Crossing Over

Virg and I decide to take the 930am bus leaving for Siem Reap, mainly to avail of the breakfast at the hotel. The night before, the hotel receptionist reserved our tickets for $22.00 each, at Khai Nam Transportation. She assured us that the bus company is good, and not the same as the one with bad reputation according to online forums.

At quarter to 9am, we hail a cab to take us to the office of Khai Nam. From there, a representative accompany us to a side street where a van picks us up to take us to the bus station. The driver is very nice and helps us in putting our luggage inside the compartment. When we board the bus, there are a handful of passengers, and thankfully, there are a couple of teenagers who translate everything for us, and the driver just keeps on agreeing with them. We settle in our seats and discover free 500-mL water bottle for each passenger. I think to myself, this is a great way to start our journey.

   

Big blue bus to Cambodia
Interiors of the big blue bus

We stop at another place and more passengers board the bus and we are off to the border. As the bus moves farther away from the city, I discover a different side of Vietnam, it is still teeming with motorbikes, but with more space. After a while, a man asks all of us for our passports

After two hours, we reach Moc Bai, where our passports are stamped before we officialy leave Vietnam and enter Cambodia. We enter the building, use the restroom, then, wait in the corridors until someone calls our names out. There is no queue, but everybody waits for his turn amidst a mild chatter. When they call my name, I have to find my way through a mosh pit and exit through the back door and find our big blue bus. Since several of the buses are big and blue, I wait for Virg then we just look for some of the co-passengers we remember and follow them. Very close to the border are a couple of casinos.

A marker near the border
One of the most prominent structures right after the border is this casino

A short ride from the border (18 minutes), the bus stops and we have lunch at a place called Khai Nam, and I do not think that it is a coincidence. Through one of the teenagers, the driver informs us that we have to be back within 30 minutes. With my stomach growling, I head inside. The place is packed, but, thankfully, the service is efficient and they accept US dollars, besides Cambodian riel. Two servings of rice, chicken with ginger and fish with vegetables cost $4.50. We drink the water provided by the bus. The chicken with ginger tastes very close to Filipino food, so I dig in with gusto.

Our big blue bus stopped at this big blue place
Inside Khai Nam restaurant
This is where we order our food
First meal on Cambodian soil–chicken with ginger

With our corporal hunger satisfied, we board the bus and while the rest of the time looking at verdant scenery and being entertained by a beautiful angel.

Cambodian countryside as seen from inside the big blue bus
Riding a bus for 6.5 hours is bearable due to the presence of this adorable girl

A couple of hours after, the bus stops to wait for our turn to board a ferry in order to cross the river. We are lucky that only three or four vehicles are in front of us, so the waiting time lasts for only 15 minutes. It takes around that same time for the ferry to take us to the other side of the river, then we continue on our way to Pnom Penh.

Tuktuks parked near the river
The ferry that we board to cross the river
On the ferry while crossing the river
An enterprising woman aboard the ferry

We arrive in Pnom Penh at 410pm and take our things out of the compartment, only to find out that the bus that will take Virg and I (the other passengers’ final destination is Pnom Penh) to Siem Reap will leave at 7pm. I do the math and realize that we will arrive in Siem Reap at 1 or 2 am! The receptionist told us that our bus will be nonstop. I talk to the woman in the office to ask her if she can find an earlier trip. We do not understand each other, but there is a desk calendar on the table so I point at 4 several times only to realize that it is already 425pm. Hahaha. I point at 5 several times, do some charades moves then she calls her relatives, et voila! before 5pm, a van screeches its way to the office door. She shoos us out of the office and into the van. It is a spacious van with only 5 passengers inside. I am grateful for this twist of fate.

Our ride from Pnom Penh to Siem Reap

That is shortlived. The driver drives like a maniac, and I think that is saying something because I live in Manila where traffic signs are considered as mere suggestions or nuisance by most (which is a really bad thing). To make matters worse, 90% of the roads are dirt roads, so we bounce up and down at the back of the van like errant atoms in heat.

Before we leave Pnom Penh, I get a glimpse of the Mekong River and marvel at its size and beauty. Just before the sun sets, I see the houses that dot the road, some on stilts, some are more concrete than others, but all of them look magnificent as they stand atop the red soil of Cambodia.

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