Almost the last journey we take in Cambodia, from Kampong Cham to Stung Treng. We knew it would be quite a long one, told 5 hours but that is never the real time. We’ve now been on the bus for 6 hours and still a long way to go and I’m getting fidgety and a bit grumpy. Then I started thinking….it’s supposed to be about the journey. And this journey has highlighted that Cambodia is actually still a third world country that is trying desperately to be something else.
Some of the stuff that’s made me realise this; the bus has families of four sharing 2 seats because they can only afford to buy 2 seats. My air conditioning (which is in reality an airvent that lets in the dusty fumey air from outside) is just a hole and the previous occupant obviously didn’t want the full blast so shoved the curtain in it. We make so many unscheduled stops to collect and drop off people as well as motorbikes and hessian sacks full of grain, rice, potatoes. There is no room for these, as there isn’t for our rucksacks, so they’re all laid out in the aisles. One of the stops is on the side of the road next to a shrubby area where, yep you guessed it, everyone gets off the bus, runs into the undergrowth and pees. I could not believe that so many people could disappear so quickly into half a dozen bushes.
Most of the journey is on National Highway 7. Sounds pretty grand and you’d probably expect something like the A1. Not here, about 30% of the journey is on unmade roads that the driver seems to continue to take at the highest speed his overloaded bus can take. We’re bumped and thrown around while he sounds his horn at anything that gets in the way. In his way is everything from small children, motorbikes, lorries to, of course, oxen pulling carts. The unmade road is lined with Khmer style houses on stilts, some selling fruit and beer. Every house has dogs with puppies and the women with as many babies as the dogs. The washing out draped across a fence and strung between the shrubs. The red dust from the traffic on the unmade roads covers them and the banana trees and bushes making the fresh green that does show look even more vibrant. There are swathes of scrub land that they don’t seem to know what to do with so they set fire to them leaving black parched earth. On the very edge of the ‘road’ is a continuous layer of rubbish, mostly plastic bags but also odd shoes. And finally, we have been on the bus so long now that my insect repellent has worn of and the mosquitos are closing in!
We still get smiles and waves when they see a white face so that makes all of this less frustrating and a bit more real.