In researching travel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, which is about three miles from Angkor Wat, we learned about the night bus. We were at a local B & B/restaurant that books travel from Phnom Penh talking to a young clerk with a goatee (he reminded me of Vince Gaudes). He was very helpful, telling us all our options.
The night bus sounded best, but he said it was “expensive.” It’s a relative term. The tickets were $12 each ($24 for a unit that sleeps two people). Since we were not too happy with the accommodations in Phnom Penh we decided to book the tickets and skip the last night at our hotel, Queen Wood.
We were supposed to be picked up from our hotel at 11 pm. At 11:20 pm I was starting to get nervous. Fortunately, the minivan arrived shortly thereafter. We made two quick stops to pick up more passengers before arriving at the bus station.
We didn’t get much help, really any, from the minivan driver, but after showing our tickets around a bit we found the bus. There were about four locals trying to manage getting several large boxes of oversized durian fruit and passenger luggage into the storage compartment of the bus.
The storage compartment on this type of bus is really huge. So were the durian fruits. They were about two feet long and probably the same around, oblong shaped and plenty smelly. We left our luggage with the arguing porters and got in line to get in the bus. After I saw that our luggage actually made it into the compartment I got on board, where the driver had us remove our shoes and put them in plastic bags.
We made our way down the isle, which was lined with bunk units, lower and upper, on either side. Each unit had two beds, each with a pillow and blanket. Once we figured out which unit was ours we climbed in (we had an upper) and settled in.
At either end of each unit is a small wall and on the far wall a warning was printed in three languages warning passengers to secure valuables. The passenger across the isle from us also warned us about theft.
I took a couple Meclizine tablets (work great!) and once we were underway we watched Dumb and Dumber To on my tablet. Pretty funny, but not at the level of the first.
After the movie, I put all my belongings into my day pack and basically slept on it. Or more accurately, dozed on it. The road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is rough! In many places it was unpaved. The ride was at times very rough and very loud. Still, laying down with your head on a pillow and under a blanket under these conditions is dramatically more comfortable than sitting up in a seat.
I’m guessing the bus left around midnight. At about 2:30 am the bus stopped and the lights came on. Maybe half the people debarked to pee in the shadow of the bus. I got out to find we were on an unpaved portion of the road right up against a big ditch maybe 20 feet deep.
So I’ve been on the bus for two and a half hours, in a country where the temperature demands pretty much constant water consumption, and my bladder is full. Standing on the edge of the ditch next to squatting women and peeing men, knowing, since my bladder is full and I’m over 50 years old, that I’m not going to get a decent stream going. I can’t lean forward for fear of falling into the ditch, so hips thrust forward and shoulders back I’m just dribbling. People are coming and going and I’m still there getting nowhere. Really unpleasant. Really. I gave up. Not the lowest point of the trip, but I’m too old for this stuff.
On the bright side, the sky was stunning. I haven’t been out in the middle of nowhere, away from the lights of the city on a clear night, in a very long time. I wish I would have taken more time to take it in, but I was in a sour mood after failing to empty. 🙁
I got back on the bus and five minutes later we were underway again. Eventually, I fell asleep and dozed on and off. In hindsight, I’d still take the night bus, but book two tickets to have a unit to myself. I like Steil, but sleeping butt to butt with him is pretty low on my list of favorite things to do.
We arrived in Siem Reap about 7:15 am. It took over seven hours to travel just under 200 miles (about 28 miles per hour, did I mention the roads are really bad here?).