January 1, 2015
Yesterday we left Siem Reap fairly early and got back on a Giant Ibis bus to return to Phnom Penh. We needed to get to Kampot for the night which is another 2.5 hour drive south toward the coast. However, the Giant Ibis bus for Kampot would leave before we arrived in Phnom Penh, so we initially thought we would just grin and bear a $50 cab fare. However, since it was New Year’s Eve, taxis were trying to charge us $75 or $80! (We really should have flown from Siem Reap but Zach didn’t want to spend the money at the time; hindsight is always 20/20.) So we asked the attendant on the bus how we should get to Kampot and she suggested a shared taxi. We definitely didn’t understand the full meaning of this but it sounded reasonable so we agreed. She offered to help us as well, so we stayed on the bus after reaching Phnom Penh and eventually she found a driver going to Kampot. We paid $15/person and got in the front seat of a very old mini van.
Already we could tell that this would be a very long ride. A shared taxi follows the logic of a local bus – you pick people up along the way and drop them off where they need to go. Except on this “bus” you try to put as many people inside as you can so that you can make more money. There is a driver and a handler. The handler sits in the back and yells out the window asking people if they are going to Kampot – or where ever they are driving. Then he handles the cash and packs as many people in as he can. Since our van was not full when we were placed in the front (there were two seats) we spent a lot of time waiting for the driver and handler to fill up the van to an acceptable capacity. There were so many people in the back we couldn’t even count them all! Thankfully, we were seated fairly comfortably in the front with our bags.
After quite some time – we had stopped to let out 9 people so far – we pulled over to a market and everyone got out. We were pretty puzzled (and exhausted) but we waited in the front seat. Then after about 10 minutes we were told to get out and get in a different van. We were perturbed because we’d been told that they would go all the way to Kampot and now they weren’t! We didn’t really have much option though. They weren’t going to continue to drive us and we couldn’t get other transportation at that point. So we got in the new van’s front seat which was only a single seat – I was mostly on the center console. We sat the rest of the way to Kampot in one seat together with all of our bags on top of us. It was miserable.
It wasn’t all bad though. At one of the stops our new driver bought us some meat on a stick and we picked up a Khmer man who spoke a little English. He chatted with us about our trip and where we were from. He even offered to let us stay at his house! It was nice to experience a little friendliness after such a long day.
When we finally arrived in Kampot, 4 hours after we left Phnom Penh, we didn’t want to track down a tuk tuk, so we each hopped on the back of a motorbike (with our bags) and were whisked away to our guest house, Les Manguiers. Their New Year’s Eve party was in full swing when we arrived, and we felt a little awkward walking right into the jubilee. After we settled in though, we had dinner and drinks and enjoyed the last few hours of 2014 not in a car but on a wooden swing with some red wine.
Happy New Year!