Waking up to the gentle pitter patter of a light rain is one of life’s little comforts if you ask me. I find it soothing and relaxing, and a great reminder that there is so much more going on in the world than in my little universe. Waking up to a complete downpour on a day where you’ve got to carry everything you have through the muddy streets of a foreign village is a different story. It was not nice.
What a day. The storm was not confined to just our small island of Don Det. Oh no – it covered our entire day’s route. Either that or it chose to follow us the whole way.
Our bungalow kept us nice and dry that morning but as soon as we boarded the boat to Nakasang, our clothes and luggage just got drenched. Our hosts at the bungalows drove us directly from there so at least we didn’t have to schlep all the way back to the public boat launch in the monsoon.
We arrived in Nakasang, at a small rickety building dripping from its every crevasse, to fill out our visa information and hand in our passports to a man we had only just seen herding other travelers. Apparently this service was part of our booking… All forms filled out, we hit the rain slicked streets by foot to reach the bus station, picking up a cheap umbrella along the way. Getting there, it seemed everyone was confused but eventually we all ended up on the bus to Kratie. Turns out our VIP bus was falsely labeled. Damp and mildewy, it did not include the promised free water and toilet, which is a shame but is something we could have lived with if the rest of the ride went off without a hitch.
Everything was going fine, aside from a breakdown just a few minutes into our journey. Those kind of things happen so we didn’t read too much into it. Half an hour and it was fixed so we continued on to the Cambodian border. Looking back, that should have been a major sign…
At the border, the rain continued to beat down on everything in its path. We had to exit the bus and wait under a tarp covered makeshift set of restaurants. I actually think it doubled as a small residence for the families running them. We ate quickly, admired the two tiny puppies, and waited for the signal to run out of the shelter for the bus.
The immigration process was probably too easy but we got our passports back just before we hit the road again. Our first impression of Cambodia provided more rain and lots of potholes. The serious ones that give you a side-ache and make your organs jolt. But it wasn’t the worst thing ever. We could get through it – we had to.
Or we thought we could. One such pothole about two hours into Cambodia contained some sharp rocks. Sharp enough to puncture a hole in our back left tire. We rumbled to a stop, checked it out and it was flat. ‘OK,’ we thought, ‘we can help them change it and we’ll be back on the road in no time.’ Of course it was still raining at this point. We waited for something to happen while the staff conversed in a language so foreign to us that we had no hope of catching any of the conversation.
We loaded back up and drove on the flat for a few kilometers. So we all thought maybe we would continue our last hour of the drive (when we bought the ticket we were told that our destination of Kratie was only three hours past the Cambodian border) with the five remaining wheels. Before long we were stopped again. This time we thought maybe to see a small-town mechanic who could help us fix it. Bare in mind as you read this that none of the staff spoke English and all of the passengers, though from different countries, all spoke English so NONE of us knew what was going on but at least we could all chat about it, making speculations together about how the trip would end.
As we sat there, rain pounding against our foggy windows, humidity increasing, we saw them pull out a spare tire. ‘Oh great,’ we thought. ‘We will be out of here in no time…’ Again we thought wrong. We took the street to check it out, new umbrella in tow. Turns out, our precious spare tire had a massive hole in it and was also flat. ‘OK, now what?,’ we thought.
We sat there on the side of the road for the next THREE hours, unaware if anything was even going to happen to get us to the next stop. Were they going to send another bus? Was someone going to bring us a tire? Were they going to flag us down taxis and pay our way? Yeah right!
As the daylight began to fade behind the darkened rain clouds, a white bus came forward to save the day. They dropped us a tire. Watching three small men work to get the thing on was pretty entertaining but they succeeded marvelously, thank goodness. We were off to Kratie, waving goodbye to the local children, who throughout our stay sheepishly hid from us but continued to stare in a kind of shy curiosity.
Throughout the rest of our journey we pulled over a few more times, each time came the nagging yet necessary internal question, ‘WHY ARE WE STOPPED?’ And each time I was afraid to learn the answer, but they were for silly things like bathroom breaks, thank goodness. Around 9:30pm, nearly FOUR hours since we returned to the journey, and only 20 minutes or so from our final destination, they stopped at a small restaurant to feed us. Needless to say the majority of us just wanted to get there, no more stopping!
When we finally were on what we thought was the last leg of our journey, one staff member came down the aisle asking if there was anyone for Kratie. All but four of us raised our hands. They had forgotten to take us.
So we turned around to a symphony of groans from our fellow passengers. It was pretty ridiculous, but that kind of thing happens. I wasn’t too bothered since we were only 5 minutes away. What was more frustrating was the fact that to save time (the bus had another 8 hours to travel for the other four passengers on their way to the capital of Phnom Penh) they tried to drop us and all of our luggage way outside of town at a closed up service station. Thankfully an English woman familiar with the area protested and they dropped us on a semi-busy street by the river instead.
Eager to move on from that experience we quickly found a very nice hotel for $7/night. Disappointed as we were to miss seeing the town of Kratie, we were so thankful to have made it with enough time to book a bus for the following morning to Siem Reap and get a full night’s sleep.
Oh the adventures of traveling…