Today we got the true Cambodia experience: a bus ride that should have been three hours but turned into six. Not because there was traffic but because the bus company spent 2.5 hours trying to fill their bus with passengers by driving laps of Siem Riep before finally hitti g the highway. It was a farce and one that could have easily been avoided had we booked one of the tourist bus companies online instead of letting our guesthouse book for us. Actually, the tourist bus companies would have been cheaper too because they can fill a bus with tourists instead of the tourists on the local bus subsidising the local passengers’ fares.
The local bus driver was terrible compared with the Mekong Express bus driver we had the other day. The bus swayed and swerved, the driver constantly on the horn. The only good thing is that Paul as I go two sears each so I could lay down and sleep most of the trip.
It’s late afternoon when we arrive in Battambang. Tuk tuk drivers literally run after the bus as it pulls into the depot. They swarm like mosquitoes as the bus turns to park and block the exit. I am first at the door and get bombarded. “We will get our bags first” I say calmly. The drivers step back. A man in yellow shirt claims me as his and waits for Paul to collect our bag (yes, singular). “Where’s the rest of your bags?” the tuk tuk driver asks. Just this.
He asks $US1 to our guesthouse but other drivers hold signs offering $US0.50 to any guesthouse in Battambang. Our driver, Tony, agrees to $US0.50. Sure, we could have haggled harder like some of the other groups seem to be doing but that seems petty and I think the agreed price is fair (tuk tuks generally cost tourists $US1-$US2 a trip in any city in Cambodia – though I’m sure some haggle harder).
Our guesthouse is out of town. The gravel road is bumpy but I’m quite looking forward to being outside the city for a change. It’s peaceful, quiet and immediately rural even just this short 1km distance from the centre of town.
Tony offers to take us on a full day sightseeing trip of the surrounding countryside for $US15 tomorrow. I don’t want to commit so ask for his number. Later some internet research shows that most bloggers have paid $20-30 a day for a driver who speaks English so $US15 seems like a good price.
We eat linner (lunch+dinner) at about 4pm. There was no food on the bus. The restaurant at our guesthouse has delicious and cheap food. Later we will discover they stole the menu from the White Rose restaurant in town. It’s literally a photo copy – haha.
Battambang city had a pretty riverside centre. There’s waterfront food tents. Women take a aerobics classes in the parks. Lean muscular young men do chin ups and acrobatics on a set of monkey bars (the sort of acrobatics you see on Facebook from time to time). Children play soccer. Couples kick a hacky sack to each other. And old people sit on park benches taking it all in. It’s so pretty even the millions of bugs don’t bother me too much.