Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

I am currently sitting on top of a double-decker bus, rocking my way towards Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The bus is a bit more like a roller coaster than I remember double-decker buses being. Perhaps it's because I'm sitting in back, or perhaps it's because the roads in Cambodia aren't quite as smooth as the ones in Hong Kong. Of course you could have all the smoothness in the world and it wouldn't matter when you go swerving around motorbikes and cows at full speed.

It is now 3:30pm. We were told that the bus would be arriving around 4:30, which we took hopefully to mean we would arrive around 6 or so. However, soon after getting on the bus bright and early this morning, I began to despair that we would ever arrive at our destination.

We arrived at the bus stop this morning at about 7:45. The hotel arranged for our tickets and our ride to the bus stop, and I was quite surprised to see the bus pulling out as my motorbike came down the street, honked and pulled in front of the bus so it couldn't make a sneaky escape until Jordan and his motorbike arrived. The bus conductor berated me for being late, and I laughed, “ha ha, like I have any control over this situation.” We got quickly on the bus and congratulated ourselves on not missing the bus, despite the fact that it was supposed to leave about 20 minutes earlier. We felt lucky and relieved to be on board, and missed the sign from the universe that perhaps we should have missed the bus.


Me, still happy, smiling into Jordan's glasses.

After one last mean look from the conductor, the bus pulled off the curb, drove about 300 meters and then pulled over again to let some more people on. It continued to do this every 300 meters or so for about an hour. It should be noted that when Jordan and I got on the bus we sat in the last empty seats, so everyone else they picked up was squatting in the aisle.


The aisles are full and the tv is loud.

At this point (after picking up about 10 extra aisle squatters), we calculated that we were about an hour behind schedule, and things began to pick up. Or rather the opposite, since we didn't pick anyone up for about 10 minutes. However, the cruising time was brief and we soon pulled over to the side of the road. Everyone dashed off the bus, and I thought maybe the squatters had arrived at their destination, but after looking around, it seemed we were in the middle of nowhere. And I don't mean “middle of nowhere” like we were in Cambodia, but “middle of nowhere” meaning we were in the forest and there were no signs of people. In turned out after some observation that the bus guys (of which there seemed to be about 5 on our bus of 60) were out fixing something under the bus and everyone else had seized the moment to have a roadside pee, despite the fact that most of them had just been picked up and had been on the bus for about 10 minutes. Finally, the pee-ers returned to the bus, the bus guys removed the wooden blocks from the tires, and we were off again. Perhaps an hour and half late at this point, although it's really hard to know since the arrival time is only a mysterious 4:30, which we never really believed in.

We chugged along with hope in our hearts as we sped toward our destination. The morning light glistened off the green mountains and everything looked very lovely. I pulled out the iPod, turned it on and enjoyed the scenery set to my own personal soundtrack. What a lovely day it will be, I thought.


The beautiful, dry scenery passes by the window.

Suddenly the bus pulled over again. We looked around in confusion and saw that we had pulled over at a rest stop. It's breakfast time. And since we had been in the bus for about 2 hours, and driven perhaps 30 miles, it was time to take advantage of the road side stop. Everyone piled off the bus to eat and use the WC, and the bus boys were back out there tinkering with the bus. About 20 minutes later or so, we all got back on the bus and headed out, at this point so far behind schedule that I really couldn't give you a time figure.

And so it goes for many hours. We drive a few miles and then have a rest stop. I have never had so many rest stops as on this bus ride. The real highlight came when I glanced out the window to see where we could possibly be stopping at this point, and saw that some guy had bounded off the bus and was buying furniture from a roadside stand. One of the bus boys had followed him out and was slowly carting stools made from solid wood logs back to the bus. The guy was wandering around what I guess is a furniture store (but really looks like a shack) and was contemplating various things. Eventually the bus driver gave him a honk, as whatever induced him to stop for this furniture shopping spree has been overrun by the 60 people sitting on the bus, looking out the window and wondering why someone is buying furniture. Eventually the man got back on the bus with the last stool at the shop, and we were on our way again.


See the man sprinting back to the bus. See how there is no more furniture in the yard to be bought.

This, I thought, was the icing on the cake of our bus trip. However, I thought that just before the air con broke.

The only redeeming thing about spending 10+ hours on the bus is that you get to do it in the cool air and look out the window at scenery set to your own personal soundtrack. When suddenly the cool factor is gone, and it's over 90 degrees with no air flow (the bus windows don't open), nothing really makes the trip seem worthwhile, not your soundtrack, not hours of playing Zoo Keeper on the DS, not the thought that tomorrow you can see Angkor Wat. Mostly you just think, I would trade all the temples in and around Angkor Wat for a cool breeze.

And that, I concluded while I could feel the sweat dripping down and pooling around and soaking into my clothes, is what traveling is. It may seem exotic and exciting and other words that start with 'e', and sometimes it is, but mostly it's uncomfortable and uncontrollable and surprising. Sometimes the surprises are good, so you keep going. Sometimes they are bad and you question why in the world you are at the location you are. For now I have hope that we will someday arrive at our destination, and that the surprises tomorrow will be good ones. And since we're going to Angkor Wat, I'm thinking the chances are good. 


Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Getting around Vietnam has been somewhat more eventful than getting around in Taiwan. Not really more eventful I guess, just less enjoyable. We've done most of our journey by train, which was fine. The train cars are rather run down, but serviceable, and we still have a romanticized idea of train travel despite the long hours in not-the-newest cars. 


A train ride is always romantic, even if the toilet stinks.

Our first venture off the train however, was less than ideal. 

We were worried about being able to take the train south from Hue because Tet, the Vietnamese super-holiday, was getting started and we weren't sure how full the train was going to be. We tried reserving tickets through our hotel, but they wanted to charge a somewhat exorbitant commission, and were informed by several agencies around town that taking the night bus south was the way to go. The ease of booking tickets across the street and my imaginings of the Harry Potter night bus conspired to see us booked on a bus the next day, with the limitation that we would only take the 16 hour trip to Nha Trang rather than the 24 hour trip straight through to Ho Chi Minh City. Since this experience and a few after it we have since learned that if anyone says, "I can arrange such and such a tour for you at such and such a price" you should say "It is likely that that is a terrible deal, and in fact you should be paying me to go on this tour."


Me and the only person on the bus who actually fit in the seats, and thus the only happy one. My smile is fake.

Needless to say our bus ride did not fulfill my hopeful imaginings from Harry Potter. Unless you've always wanted to be driven around by the crazy driver who doesn't really understand the notion of a brake pedal and consequently get your face splatted up against the glass. I spent most of the night trying to cling to my seat, which was suspended in the air, as our bus driver swerved, yanked and stopped dead whilst leaning on his impossibly loud horn. At one point he accompanied his honking by singing and lighting up a cigarette. But it all paid off in the end, as we reached our destination an entire hour early.


Now imagine a stranger in between.

Not that anyone knew. 

The bus pulled over to the side of the road and sat there for 45 minutes, before I finally got up and enquired about our location, 

"Nha Trang?"

"mumble mumble"

"Are we in Nha Trang?"

"mumble mumble"

"Yes, we are in Nha Trang?"

"mumble mumble"

It should be noted that the bus was mostly entirely full of poor, unsuspecting travelers like ourselves who didn't know the joys that awaited them on the 16 hour trip. But everyone's heads came up when I was up front shouting with the bus driver about our location. 

"You mean we've been here for 45 minutes, but you didn't think to mention the fact?"

"mumble mumble"


Jordan never had a chance.

The entire experience can be summed up as going to a sleepover with complete strangers where you are given a bed that is neither long enough nor wide enough for you to actually fit on. Not that anyone mentioned this to us when they were selling our tickets. They should maybe say, "This is a ticket for hell." At least then you would be prepared. 



The ticket may be for hell, but the destination isn't.

Bus 58

29 Jun 2009
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

This morning I needed to stop at the hospital to pick up the results of some tests I had for renewing my contract.  So I thought I would ride a new bus there.  I had noticed on my previous trips that bus 58 stopped outside the hospital.  So I got on, but soon realized that it was going the wrong direction, out towards the country.  Since at some point I needed to get to school this morning, I gestured to the bus driver that I wanted to go the other way and he gestured the way he was going.  So I got off and got on another bus which included a short walk to the hospital.  As I was walking, who should drive by and wave at me than bus #58, which I guess goes the other way to get to the hospital.  But then, after I finished my business and took a short taxi ride to school, who should wave to me as I got out of the cab than the driver of bus #58! He must think I am quite crazy to ever haven gotten off his bus in the first place...But at least I have one more Korean friend who will wave at me now whenever he sees me. 


Word just in while I was looking for a photo.  Tomorrow when I get to school I get to pose for a picture with the English teachers who were supposed to have started an English club (with me as their teacher), but didn't have time, but have to take the picture anyway.  I <3 Korea.