The motoscooter-taxi driver waited with me at the place where the “bus” for Road 4 was supposed to stop as he could tell I was anxious. Various areas along the road function as makeshift bus stops. The drivers look for people waiting for a “taxi” and the people also look for the “taxi.” Apparently, I had the appropriate look and a van drove up, slowing to a crawl but never stopping and the back passenger door opened. I asked the women sporting pink fingerless gloves and a round hat where the van/bus/taxi was going. She asked where I was headed. I told her and she said it was the right bus. As the van was still moving slowly, I got in and sat next to her and next to a woman and her little (maybe 3 year old?) girl.
So far, it wasn’t bad at all. The three of us and a middle aged woman in the front seat were the only ones on the bus other than the driver and the woman who sat at the door with her hand out the window showing four fingers, communicating to people on the side of the road we were going to route 4. At eight in the morning, it was still cool and the bus was nice, not run down at all. In fact there was a video player that the driver eventually turned on and showed karaoke, typically khmer tv viewing.
We kept going slowly down the street and picked up more and more passengers, just waiting at the side of the road. A well dressed woman came in. (number 7) Then there was a young man with two big bags of rice and another similarly-sized package. (number 8) I was in the front middle seat so I couldn’t see what was going on behind me. The little girl was very wiggly and very cute. An old woman asked where it was going and then how much. The girl said six thousand (equivalent of $1.50). The women said no, five ($1.25) and was ready to let the bus pass by. Okay, okay, she let her come for five thousand. (number 9) People kept coming in, filling the back seat. (numbers 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15) Finally, the bus slowed for a wiry woman who was adamant about her price. After a bunch of negotiating, with her head turned away she boarded the van, sitting next to me and making the woman who minded the door stand with the door opened, holding onto the roof of the vehicle. (number 16)
After we got a bit further out of town two young girls boarded. (numbers 17, 18) A more well-to-do couple also got on. (numbers 19, 20) The wiry woman shifted up to the front and the two girls sat on two little plastic stools between the two front passenger seats. The woman who sat next to me was taken by the little girl next to me. The girl was fair with brown rather than black hair. She asked the mother if it was hers and what nationality she was. She told the mother the child was beautiful, so fair, and she couldn’t believe she was hers. (This happened several times.) By the time we were a ways outside of Phnom Penh, we had 23 people and some big bags of stuff. People were sitting in between the front seats, two in the front passenger seat, and some were sitting on the floor of the vehicle in the way back. Despite this craziness, I felt comfortable.
I realized that the fact I could understand all of the conversation made the experience much less intimidating than similar firsts I’ve experiences in other trips to Cambodia. It was a welcomed change.
The way home was a bit different. Although now I was already seasoned (well, with one trip under my belt), I wasn’t quite ready for the very different experience of the ride home. The woman I had visited asked the folks inside a van which was stopped if they were going to Phnom Penh (but with the roads the way they are in Cambodia, there’s no other likely destination). They said yes and so she opened the door and I climbed in next to a woman in the middle-back seat. Early afternoon was not a pleasant time to be stuck in the van with a bunch of people. It was very hot and very sweaty. We sat there and I realized there was no driver. I also realized that we couldn’t open the back sliding door from the inside. When the driver returned he started the vehicle and zipped in and out of traffic passing on the right when it suited him and at the next small town had us all file out and climb into another van. In this short ride, the van felt a bit like a death trap–no way to escape and no control over the decisions about when and where to pass. This second shady experience helped convince me to find an alternative method of transportation. And so the search for a car was born…