Recently we had the opportunity to go to Cambodia and were there just before Christmas. If you ever have the chance to go to Cambodia, Christmas is a good time to go. Especially if you want to go to Angkor Wat. We were in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is, and were amazed at how few tourists were there. We actually were the only people at some of the ruins in Siem Reap, which surprised us a lot.
Being in Cambodia and getting more familiar with the country was a really great experience, definitely one of my top international experiences. Our first few hours there, though, gave us quite an opposite impression and made us a little skeptical about the rest of our trip.
Before we even arrived in the Cambodian airport, we were a little weirded out. Southeast Asia has this strange thing where they fog their airplanes before landing. I had no idea what it is for at the time and we both had some concerns about it. Most of the flights we went on did this, though not all of them explained what was happening. Thankfully, though, one of our subsequent flights said what the smoke was for. It was just some kind of anti-bacterial fog and not the plane filling with actual smoke. Thank goodness.
And since I’m a photo nerd, here are pictures of our first views of Cambodia. I’ll apologize now for the low-quality photos in this post. My DSLR was packed away, so I took most of these either with my cell phone or my really old digital camera.
Getting into Cambodia wasn’t so bad. That was actually the easy part of the evening. The landing was smooth (which you will learn to appreciate traveling around that part of the world) and we were able to get off the plane without any drama. We had received our visas several weeks before our trip, so we were able to get through immigration fairly quickly, too. It only took about 10 minutes to get our visas examined, arrival cards scanned, passports stamped, and out the door.
It was after leaving the airport that things got a little strange.
We arrived in Phnom Penh about 4:45pm and had booked an overnight bus to take us straight to Siem Reap. The one we’d booked didn’t leave until about 6:00………..but that’s not the one we got on.
When we got outside the airport, we snagged a little tuk-tuk to take us to the bus stop so we could get there early and not risk missing it. One thing that is common in Asia is that time is relative. Buses and trains rarely ever leave on time, but you never know which day they will leave early or which day they will be running late, so being decently early is a good idea. We figured being about 30-40 minutes wouldn’t be so bad. We could pick up our tickets, maybe get a little something to eat, and then get on our way. Our tuk-tuk driver, though, had other plans.
Once we told him where we wanted to go, he got all excited and told us that he knew of another night bus heading to Siem Reap that was leaving right then and there. He said it was better than the one we had booked and that it was the exact same price, so he wanted to take us there instead of to the one we booked. Um, okay, great. We’d love to be on a bus that is leaving now. But, dude, we’re not there. We’re still at the airport. We’ve already missed it.
Not to be deterred, our faithful little tuk-tuk driver drove all over Phnom Penh to track down the bus. It was hilarious at the time. He went to the bus depot and found out the route the bus was taking and took all these little side streets to get to each pick-up spot as quickly as possible. It was actually pretty neat to get a super speedy scenic tour of the city before leaving. These are some of the interesting things we saw.
Our view from the back of the tuk-tuk as we left the airport. These things aren’t too bad for a quick trip around the city. The weather was nice and there wasn’t a lot of pollution, so we rather enjoyed the fresh air and pleasant breeze.
Obligatory selfie. We were super excited to be in Cambodia. We were going to Angkor Wat first thing in the morning and were brimming with enthusiasm for this wonderful new experience. And, no, I didn’t cut my hair. It was just in a bun. Whenever I fly my hair is either in a bun or braids. Also, this is a rare photo of Troy smiling. Usually he’s making a goofy face or sticking his finger up his nose. So, enjoy this rare treat.
Snack carts are so popular here. Most of the time people just push them, but this one was unique because it was attached to the guy’s motorbike. We both kinda wished we could buy some stuff from him since we were both a little hungry, but we were in a hurry and already had some snacks in our backpacks, so we just zoomed right on by.
This is off to the side of one of the main streets in Phnom Penh. Every so often you will see a congregation of food carts and people coming to get snacks or meals. We really wanted to stop and check it out, but, alas, we were on a time schedule.
This is a typical convenience store. This is basically what most stores on the main streets look like: open front with shelves of wares out on the sidewalk. We were only stopped here for a couple of minutes so the tuk-tuk driver could pop in the bus station office and ask which route the bus was taking and then we were off again.
And you think YOUR traffic is bad. This is actually not that bad of traffic for this part of the world. Cars are always up on each other and nobody really pays attention to lane lines. At this point our tuk-tuk was halfway on the sidewalk, but nobody really cares about that here.
Scooter gangs are the most common site on the roads in Asia, which makes sense since scooters seem to be the most maneuverable. They seriously do whatever they want. I’ve seen scooters drive on the sidewalk for a block to bypass stalled traffic, I’ve seen scooters at a red light dart across the road between cars that have the green light, I’ve seen scooters drive between cars going the opposite way, and I’ve seen scooters going up and down stairs. Nobody cares what scooters do. Kinda wish we’d been driving around town on one, but alas, we were not. The tuk-tuk was fun and we don’t regret it at all.
After driving around for about 20 minutes, we made it to this little hole in the wall shop where our driver stopped and ran inside. And I mean that literally. There were several doors lining a portion of the wall down an alley and that is where the tuk-tuk driver took us. I thought we were asking directions again, but the tuk-tuk driver came back outside and told us that the bus would be here any minute and that we could get tickets by paying the man inside. So, we paid the man inside and got our tickets. We were pretty happy about getting tickets for a bus that left an hour earlier than the one we’d reserved. And we were also happy that we didn’t have to pay to reserve a spot on the other bus, so it wouldn’t matter about taking this one. They were both the same price, so it all worked out in the end. Or so we thought.
This is about $10.14 USD.
Once the bus arrive and we got on the bus, we started to realize we may have made a grave mistake. This bus…….was………awful. And it was non-refundable. So, as unfortunate as it was, we were out of luck.
The first thing we noticed about this bus was that it was not a sleeper bus. Troy had reserved us seats on a sleeper bus and this one was definitely NOT a sleeper bus. This was a double-decker travel bus…..kinda. There was a downstairs where all the luggage went that was tall enough for people to walk around, but it wasn’t set up so people could travel down there. The people went on the upper level………which was just seats, no sleepers.
It looked comfortable enough, though, after we got on and looked around, so we just sat down and off the bus went. We figured we’d just lay our seats back and sleep that way. That is, until we realized how bumpy the ride was. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the craziness.
After the bus stopped a few more times, we realized people were looking around and picking specific seats. Once we actually looked at our tickets, we realized we had seat numbers, so we got up and found those seats. And immediately wished we hadn’t. What we hadn’t noticed upon entry to the bus was that most seats only had one arm rest. The other arm rests were either missing or the plastic was gone, leaving only the metal body, which was rather sharp. My seat had the metal body on one side and plastic on the other. Troy’s had plastic on the outside, so we were at least fortunate that only one of us had sharp metal stuff. I put Troy’s hat over my one gimpy arm rest so I wouldn’t get my arm all scratched up.
The other fun part about our seats was that mine leaned back really far and wouldn’t sit up. Troy’s sat straight (and I mean STRAIGHT) and wouldn’t lean back. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, Troy’s seat wouldn’t stay on. lol. The first bump we hit, he slid forward, flailing his arms around and almost tipping sideways into the aisle. It was sooooooo funny. Every time the bus hit a bump, he would slide forward and have to catch himself. It was pretty funny the first 5-6 times. But by the 20th time, it wasn’t so funny anymore. He eventually wedged his backpack between the seat and the seat in front of him, but that meant he had nowhere to put his legs and had to straddle the backpack. We figured once we were on the road that we’d just switch to different seats, but by the time we left the city our bus was completely full and we were stuck in our less than ideal spots.
For the first hour or so, we sat like that: me leaning at an awkward and uncomfortable angle and Troy with a backpack between his legs. I was able to doze for a bit, but couldn’t stay asleep for long because ‘things’ kept crawling on me. And it didn’t help when Troy got super excited because down the stairs (we were seated across from the stairs) on a piece of luggage was a spider the size of a half dollar. He turned on the flashlight on his cell phone and went down to check it out. Thankfully, the dang thing didn’t bite him, even though he was moving luggage around to find it when it ran away from him. I stayed put and amused myself by watching all the locals lean over the railing to try and figure out what this crazy white guy was doing. It was pretty comical.
After Troy came back upstairs and sat back in his seat, the bus hit another bump. I felt so bad for him. He has a hard time sleeping with lots of noise and light, so constantly being jostled and almost thrown from his seat was not helping at all. He got pretty upset and said he wasn’t going to be able to sleep because of the discomfort, so we traded seats. I’m pretty good at making myself comfortable and falling asleep in strange positions, so I figured I could make something work and told him he could have my seat. He was a lot more comfortable with the seat leaning back and stuck his jacket beneath his head as a pillow. Once he got situated, I curled up on top of his backpack and used my jacket as a pillow on his stomach. It wasn’t ideal, but I’m smaller than he is and a lot more flexible and it wasn’t too terribly uncomfortable for me to put my knees against the seat in front of me and curl around to where my head was on Troy’s stomach. We both fell asleep like that for an hour or so before the bus stopped at this tiny little place on the side of the road. After being able to get a little bit of rest, we both felt a lot better.
This place we stopped was the strangest ‘rest stop’ I’ve ever seen. It was around 11pm and everyone just piled off the bus, so we followed suit. After being cramped for the last several hours, we were happy to be able to stretch our legs and move around a bit. We were a little nervous to leave Troy’s camera bag on the bus while we went to the bathroom, but it was so dark out there and there were no lights, so neither of us wanted to get separated.
The basic setup of the rest stop was like an outdoor high school lunchroom: a group of long tables and chairs on one side with the a la carte counter on another side and a table with what looked like snack foods. There were only a few dirty lightbulbs hanging around, so we couldn’t see much beyond that. We didn’t want to stay near the food area since the food had a rather unpleasant aroma, so we wandered around the outskirts for a bit until someone indicated where the bathrooms were. We booked it behind the covered eating area to where they had pointed and ended up walking down this dirt path with no lights. It got really dark really fast and we couldn’t see a thing, other than some dim lights a little ways away. Too bad we couldn’t see where we were walking. We had both left our phones in Troy’s backpack, so Troy ran back to get them (and some toilet paper) so we could see where we were going. I kinda of wish he hadn’t. The path wasn’t that bad, but the bathrooms were. They were pretty much just holes in the ground with walls around them. There was fecal material and lots of liquid on the floor as well as cockroaches on the walls. It was awful. I turned off my light so I couldn’t see any of it. There were bugs buzzing around and the doors didn’t stay shut, so it was a little difficult to try and use the restroom while trying not to touch a cockroaches on the wall and hold the door shut as well as keep my pants off the floor all at the same time. Thankfully, I succeeded. And then we walked as quickly as we could away from there.
The bus ended up staying at this place for 10-15 minutes, so we looked around a bit. One table had chips and soda, but don’t ask me what kind of chips they were. I wish I’d taken photos, but it was so dark that I didn’t think they would turn out. There were a few little dim lights here and there, but all they did was illuminate a few feet around them and that’s it. Even with the dim light, it was easy to tell that those chips weren’t Cheetos or Doritos. *sigh* Even though we could tell what they weren’t we couldn’t figure out what they were. Nor could we read the ingredients, so we refrained from buying anything in case they had flour in them. No sense getting Troy sick right when we get there.
Eventually, people started making their way back to the bus and we found our way back to our seats. I’m not sure why we stayed there so long. I don’t think anyone grabbed anything from the snack table or the buffet and only a few people used the restrooms. I think all anyone did was stand around and talk quietly. Or sit at one of the tables. But it was nice to get out of those seats, so we didn’t complain. Once we got back on the bus, we resumed our sleeping positions and dozed off and on for the rest of the ride. There were ants on our seats, so it was a little difficult to sleep with them crawling around, especially since I tend to think anything crawling on me is a spider and panic a little. lol. The bus also hit quite a few bumps, so that tended to jolt us awake periodically. But we did manage to get some sleep, so it wasn’t the worst ride ever.
Thankfully, at 2am, we made it to Siem Reap. We were soooooooooooooooo happy to get there! And we were even more happy that our hotel had sent someone to pick us up. It was a nice guy named Sarat. Troy thinks he was saying Sarak, but I thought it was Sarat. They’re close enough, so I’ll just keep calling him Sarat.
Anyways, Sarat loaded us onto his tuk-tuk super fast and took us straight to our hotel, which was only about 10 minutes away. We were very excited to have made it to the hotel, but tempered our expectations because of our awful bus ride. What met us in our room, though, was quite a pleasant surprise.
Our room was clean, quiet, comfortable, and a lot nicer than we were expecting. We were very happy with it. We were probably a bit more excited than was warranted, but we were hungry, exhausted and very sore. We threw our suitcases on the floor, took turns going into the bathroom to change into our pajamas, got ready for bed, and then crashed out. We needed to get to sleep quickly because we’d arranged with Sarat to meet downstairs at 7:00am to get started with our adventure of seeing Angkor Wat.