To travel from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh/whatever seemed easy enough. We had planned to splurge a bit and fly the short distance, after all it should only cost $50 or even less right? Wrong. For some reason the route between Saigon and it’s close neighbour Phnom Penh is ridiculously expensive, especially seeming as it’s such a short flight it would mainly be take off and landing. Not even snack serving distance.
After a bit of a rummage around on the internet we gave in and signed up for the bus. A ticket with Kumho Samco bus service cost us $12 via our guesthouse (so probably cheaper still directly from the bus company or agent) and a skinny guy on a motorbike even came to pick us up and take us to the bus stop, even though it was literally around the corner. The trip takes 6.5 hours, so armed with water and an array of snacks we stepped up to the plate. 6.5 hours was a walk in the park compared to some of our other journeys this year so we were pumped.
Ryan and I sat on our bus (surprisingly egg shell and meat scrap-free) and were honestly very comfortable. Apparently they removed some seats and spread the seats out so you get extra leg room- which for us long-legged folk is a god send (insert smuggness here). The seats also recline so far back that you could see the nose hairs of those sitting behind you.
The bus ride and border crossing was pretty painless. We handed over our passports and paid the “bus host” $25 USD for the Cambodian visa and once we arrived at the border he ferried us off the bus and through immigration and then gave us our passports back. Voila! We didn’t even have to provide photos or fill out any gay paperwork ourselves.
About an hour after crossing the border the bus slowed down and the traffic became heavy. We knew that at some point all traffic had to cross a river on a ferry. No there is no bridge and no there is no explanation for the lack of bridge. We just assumed this was what was clogging the traffic flow. An hour later and we still hadn’t moved. Buses, trucks and cars and vans filled with people merged into our lane but as no one seemed to actually be moving forward, this merging was actually just a bunch of vehicles slowly filling every available space, compacting into the lane like a game of traffic tetris.
Skip forward 4 and a half hours. The sun had gone down and we still hadn’t moved. We eventually worked out from some local passengers around us that the reason for the traffic clog was a combination of the road meets river situation and the fact that it was voting day. This pretty much meant that every man and his water buffalo was out on the road, either on his way or returning from voting- something now taken very seriously in Cambodia.
After a total of 5 hours of not moving an inch, our bus host made an announcement in Vietnamese. Loosely translated, he said that our bus must pay the Cambodian police up ahead $55USD to skip the line and cross the river, otherwise we will stay wedged in the traffic jam for another 5 hours or so, perhaps longer. This meant about $2 USD from each passenger, which we begrudgingly gave up. I must admit I was a little pissed off. We had been in this country for no more than 6 hours, 5 of them trapped on an unmoving bus, and we’re already being made to bribe someone? I was cranky…. Well cranky until about 2 minutes later when our bus was slowly directed out of the tangled mess of traffic and we sped up to the front of the queue. We were on the ferry and across the river in no time and speeding down the highway to Phnom Penh. And I’m not going to lie- it felt good.
I guess for me bribing someone sucks when you’re forced to pay for something that should be free or perhaps that you’ve already paid for. Slipping someone in charge a little somethin’ somethin’ and getting special treatment is something that goes on all around the world and has done since the dawn of time. Sometimes corruption is awesome if you’ve got the cash to splash and someone’s willing to take it (which no doubt there always is if the price is right).
But all in all we got where we were going and it only cost us $2 each and 6 extra hours of our time.
Welcome to Cambodia.