK tourist group. They notified them a few hours before the departure time that we couldn’t travel and they were able to sell three of our tickets for us. So we were only out of pocket $20USD
Location and Pickup:
The ticket can be be brought at most of the little tourist branches around the city. If your close to the bus depot they will pick you up from your hotel or the tourist office where you brought the tickets. Again just make sure you have the location and time written down on a piece of paper in your own language. Most agents will put the details on the envelop containing the tickets you purchase.
In our case the bus was a Ford Transit an fitted with 15 seat (not including the drivers seat) When you book you can chose the seats if they are not already booked. So booking a little ahead of time is a great idea if your tall like myself. Seat 7 besides the sliding door is the only seat with any leg room. Seat 6 across the isle has the second most leg room but you will need to stick you legs out into the isle. I’m 6’4″ and there was no way for me to sit in the seat, my knees just wouldn’t fit behind the seat in front.
The trip took 6:30 – 7:00 from pickup at the hotel till drop off in Siem Reap.