We rarely travel without a bike, a car, or some other form of transportation, so it was a weird feeling this morning to ride in a tuktuk clear across Siem Reap to the bus station to head toward Phnom Penh. We had booked our tickets at our guesthouse and not given it as much thought as we probably should have, but figured everything would be fine.
The bus itself was fine, but clearly we were the only foreign tourists riding it and the seats must have been designed for much shorter people (and frankly, by Western standards, neither of us are all that tall). Suddenly airplane seats felt roomy by comparison as we measured the distance between the seat edge and the next row – slightly less than the width of an outstretched hand. The bus was full to capacity of men, women, and lots of tiny children, all accompanied by a Cambodian music videos being loudly broadcasted over the speakers including remakes of several old disco hits. At first all was well as we bumped along the highway, but soon the temperature of the day and the crowd of people on the bus began to overwhelm the air conditioning in the bus the heat became oppressive.
My saving grace was only that we’ve slept so little since we’ve been here that I could barely peel my eyes open. Ben and I nodded on and off the entire ride with Cambodian music videos setting the stage some seriously strange dreams.
Twice we stopped along the way, and despite the fact that I absolutely didn’t feel like eating, we did get off the bus once to pick up some fresh mangos with the chili powder and salt. The second stop we opted out entirely, walking the aisle down the bus to stretch our legs instead. As people began to get back on, a couple of very old Cambodian women touched my elbow and smiled. One asked me “Angkor Wat?” When I nodded yes, she began digging in her bag to find a shiny new album of photos depicting her and her husband and the other woman at Angkor Wat together. It looked like they’d had a nice vacation together.
We smiled and nodded and waved as I went back to my seat and the bus ride began anew. Thirty minutes later, when she got off the bus in a small town in the middle of nowhere, long before we got to Phnom Penh, I realized that this sweet old woman had lived 5 hours or a $7 bus ride from Angkor Wat probably for most of her life, had survived the many years of war and violence in her country, and she had just now finally gotten to visit her country’s greatest treasure. I was thrilled for her.
Aside from my sweet exchange with my new friends on the bus, the bumpy sweltering ride went on at least an hour longer than I’d hoped, it finally ended. We were happy to note that the bus had actually dropped us off right where we wanted to be in town, and it only took us a short 10 minutes walk to find a suitable place to stay and get settled in with the AC unit. We journaled and processed photos in our climate controlled space until evening when the sun cooled down a bit before heading out to really take in the city.
Unfortunately,the diminishing sun only helped the heat a little bit, and the sweltering temperatures made everything seem more intense. The traffic felt hot, the markets smelled terrible, and I felt exhausted, but we still enjoyed walking around, checking out the cool architecture, and watching local families play outside together. After we located another scooter rental for tomorrow’s adventures, we grabbed some more noodles for dinner, a milkshake, and then washed the whole thing down with some ice cream. I cannot even imagine what possesses everyone here to sit down and eat a piping hot bowl of soup at the end of every blazing hot day, but my system clearly isn’t cut out for it.
Dinner finished, we’ve retreated back to our cool room, hoping tomorrow’s weather goes easy on us. We’ve just come out of winter in Utah and the heat is really getting to us!