Bus Travel in Cambodia

A little story about busses and being rescued by Mr. Lucky…

A few days ago I bought a bus ticket to go to Phenom Penh today. You could pay $5, $8, or $12, the difference being the number of hours the bus journey would take would be 8, 6, and 5 hours respectively. I figured my misery level after 5 hours on the bus would be pretty high so I shelled out $12 for a 5 hour trip. The bus company was an hour late picking me up so the hotel owner, who was an Australian guy, asked me which company I booked through. I showed him my ticket and he said, “Oh mate, you’re in for a rough one, you’ll be on that bus till 6:00 tonight.” At the time it was 10:00 AM.

He said he’d do me a favor by having a friend of his pick me up at the station in Phnom Penh. He said this was an old family friend that he often suggests to female travelers because he is courteous and charges fairly. “His name is Mr. Lucky.” he said. I was relieved because tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia can be very difficult. For instance, if they get sponsored by a hostile they will tell you the hostel you booked has burned down and take you to the other one instead. Or they will look at the address, agree and then take you to the wrong one anyway. You have to be very assertive in getting the right driver and a fair price. It was going to be a long day, so one convenience helped.

The bus picked me up soon afterwards and I sat next to all the other tourists who had paid a variety of prices as well as locals who no doubt paid less than us. All in all it wasn’t a bad ride, the bus was overfilled and they placed stools in the aisle for people to sit on. Chickens only got standing room. I sat next to a German guy and two foul-mouthed British girls who had good stories to tell (not to stereotype, but if you’re going to be on a long bus ride, you want to sit next to a British girl who curses like a sailor).

Once it hit 5:00 PM the bus was starting to lose its edge. It got dark and we still hadn’t arrived. Everyone started getting grumpy, even the locals. Then the driver stopped, told us we could get out if we wanted and proceeded to wash the bus with a giant floor broom. Apparently he wanted us to arrive in style. I was hungry and exhausted.

Finally, we pulled into the city around 7:00.  When I looked out the window I saw the bus was getting mobbed by eager tuk-tuk drivers. You would have thought the Beatles had arrived.  I figured Mr. Lucky was long gone and I’d have to brave the mob, but to my surprise I saw a paper with the words “Welcome Rachel Walla” scrawled across it. I think I let out an audible “awww!” He smiled and said he was glad to see me and that he had only been waiting since 4:30.

When we got to my hotel I tried to pay and he said no, that if I wanted to go to the museum tomorrow he would take me. I said I did and we agreed on a time. Mr. Lucky and I toured around Phenom Penh together for the next four days.  The bus was the worst, Mr. Lucky was the best.