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Monday 15 Jul 2013
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Night bus adventures

Today was our last day with the full Kom Da Brush gang.  I'm not sure when Kom Da Brush started being our catchphrase, but it was definitely Kye who started it.  One of his favourite sayings was 'Come at me, Bro', which at some point got translated into Swedish as 'Kom da brush'.  We all loved the sound of it and that was that.  Kye and Krysia were headed on to Bangkok while the rest of us were headed down to Sihanoukville on Cambodia's south coast for a few days of beach relaxation.  Most of us had barely stopped for three weeks so we were ready for a break. 

We'd read about a bar called Aqua which had a swimming pool so made our way over there for a quiet afternoon before catching the night bus.  Unfortunately when we arrived we discovered the pool was bright green.  Cambodia, and Siem Reap in particular, has a high iron content in the ground so gets struck by lightning on a very regular basis.  Building work next door to the bar had disturbed the water table and turned the pool bright green as a result.  The owner said we could still swim, but risked dying our clothes, so we decided against it.  We'd been joined by a couple of American lads, who then suggested a nice hotel on the way back into town.  They'd snuck in the day before, so we tried it again.  We just walked boldly through reception as if we belonged there and nobody challenged us.  This pool was beautiful - cool clear water and a big fountain at the end shaped like three elephants.  I felt a little bad for the people who were actually staying there when ten of us piled into the pool, but nobody really seemed to mind.  When Kye, Carl, Simon and one of the American lads started making human pyramids trying to lift each other up, we even got a round of applause from the staff in the pool bar.  It was a very nice way to spend the afternoon.

It was really sad to finally say goodbye to Kye and Krysia after spending the last three weeks with them.  I will definitely keep in touch. They're also travelling for a year so there's always a chance of crossing paths.  Failing that, they live just up the road from my cousins in Australia so I'm sure we'll meet again.

We waited nearly an hour for our bus pick up - something of a pattern for Cambodian buses?  Bundling into the back of a pick up truck in the rain when it finally arrived, we were then driven across town, down a few dirt roads and eventually found the bus once again waiting for us. 

This was my first experience of a Southeast Asian night bus.  They have something of a mixed reputation.  For a start, drivers don't exactly follow the regimented driving hours that EU drivers are restricted to, so it has been know for drivers here to keep going all night with the aid of Red Bull or other more dubious substances.  Failing that, there have been crashes as a result of driver fatigue or drivers racing through the night.  As for life on board, Thailand has some infamous party buses, which cover the distance accomapied by neon lights and loud music; Vietnam has some much more luxurious offerings with individual reclining beds; while other buses just have normal coach seats.  But it is not all bad.  Taking a night bus means covering long distances without wasting the day and saving the price of a night's hostel accommodation.  I was a lot more comfortable travelling with a big group that I would have been on my own.

We had seat numbers marked on our tickets, but when we got on board we found that some of our seats were already occupied.  The bus was divided into two levels with a narrow aisle down the middle.  Each double seat was made up of a flat padded platform with two reclined seat backs, which meant you were up close and personal with the person sitting next to you - not too bad if you knew that person but less fun if it was a stranger.  The bottom level was fairly claustrophobic as there were no windows, while the top level had less space above it, especially if you ended up under the air-conditioning units like we did.

There was no storage space, so my handluggage ended up wedged under the reclined seat back in front or tucked behind my knees in a rather uncomfortable fashion.  I'm not the tallest person (ok, stop laughing) and the only way I could stop myself sliding down the seat the whole time was to lock my knees and brace my feet against the seat back.  This meant I spent the night alternating between with Elvis-disco-legs or my feet going numb where they were pressed into the bar.  But I was definitely better off than some of the others.

Josh ended up sitting next to a Cambodian guy who was already asleep and snoring before we got on.  He alternated between putting his feet up on top of the seatback in front of him - and kicking Jill in the head - or bending his knees up and letting them fall over onto Josh.  Jill and Josh both started off fairly polite about it but by the end of the journey they were simply shoving his legs out of the way regardless.  Carl and Jon had seats booked next to each other, but there were already people in them when we boarded.  They tried to take the unoccupied pair in front of me and Simon, but the conductor was having none of it, insisting there were two more people getting on later.  Instead of moving the people out of the Swedes' allocated seats, he split them up and squeezed them in where there were spaces.  This left 6'4" Carl tucked into the inside seat on the bottom level, where the guy in the aisle seat refused to move over to let Carl put his legs out into the aisle.  Jon fared worst of all, being squashed into the very back corner seat of the bus.  The back row was a good foot shorter than the other rows so he couldn't straighten his legs at all.  This did nothing to help his knees, which are damaged from former tennis injuries.  On top of that, he was under a broken air-con vent so he froze all night.  Poor guy!

Once we'd settled in, Simon and I watched a great documentary film called 'Searching for Sugarman' about an American musician who had no success in the States, but whose albums later became the inspiration to thousands of South African students and musicians and the soundtrack to the anti-apartheid revolution.  The amazing thing is that nobody in South African knew who he was and the various rumours of his demise - everything from setting fire to himself on stage to shooting himself in a protest demonstration - simply added to his intrigue.  Some twenty years later, he was finally tracked down through an internet posting which his daughter answered.  He was then brought over to South Africa to play a series of stadium gigs filled with fans he didn't know existed.  The music was Bob Dylan-esque and the perfect relaxed soundtrack to our night bus journey. 


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