From Chang Mai the journey began. I decided to fly back to Bangkok, even to a budget savvy traveller the appeal of a night in a bed before the long journey to Cambodia was worth the additional £6. That was until the flight was delayed, I didn’t get to bed until 2.30 am and the bus to Cambodia left at 7 am the same morning. The journey from Bangkok to the Cambodian border was comfortable, starting off in a nice air-conditioned coach with plenty of spare seats to stretch out in, followed by a minibus and then a motorbike side-cart across the border. All was going well.
One across the border a group of us were shepherded into the back of 2 pick up trucks. We were told one of the bridges on the road to Siem Reap was broken, therefore we were to travel in the trucks to the bridge before meeting the bus at the other side of the broken bridge. The pick up trucks were so crowded, we had 12 people in addition to the 20 rucksacks which were forming temporary seats for more people who couldn’t fit onto the ledge at the edge of the truck. For the first hour or so the journey was fine, the scenery was so amazing, completely different to Thailand. I hadn’t expected such a contrast. The road, however, was the worst condition dirt track i have ever seen, with huge lorries and buses and motorbikes all charging along. They don’t seem to drive on any particular side of the road and road rules do not seem to apply.
Five very bumpy and uncomfortable hours later (by which time nearly 14 hours had passed since we left Bangkok), we eventually get to the broken bridge. We carry our bags across the bridge and get on the not so luxurious Cambodian bus, again with more people than seats, and definitely more bags than people. Again a little crowded but things were looking good, at least now we could hope to sleep for the 2 hour journey to Siem Reap, sleep on the pick up trucks would have led to us falling off the back. 30 minutes into this stage of the journey however, we again came to a halt. This time a lorry had got its chassis stuck in one of the potholes and was blocking the road. There were about 20 other lorries queued behind the one that was stuck, most with drivers sleeping in their hammocks underneath.
Residents of the local village had gathered to try to free the lorry, but with no success. Meanwhile, the local children were fascinated with seeing ‘white people’. I spent the 3 hours we were stranded there playing games with these children, teaching them songs such as ‘The Hokey Cokey’ and ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’. I knew my days as a play leader would come in handy sometime! Amazing doing this whilst also seeing fireflies and watching the moon set, very pretty.
At 2 am another pick up truck eventually arrived to take us to Siem Reap, this was even more crowded that the one earlier in the day. 1 1/2 hours later we were anticipating our arrival at our destination when the truck swerved to avoid a broken down car, once again the road was blocked! Yet again we were stuck. At least we were now on the outskirts of the city and a minibus soon arrived to take us onto the final bus stop, from where I hailed a motorbike taxi to take me and my huge rucksack on to my hostel. I eventually arrived at the hostel at 4am, 21 hours after setting out and very tired.
With hindsight do I wish I’d stumped up the money for the short flight from Thailand to Cambodia? Not one bit. Yes the flight would no doubt have been quicker and easier but this was a journey that I will remember forever.