Reasons to Travel – Number Five – Even Wigging Out Goes Right

Reasons To Travel 5

Reasons to Travel – Number 5

Even Wigging Out Goes Right 

Having booked one of the many “express buses” (I won’t say which company)  from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, my partner and I boarded the ford transit with 15 comfy leather black seats knowing that we would beat the slow bus back to Phnom Penh by an hour or so.  The express bus is $10.00 as compared to $6.00 for the cheapest bus ticket from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, but on the basis that it would be a more comfortable ride we were happy to pay the money.  We pulled out of the garage, slowly working our way through the traffic out of Siem Reap.  Sitting on the back seat with a full view into the drivers mirror I sat back and relaxed into the journey.  I had been on a number of these express buses without incident or injury…..until now.

About ten minutes into the trip something changed, the driver knocked up the revs and dropped a couple of gears – the slow winding journey quickly turned into a 85 miles per hour crazed version of frogger, something similar to being in a video game dodging cows, other cars, the occasional brave dog and the buses that we were passing.  I was getting nervous.

Twenty minutes in and the speed had cranked up a few notches again, we were now doing 97 miles an hour on the wrong side of the road past buses and trucks weaving in and out of the traffic.  I was staring directly at the driver in the mirror and fully noticing the occasional wide yawn and him closing his eyes for just a second or two.  Was this guy getting sleepy? His head bobbed up and down, he picked it back up again, stretched his eyes open wide, cranked down his window and opened up a bottle of water – yep he was feeling sleepy, yep we were still going about 100 miles per hour.  That was it, my wig out had started, I held on for the best part of an hour slowly getting more and more panicky each time we whizzed past a truck, only to see another truck facing us down head on, flashing his lights and beeping his horn.  My arse hoop was twitching like an otter’s nose – this was not enjoyable at all.

An hour in to the ride and I was the colour of a snowman, perched on the edge of my seat leaning forward staring intensely in the drivers mirror, the speed had cranked up again – the countryside outside our window now just a blur of green and brown as our driver was setting his new land speed record.

A short distance ahead, a cow stepped into the road, our driver noticed it but only twenty feet or so away from impact – we swerved violently into the other side of the road, I could see the face of the oncoming truck driver – I actually saw the drivers mouth fall open agog with anticipation, we swerved back and the truck sailed past us.  That was it for me, my wig out had reached stage ten I was getting off – right here right now.  “Stop the f**king bus”.

It took five minutes to slow down from warp factor 9 and pull over to the side of the road.  We were 20kms outside of Kampong Thom about half way between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap – Despite protests from the bus driver that he was a good driver I was not getting back on, my girlfriend also stepped off with me, she knew a full wig out when she saw one.

The bus took off at light speed down the road – we were out in the sticks, no ride, no bus station, 20km from the nearest town, two big backpacks miles away from anywhere…”I am so sorry.” She was incredibly chilled and just suggested we started walking.  20km to go and we could get another bus from Kampong Thom.

I felt bad, but I would have eaten a dog’s poo before getting back on the Ford Transit, admittedly the tequilas the night before in the Siem Reap Hostel may have added to my anxiety – either way walking was my preferred option at this point.

1km down the road we walked past a small bottle gas station, two old Khmer guys were sat chilling out drinking rice wine looking at these crazy westerners walking down the road. One of the old men asked if we spoke French, unforgivably after four years of living in France my French is broken at best but I explained that we needed to head to Kampong Thom and that our mini bus driver had a career ahead of him in formula one.  The old men both started to giggle.  A mobile phone came out; two minutes later a young Khmer guy pulled up on his moto and walked towards us “Hi guys – you ok?”

Monoreth Beav had learnt English whilst working at an NGO in Siem Reap, he was back in his home village because his mother had fallen down some newly constructed steps in her house and needed help with her recovery.  We told Monoreth how we had come to be sat by the side of the road, at which point he instantly offered to take us into town on his moto or if we would like to we would be welcome to stay with his family at his house.  I looked at my girlfriend “What do you think?” we both agreed – Why the hell not.

There are some seventy families in his village, and it became quite apparent that our guide knew everyone.  As we drove back up the road on the back of Monoreth’s moto people started to wave at us, they would come out of their houses to shout “Hello Hello” to us soliciting the required “Hello Hello” back in return.  This wig out had resulted in my upgrade from paranoid hung over tourist on a freakishly fast bus from hell to oddball village celebrity.

Monoreth explained that because of the rain and the resulting lake expansion his village had become flooded completely ruining this season’s rice crop. On arriving at his sister’s house we had to wade through two feet of water up to the steps that led to the upstairs stilted long house.  We were welcomed by Monoreth’s mother who explained that they would love us to stay, although the air conditioning wasn’t working at the moment, she then absolutely cracked herself up laughing.

Five minutes later we were wading from the house back out into the road for a tour of the village. Monoreth walked us one kilometre down a flooded track to the family house. On arrival his father welcomed us in English and French, a quick look into the eyes of this kindly old man completely put us at ease. “I am sorry if our house or the food is not good enough for you” he said softly with smiling eyes and explained that we would be completely safe with a genuine concern. We assured him that we were incredibly grateful, it was obvious that the family had gone out of their way to help us feel comfortable and we were genuinely happy to stay with them.

After a quick tour of the family house and the pictures on the wall and a quick Facebook update on Beav’s car battery-run computer we were led outside to view the animals.

Beav had two dogs, about 12 cows shared between his family, a couple of water buffalo for working in the rice fields.  Water buffalo cost around $700.00 USD and up to $1000.00 for a big one, I patted a water buffalo that I had decided to call Earnie – I hadn’t met a water buffalo before.

There were a plethora of chickens and surprisingly enough a few turkeys, one of which I named Terrance.  I hadn’t seen any Turkeys in Cambodia and I asked him how he had come to get them. He had bought them in Siem Reap to fatten up for sale later in the year. I started explaining that turkeys were a rarity for me and that we normally eat them at Christmas or special occasions in the UK, Monoreth’s eyes widened as his face broke into a big beaming smile “Then tonight we eat Turkey!” he shouted and ran off around the yard after one of the birds.

I felt guilty, the rice crop had obviously failed and now this guy that had picked us up from the side of the road was about to chop up his later year income to feed us – it was too late to protest he already had Terrance upside down by the legs and was walking back up the road towards his sister’s house.  Turkey for dinner was written in stone at this point. Poor Terrance.

Monoreth’s sister’s house has a wide open space on the top floor, three young kids, two small girls and a boy were watching a Thai soap opera dubbed into Khmer intensely on a small colour TV wired into a car battery.  They were too plugged into the TV to give us much notice apart from the smallest one who looked at us, looked scared for a second and then went back to the TV preferring her TV reality to that of the long house.

We were shown to our room with a grass mat on the floor, two pillows and a mosquito net draped over for our protection.  “This is your room,” he stated, adding that his sisters were downstairs chopping up turkey.  Monoreth’s mum would poke me, beam a smile at us and then start speaking in Khmer, Monoreth would translate where required in between fits of laughter.  It was obvious that his mum was the comedian in the family.  We were given two light woven sarongs to wrap around ourselves and instructed to shower, my sarong just about covered my arse cheeks and left my nads package in full frontal view. This was an intense source of amusement for the family – “Srey Sart” I said to them whilst twirling around in my new gear – they fell about laughing and giggling to themselves.

My girlfriend and I stood on the porch and showered ourselves down using the hand pot and a bucket of fresh water, we were clean and relaxed and food smells were wafting up from the ground floor.  It would soon be time to hoof down Terrance the Turkey.

Terrance came in the form of two bowls of soup, one, which I was reliably informed, were Terrance’s wings, the other was “Turkey pieces”.  The meat had been boiled up in a pot with lemon grass and spices.  We were served first as the guests of the family and ate with the elders, it was difficult to know where to draw the line at eating enough whilst still leaving sufficient for the rest of the family.  Full of delicious Terrance wings, we stayed around chatting with the family and hit our carefully prepared bed at around 9pm.  I don’t know what it is about staying out in the country but I was asleep near instantly only to be woken at 6am by the kids shouting the house down.

The sun was brightly lighting up the long house and there was Terrance bits and rice porridge being served for breakfast.  After breakfast, thanking the family and stopping for a group photograph and a dance with the kids we were shown to Monoreth’s and his brother moto for the 20km drive into Kampong Thom.  Here we would board the bus to Phnom Penh and be back on our way.

On arrival at the bus station I offered Monoreth some money to help pay for the moto fuel and in recompense for Terrances early demise, he wouldn’t take it, instead insisting that he was happy we had seen his village and that we must come back the next time we visited Kampong Thom.

That’s the thing about living in Cambodia, sometimes even your wig outs turn into amazing adventures that completely restore your faith in other people.  I certainly won’t be boarding an “Express bus” again – I am absolutely committed to visiting my new friends and I have an order in for Christmas turkey organically grown in Kampong Thom.