3 November 2011

The Worst Bus Trip EVAR! [Koh Kong, Cambodia]

Koh Kong is a beautiful area of natural wilderness, right up against the Thai border. Yes, I am planning to go to Thailand, but not for a couple of weeks yet... The massive national parks, waterfalls, animal sanctuaries and mangrove forests were the reason for travelling five hours on a ridiculously uncomfortable bus...

The bus ride really was an experience. We left Sihanoukville on a nice, comfy, air-conditioned bus, but about an hour in we needed to change bus. The staff were completely unhelpful and we had to just kind of guess when we needed to change, let alone finding the right bus to get on. And I almost wish we hadn't; it was a run down, old, rickety bus, only just holding itself together. Our seat was not attached to the floor on one side, so every time we went around a turn it would lift up like a see-saw. Just to add to the fun, the road was full of MASSIVE potholes. It was like going off-roading in a 40ft bus. Julia almost gave herself a concussion bashing her head into the window a couple of times.

We arrived early afternoon and spent a while finding a guest house and trying to organise an onward bus. We found a guest house with an Israeli guy (Ohad) that was on the same bus. The rooms were cheapish, but everything else - food, scooter hire, bus tickets etc, was really expensive. So when we didn't actually spend any money at the guest house the owner got a little pissed off. I don't think it helped that one of his staff was 'freelancing'... he met us outside the guest house and said that the owner takes a huge commission on the bus tickets, and that he would take us direct to the bus company so we could buy them, in his tuk-tuk, for a reasonable US$1.

Julia, Ohad and I hired scooters that afternoon and drove out to Tatai falls. It is about 20kms out of the city, through some beautiful countryside. The falls are located off the main road a few kilometers, down a small dirt track. It was probably more suited for a 4WD than a scooter; through streams, over big rocks and through mud. But of course we attempted it, and barring a few sticky situations, made it unscathed.

The falls themselves were beautiful. We got there just as the sun was setting which was really pretty. You all know what a waterfall is, so I'm not going to waste my time describing the falls. Just take a look at the photos.
  

Once we had seen enough of the falls we jumped on our scooters and headed back to town. It was quite dark, and the scooters headlight was hardly adequate. So coming in to one rather tight turn I didn't see all the loose gravel covering the road. Although I was not going fast, I certainly was not going slow... so trying to turn would have been a bad idea. All I could do was hit the brakes and hope. We bounced up against the guard rail, putting a couple of small scratches on the scooter and doing a bit of damage to my foot. I brushed it off, thinking it was OK, but that night it got so bad that I couldn't walk on it at all. I also developed a massive headache and fever.

The following morning we had planned to get up early and visit the mangrove forest and animal sanctuary. But when the alarm went off my foot was killing me, my whole body was aching, and my head was pounding. I wasn't sure what was going on; had injuring my foot caused me to get sick? We decided to take the bus back to Phnom Phen so I could get checked out. I had more faith in the medical facilities in the capital rather than this small border-town. And we needed to go back to Phnom Penh anyway so we could continue toward Siem Reap.

The bus trip was one of the most horrible trips I have ever taken. The road was similar to what I described on the way to Koh Kong, and I just got more and more sick during the journey. There was no position in which I could sit without my body aching. I had a massive fever, but I felt so cold that I my body was shaking. I was having trouble breathing normally, and anything I did, even just standing up, completely exhausted me. After almost 6 agonizing hours we arrived in Phnom Phen.

I went straight to a hospital where they decided to keep me overnight. Whether that was completely necessary, or they just saw a foreigner and thought cash!, I'm not sure... Julia found a guest house closer to the city, and I was stuck with about five different needles. The doctor was concerned that I might have malaria. Great! For the next 24 hours I was stressing balls waiting for my results. What is worse is that my insurance is three weeks out of date. I guess that happens when you keep extending your trip for months longer than initially planned. They put me in a very basic room with five small beds, ripped sheets, no blankets, a toilet without a toilet seat, soap or toilet paper, and a few cats running around and howling (I'm not joking). Then hooked me up to a couple of IV drips and left me to sleep.

The following day they kind of just left me. I was feeling slightly better, but I just put that down to all the drugs they were pumping into me. I was asking when I would find out the results of my tests, but people could either not understand me and didn't know. It wasn't until around 2pm that a doctor finally came to see me. He told me that I did not have malaria, phew. But that my white blood cell count was abnormally high, indicating I had some kind of infection.

I was pretty keen to get out of there. Even though I wasn't anywhere near 100%, I didn't think there was too much more they could do for me. And more importantly; I wasn't really sure how much this all was costing me, but I was sure it would be a lot! Foreigner tax. The doctor said I had to wait until 5pm when another doctor would come and release me. So we did that, the other doctor came, unhooked me, and I went down to pay the bill. US$70! Ouch. That is my budget for a week. Then another $20 in antibiotics and other medication (they gave me 4 boxes of pills, no idea what they all do?).

Julia and I had planned to get a night bus to Battambang that night, but I think it was just as well it was full. I really needed a good night sleep. So we bought a ticket for the following morning, found a cheap guesthouse then I passed out.

The following morning was a shit show! The bus company was meant to pick us up between 6:30 and 6:45am, for the bus leaving at 7am. So we were waiting outside at 6:30 on the dot. There was an annoying tuk-tuk driver that kept wanting to take us, but told him 'no, we have someone picking us up'. Once it clicked over 6:45 I got a little worried. The tuk-tuk driver said 'ooo, it's too late now!', I replied 'dude, STFU!!'. I asked the guest house to call the bus company, but they were just hopeless. Buggering around forever. He would punch in a couple of digits then someone would talk to him and he would get distracted, despite my 'PLEASE, don't worry about that, just call'. The tuk tuk driver came in and started talking to the guy. I just flipped - 'Look, I'm not interested, OK! Just go away, NOW!'. Finally another woman took over the phone but she wasn't much better. Luckily while she was trying to get through a tuk-tuk pulled up to collect us. It was now just before 7am.

We made it to the station just after 7:05am, and the bus was still there. WIN! Now I don't have high expectations when it comes to Cambodian buses. Aircon is a luxury. But this bus had more than we could ever want... Too much. There was a noisy as hell aircon compressor above our head PUMPING cold air down on us. Of course the vents were broken so we couldn't turn it off. Besides that, we had some wonderful Cambodian music with massive bass, cranked up so you could feel it through your seat. I knew I should have bought those noise cancelling headphones.

Random observations:
- Some guys have really long fingernails. And they are all very nicely presented. Not sure if they are moonlighting in drag or what? But it seemed a little strange to me.
- The staff working for the bus companies really don't care about your bags. They will shove them in if there is a tiny gap, throw them around and just generally try to wreck them. Some guy even ripped Julias bag right in-front of us, no apology.
- Although there are some really nice Cambodians, some of them are just looking out for number one. We have experienced this a few times when the tuk-tuk driver will take you miles away to a guest house he knows and will get a commission for, rather than to the closest cheap guest house as you asked for.
- While we are on tuk-tuk drivers - they don't really seem to care about time, only distance. A few times we have got a tuk-tuk to take us around to guest houses or bus stations to buy tickets, and they will happily wait for you as long as you need. And if you are not happy there, he will take you on to the next place and wait again. Not expecting any more money. I guess they are just happy to have a customer.
- Everything is negotiable. Even going to the bus station and buying tickets from the bus company itself you can haggle. I got US$2 off our $7 bus tickets in Koh Kong! (that is a lot of money here).

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