It is October, 2004, and I am sitting on the bench style back seat of a mini bus on the road from Siem Reap to Bangkok. I'm sharing the back bench with 3 other girls. We are young and wild and free.
And we have no idea what the fuck we're in for.
I'ts only 400kms from Siem Reap to Bangkok, but the trip takes us more than 13 hours. The road can hardly be called a road, the bus barely a bus. But the real hurdle is the massive pot hole we struck causing the entire back seat to lift up throwing all four of us into the air before crashing down again. My 3 travel companions managed to land on the seat where we began (one of them with her leg painfully caught between the benchtop and the seat frame), but I flew up and over the seat in front of me landing in the lap of the gentleman sitting on said seat. My shoes, which were recovered later, managed to travel the length of the bus and were fished out from under the front seat.
It could have been bad. But everyone seemed ok.
It was hot outside while we waited for the bus to be fixed and no one seemed to be able to tell us either what the problem was, or how long we would be stuck for while it was fixed. At the time, this all seemed quite normal for bus travel in South East Asia so no one was overly surprised and no one complained. We just sat in the heat in the red dirt until we were told to get back on the bus.
I have avoided long haul bus travel in Asia since then...
This morning we took a bus from Phomn Penh to Kampot. I have to admit that I was someone dubious about the idea. I assumed that the trip would consist of a combination of late departures, shitty roads, kamikaze driving, and unknown travel time. It turns out, though, that the trip was relatively painless. Our tickets cost 10 dollars each and the estimated 3 hour trip only took 3 hours. I was somewhat nervous in the traffic, but in all fairness I'm always nervous in traffic so this says more about me as a road passenger than it does about Cambodian roads.
Cambodia is hot and dry. We have come at the end of the dry season and the country is yet to have a good drink so out the window fields look barren and thristy and livestock looks overworked and underfed. It isn't a pretty trip. It's the first time I've done it so I can't compare it to other times of year or a time in the past, but right now, today, trash lines the side of the road and the toll the dry season takes on the land is clearly visible.
As soon as we arrive in Kampot, though, my love of Cambodia is restored. The town is quiet and charming. The French provincial buildings are overgrown with bougainvillea and there is green everywhere. The town sits upon a river with mountains in the back ground. There is an air of festivity in Kampot, not unlike that you feel in mountain towns where everyone is on holiday. The food is good, and the beer is cold and we are happy to spend a few days here eating and taking in the sights.