What to expect from a bus ride from Vietnam to Cambodia

Nothing.
That’s the short answer. Because if you expect nothing, it can only be better. Actually no, scratch that. Expect the worst.

Let me paint you a picture.

IMG_9282

I could do this verbally, but I’ve heard that a picture says more than a thousand words and there are no thousand words to describe the bus that I was in when I wanted to go from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

I booked my ticket at one of the many tour operators on the street where my hostel was located. I don’t remember the name, because there was only one name in Ho Chi Minh that I could remember and that was the one of the main market where they sell the souvenirs, for no reason other than that it was the easiest one. But Vietnamese is not a language I will ever understand, so I could not remember anything.

They said to be at their office at 23.15, and we would leave at 23.45. I already knew that 23.15 would be very early, so eventually I arrived at 23.20. I’m such a rebel.

Of course, when my phone told me it was 23.45, there was still nobody there. Oh, and the office was closed, but I knew the busses stopped on the other side of the street. I know I should not have had any expectations, but during my days there I had already seen some busses drive by and they looked really comfortable. Chairs that could recline, soft lighting and individual seats.

Around 0.00 a big yellow bus that did not have the name of the bus company I was supposed to go with, stopped very close to me. I decided to ask if by any chance they were my ride. I showed them the ticket and I didn’t really get a confirmation, but they just gestured that I could get in if I wanted to. I asked around frantically to at least assure myself that the bus would be going to Phnom Penh, and it was. So, I handed in my passport, paid the fee for the visa and gave them my backpack, when I got in.

You had to climb the stairs to go in and the sight when you arrived upstairs was something else. A few of my fellow travelers had been in several sleeping busses and they said this one was the ghetto of sleeping busses. Well… That was promising.

I hopped on one of the beds and laid down, trying for a long time to find a comfortable position. In the meantime, I was joined by a guy and while we were laughing about the shadiness of it all, I actually felt good, because I knew this was going to be one of those awful backpacker experiences I had heard so much about. Sometimes I’m too positive for my own good.

After talking with the guy for a few minutes, I distinguished a slight Dutch accent, so I asked him where he’s from, and what do you know? The Netherlands. So we continued in our native tongue and quickly realized that we had both been in Indonesia for almost half a year. He had been there for his studies, and was in Yogyakarta, not Jakarta, like me. We swapped some experiences while the bus driver started on our trip. The lights were turned off pretty quickly and because of the lack of space I got up close and personal with this guy from Rotterdam who I had just met, while we were both trying to catch some shut-eye.

Emphasis being on trying.

For me anyway, the Dutchie next to me was snoring like the sound the bus was making while driving. Even my favorite sleeping music couldn’t get me to fall asleep and it was 3 AM when we came to a stop. A full stop.

I had heard about it, and I knew it was going to happen, but it still seemed ridicilous. We left at 0.00 and had reached the border in three hours. The border… opens at 6 AM. So we were going to be standing still for three hours. I saw a few people sitting up in their beds and I just knew they were thinking what I was thinking…
Can we please go to the toilet?

This didn’t seem like something the driver and his buddy had contemplated, because when I ventured outside of my bed, I noticed that the entire aisle was filled with our bags and suitcases. When did that happen?

I looked and was dreading the prospect of climbing all this stuff to get out, but my bladder was torturing me relentlessly and so I moved out.
I asked a girl in my area if she needed to go also, and together we went for it. The way to get out is pictured below. My leg muscles are still a little sore (because we had to go out at least two times more – and back in).

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When I got out, I felt good to know I was not alone, because about ten more people stepped outside. We faced the warm night air, and while typing this I realize I forgot to mention something very distressing about this trip.

The cold.

They were blasting the airconditioning like they were trying to recreate Antartica and everybody was shivering in their seats (even though they provided us with thoughtful blankets that were too small to cover the body of a child, let alone adults).
So the warmth was welcome. We all ran off in different places to find a private place to relieve ourselves

I popped a squat at the border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia.
And I can only assume I am not the first.

We faced the jungle gym again when we got back inside and I was so relieved. I was comfortable, I didn’t have to pee anymore and I was warm again because of the nightly exercise.

Yet my dear friend sleep did not decide to grace me with a visit that night.
So I lay and listened to music and let my mind wander to all the places my mind decided to go.

And before you know it (no, I’m kidding. It took forever and I was waiting for the moment for three hours), the bus was moving again.
And I had to pee… Again.

Nobody knew what to expect, which you could say makes these trips all the more fun. Or at least more adventurous.

After a while somebody came up to our beds and yelled something. I didn’t know what, but some people were getting up and getting out. Great… More climbing. But I’d gotten the hang of it by then and was out before I knew it. Time to cross the border.
But first I ran in the other direction when I saw a sign saying there was a toilet present.

We stood around for a while, waiting for who knows what, and then we could pass the immigration officer who did not seem all that pleased to have a job that made him wake up before the sun had risen. He flipped through my passport and gestured for me to move on.

Because I have lived in Indonesia for five months, the one thing I have learned and is ingrained in my current life, is to smile. So I smiled at the officer and thanked him, but he did not return the favor and just focused on something more interesting behind me.

I looked through my passport and saw an exit stamp for Vietnam, one more lovely addition to an already large collection of art pieces in my little book of life. But I had expected a little more, namely a new stamp that would remind me I had gone to Cambodia.
Later, we realized that this was just the Vietnamese border and we still had to cross the actual Cambodian border.
Guess what that means…
Yep, more climbing in and out of the bus.

But eventually we also lined up at the immigration officer who was in charge of the stream of travelers wanting to enter Cambodia and when I smiled and thanked him, I actually got back a small smile. I noticed my fellow travelers were tired and exhausted, like me, and with that had lost their manners. I was glad to be rewarded for not forgetting mine.

At this point, I was really, very tired. And when we got back into the bus, I felt like I could sleep easily. I was told that it would be a six hour drive to Phnom Penh and my cognitive function allowed me to calculate that this meant we had three more hours to go.

Oh, my sweet naive past self.

It turned out to be six. Six more hours! So even though I did sleep for maybe half an hour to an hour, I was still awake for most of it and just listened to music, trying to let Damien Rice and Ludovico Einaudi soothe me.
And even though they soothed, they did not make me sleep.

Finally we seemed to arrive somewhere and after paying too much for a tuktuk (which is really all part of the Asian experience, I would say), I arrived at my hostel.
And I slept the day away.

And yeah, I could make myself feel bad about that, because I am not making the most out of the experience and I am wasting an entire day. But really, it was the damn Ankor Express Yellow ugly ass bus that wasted my day and I refused to feel guilty for wanting a nap. However, I had not anticipated sleeping through my alarm that was set for 3 o’clock and waking up at 5 instead.

But we live and learn. And we deal with it.
I’ll explore the city tomorrow.

And yeah, to all those friends of mine who are reading this and wondering: what about the guy? “Was dat niet wat voor jou, Sanne?”

We went our separate ways after getting off of the bus, because that’s just how these things work. And that is more than okay.

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