February 14, 2015
Progress was excruciatingly slow. Countless motorbikes zoomed past us in a free-for-all, like a swarm of angry wasps. On the edges of the road, people rode bicycles with trailers carrying stacks of wood for cooking. Sometimes they wore face masks, but almost never helmets. Once a guy on a primitive tractor, with huge wheels and a tiny motor, hogged the middle of the road, going a few miles per hour as his machine chuffed out smoke. Whenever we tried to pass him, we launched ourselves through a big rut, then battled the oncoming traffic until we finally gave up, tucking in behind him. Half an hour went by before he finally pulled over; the line behind him must have been hundreds of cars long.
We drove through a few small towns, but for the most part there was a single line of houses along the highway, and rice fields and cornfields behind them, stretching into the distance. On both sides of the road, between clouds of dust from passing motorcycles, we could see coconut palms, banana palms, run-down houses on stilts, nice houses with shingled roofs and painted walls, street vendors, cows, the Tonle Sap River, people lounging in their front yards, and kids playing. Every now and then we saw a Buddhist temple.
The bus itself was a huge contradiction from the outside world. I plugged my laptop into an AC outlet, logged onto the WiFi network and made updates to my website. It was blisteringly hot outside, but nice and cool inside. And even though the road was in such bad shape, the bus's shocks were of the highest quality, so I was able to take a few naps along the way. Some of my companions managed to sleep for 90% of the ride. Luckily our driver didn't sleep, nor did he remove his eyes from the road. He had his work cut out for him, keeping us safe from the chaos around us, but he remained calm. Maybe it was the music.
We arrived in Siem Reap late in the afternoon. The city was busy, but a little more laid back than Phnom Penh. The streets were packed with tourists, many of whom were making a side-trip from nearby Thailand, so this would be the only part of Cambodia they would see. Unfortunately, our group wouldn't see much more on this whirlwind trip. When we reached the bus station, we gathered our stuff and jumped into tuk tuks for the ride across town to our hotel. From there we unpacked, showered and got ready for a day of visiting the famous temples of Angkor Wat.