A mini bus from Mekong Express arrives just before 6:45am. It’s a battered and bruised van but the aircon is cranking and the driver negotiates the traffic slowly. We do loops of the city collecting other passengers headed to Siem Riep on the 7:30am bus.
There are a few choices when traveling between Phnom Penh and Siem Riep. I won’t bore you with lists of bus companies and prices because other websites already do this. At first we think about booking online but there’s booking fees and the need to print a ticket so we just ask our guesthouse to do it. Arun, the manager of Feliz Hostel and Cafe booked us on the Mekong Express yesterday without charging commission. That’s exactly the kind of quality service that we’ve come to notice from this modern new accommodation. And that’s how, despite lots of research, we came to travel Mekong Express instead of other bus lines.
At $US13 the bus ride is comfortable, safe and efficient. There’s only 40 passengers, each with allocated seating, individual aircon vents and curtains to block the sun of you desire. An English-speaking guide ensures all passengers are comfortable and provides basic information about the duration of the trip and the midway rest stop.
We leave Phnom Penh’s noisy streets behind and rural Cambodia comes into view.
It’s quiet by comparison from the windows of the bus. There’s no congestion and chaos. Just small houses on stilts amidst rice paddies, cattle and ever encroaching jungle plants.
The road is relatively empty the whole way to Siem Riep save the onslaught of hundreds of children cycling home for lunch around midday. I last saw this a couple of years ago on Java but there it was like a sea of white headscarves while here the children’s heads are all bare.
I slept most of the bus trip so the six hours passes quite quickly. By 1:30pm we’re jolted from the airco out into the harsh hot Siem Riep air. Our guesthouse is 400m (1/4 mile) from the bus station so we decide to walk. Poor Paul is a puddle of sweat by the time we arrive and falls into a snooze on the bed. I think it’s a sensible choice so I join him to rest out the midday heat.
Our guesthouse, the Golden Gecko, is close enough to the city centre to walk (10 minutes) or to take a cheap tuk tuk ride ($US2). It’s run by two Australian men and is clean and comfortable with an inviting swimming pool.
My cousin from Holland and her partner live here in Siem Riep so we catch up. I haven’t seen her in some years and it’s the first time we’ve met each other’s respective partners. They head off to work for a few hours and we walk into town for a foot massage ($US6/hour). Relaxed we enjoy the trees and lights reflecting on the Siem Riep River.
We join my cousin to eat at Nest. This is a fine dining experience that is ridiculously affordable. I eat a braised pork belly and quail egg starter followed by fish amok (a traditional Khmer dish) while Paul takes a garden vegetable soup followed by roast duck breast with potatoes. There’s a great selection of wines but Paul and I don’t drink so we stick with fresh juices. It’s an absolutely lovely introduction to Siem Riep where we will stay for the next four nights.