Ever fancied getting away for the weekend? Maybe you are an erudite city slicker who yearns for a less mean, more green environment?
Perhaps you are a bored country bumpkin who hankers for the illicit and anonymous delights and bright lights of the Golden Sorryass Mall and endless rows of iniquitous dens which simply don’t exist out in the provinces.
You could be either/or and still want to go to see that big temple and various rocks in a field that they have in Siem Reap. And, everybody likes to be beside the seaside.
Whether it’s a break from the noise and grime or an escape from the swamps, everyone needs a change of scene from time to time.
Until recently there were only a few options related to cross-province travellings;
1. Your own transport
A handful of readers are obviously hard working enough and/or sufficiently financially secure to afford their own 4 wheels (or work for NGOs). Well done chaps, but this article is not for you, unless the price of petrol and limited parking opportunities are bothersome.
Motorbikes are great for a couple of hundred kilometers, or a decent road trip and adventure, but riding one all day leaves you exhausted and aching; besides, the dangers of accidents and mechanical mishaps plus the knowledge that one has to repeat the journey in the other direction doesn’t help one to unwind for a couple of days.
2. The private/shared taxi
If you have real friends who are prepared to fork out a bit of cash and laugh in the face of death, squeeze yourself into a poorly serviced cut n’ shut Camry and allow a suicidal nut-job to crank up the tunes, put pedal to the metal, overtake trucks around blind bends, swerve aboutcows, overuse the horn and shout into the wrong side of a cheap Nokia; all at the same time, at 120kmp/h.
There is the advantage of requesting your own piss-stops, beer buying and fag breaks, which are necessary, should your driver be fresh from a wedding and/or ripped to the tits on a combination of cheap, banned-outside-Asia ‘energy’ drinks and crystal meth.
Comfort is lost when crammed in with 6-12 people eagerly yacking to the river over the aural assault of popular songs, sometimes played on an 8 inch DVD screen as the death trap speeds along, overloaded with a trunk full of fruit and the occasional chicken.
Whittle away the hours by trying to figure out exactly which of the 6 passengers riding on each other’s laps in the front seats is actually driving, or whether some elaborate system is in place, of one doing the pedals as another does the wheel.
3. The public bus
A plethora of companies exist, ready to ferry you about to your destination. When they’re not crashing into things, extra loud kare-bloody-oke movies blast out ‘entertainment ’intermingled with poor quality Chinese movies dubbed into Khmer.
On rare occasions, an episode of Mr Bean is shown as a special treat. The upbeat tempo with accompanied screeching is particularly grueling on the night bus, when, without warning, the driver gets bored, so decides to wake everyone up for a 3am singsong.
Then there’s the comfort factor: the seats aren’t terrible, but not great either. The good folks in front will push their seats back; yours won’t budge.
Passengers will scream into phones over the music, babies will scream louder and at least somebody will be sick.TB is coughed into the recycled air, which is either malfunctioned or on too high. Extra passangers can sit on plastic picnic chairs in the aisles, and the buses with toilets honk to high heaven.
Depending on the company the trip will be either long or longer. Frequent stops are made to drop off a box, pick up new passengers, let people go for a piss and allow for eating every hour and a half. Along with the breakdowns a 300km journey can take 7-9 earsplitting and stomach churning hours.
On arrival a pack of tuk-tuks and motodops will bang on windows, grab at bags and body and offer a range of services, when all one really wants is to stretch one’s legs, get one’s bearings and maybe smoke a cigarette.
The saving graces for the likes of Rith Mony, Crapital, Sorry-Ah et al is that they are
b) Get you there in the end
c) The only regular, reliable way to travel about the country…….. until now
4. The new minibus service.
OK…..now this is going to sound like an infomercial/product placement, but I still had to pay for the ticket like everybody else.
After rave reviews from others who had used these minibuses, I decided it was high time to visit the big city to see the sites and buy a new pair of trousers.
There are 2 companies which have sprung up: RithMony and Golden Banyon Express, with both offering a speedy trip.
I booked a ticket from Battambang with Golden Banyon, through Dirk at Ganesha Guesthouse for $9, ready for the 2.30 pickup.
A shiny, new and judging by appearance, mechanically sound Toyota minibus turned up on time. A polite young man opened the door, I hopped in and we were off.
For this trip, there were only 3 other passengers, the driver and the driver’s mate. The air-con blasted as we sped down the much improved Highway 5. The boy behind the wheel wasn’t messing around, but didn’t seem hell bent on the destruction of all lives and property either. And, with real suspension, the bumps were bumpy but not spinal cordinjury inducing.
If staring out a window at blurry rice fields and buffalo isn’t your thing, there is the added bonus of onboard free Wi-Fi , so you can entertain family and friends across the globe with regular updates on Facebook or Twitter. ‘I’m on a bus, driving fast with wifi lol’, ‘nearly hit a moto @pursat LMFAO’ etc.
Around Kampong Chhnang the driver has a break for 10-15 minutes in orderto eat. Then it’s back in and no stop ‘till Phnom Penh, reaching the outskirts of the city within 4 hours.
What with the traffic and the convoys of electioneering, it took a little longer to get to the final drop-off, which is and central at PsarThmey.
I must say that the speed, comfort and service in general left me impressed and I refused to even entertain the notion of taking the ‘normal’ bus for my return, or ever again.
After a few days of sightseeing and clothes shopping, I booked the 2.30pm PP-BtB service, with the minibus picking me up from the hotel.
The Golden Bayon Express Company shuttles several times a day to and from Phnom Penh’s Psar Thmey to Battambang, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Advance booking is recommended, as the demand will no doubt grow as the service becomes more established and the tourists start returning after rainy season.
So, for the extra few dollars, the idea of travel becomes less burdensome, but still as thrilling.
Undoubtedly there will be accidents, death and tears before bedtime. Time, they say, is money, speed is king, and not having to sit next to an elderly peasant hacking up sputum into a plastic bag between munching fried crickets for half a day is well worth the extra.