I’m sitting on a bus to Battambang, but unlike my post from the Philippines I will not actually be posting this from the bus. I will consider myself lucky if I survive the voyage to get this post online at all. Seconds after I wrote that sentence, our bus went from nearly careening off the road after flying into a pot hole to a;most flipping over in an attempt to over correct from the problem. Even the Cambodians on the bus look concerned and now we have mysteriously pulled over and stopped. We are apparently picking up more passengers for the death bus rather than checking to see that the bus still has all of its tires and other parts. Maybe they’re checking that too.
Unlike the Philippines, this bus does not have wifi, or even air conditioning, which is one of the first reasons I questioned my ability to make it out alive. In the US they always remind you not to leave your pets in a car in the summer, and include charts showing just how rapidly your car heats up in the sun. Yesterday it was 106 degrees, today I’m trapped in the oven that is the death bus for four hours with at least 40 other innocent, sweaty victims. This of course is leading to a wonderfully noxious aroma of fresh body odor mixing with the stale BO that has permeated the seats on previous trips.
The second thing that caused me concern for my safety was the condition of the death bus. I had read that most Cambodian buses are ones that no longer meet safety standards in Japan or Korea, and it’s safe to say that this bus was probably in that category over a decade ago. There are faded and peeling signs on the bus in Korean that support this theory. But more disturbingly is the giant hole in the ceiling and the missing interior panels. I can live with the missing cup holders, handles, and netted baskets on the back of the seat in front of me, but I don’t know if I can live with a hole in the roof of the bus because I don’t know what was supposed to be there. Maybe the air conditioning unit?
Problem three is not the bus’ fault in all fairness. It’s the fact that the road from Siem Reap to Battambang seems to have been the victim of a US air strike. I don’t think it ever was, but the pot holes are large enough to swallow a cow and there are mysteriously large mounds more like tall, pointy termite mounds than a speed bump. The road also has only one lane going in each direction limiting your ability to dodge these obstacles. Of course the concept of a “lane” is a loose term in Cambodia which brings me to problem number four: the driver.
Based on what I’ve seen so far the driver of this particular bus is either suicidal or blind. I’ve been in Cambodia for two weeks now, so I’m accustomed to drivers veering into oncoming traffic in order to pass a vehicle. They merely blare their horn to indicate “I’m coming”. But this guy seems to enjoy playing chicken at break neck speeds over cow-sized pot holes in a dilapidated 1960s Korean death bus. Hence, how we ended up nearly veering into rice paddies and almost flipping over 20 minutes ago.
His driving has also led to a unique fifth issue: falling objects. On one of the many pot hole/dirt mound combinations that we flew over, bags from the overhead compartment began raining down on passengers below. Most were soft enough, but my 1.5 liter water bottle that had been rattled loose from the side pocket of my backpack probably could’ve taken out a child.
You might think there couldn’t possibly be anything else wrong with one bus, but you would be wrong. There are a few flies and mosquitoes that have joined us on the death bus, and I’d be willing to bet that at least one of the mosquitoes has either dengue or malaria that it’s spreading around gleefully. The lunch stop too will almost certainly claim some victims. It’s not the fried insects or whole fried small birds that worry me, I’ve already eaten both of those at nice restaurants in Phnom Penh, but the masses of flies landing on all of the food options.
It’s a real shame that I’m preoccupied with my potentially imminent death because the countryside is actually quite beautiful. And I’m sure that if I were in an air-conditioned car or a breezy tuk tuk with a competent driver I would be enjoying myself and the scenery. But instead I’m writing this and preparing to start working on my last will and testament since my husband is sitting beside me, meaning he’ll not likely survive to inherit my stuff either.
If you ever find yourself in Cambodia, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE BOARD A RITH MONY TRANSPORT CO BUS. If you would like to commit homicide and get away with it, buy someone a ticket to Cambodia and a few trips on some Rith Mony buses. It is far cheaper than a hitman, and I would give it similar odds of success.