||JOYA THOMAS, Contributor
In Cambodian Khmer, “taxi” must be synonymous with “delivery truck.” In my (now extensive) experience, this is a lot like confusing French champagne with boxed wine.
Photo by Joya Thomas
After getting no sleep at all the previous night lying on a bare, bedbug-ridden mattress in a cement room in the border town of Prek Chak, my nerves were fraying.
Every 10 kilometres or so our delivery-truck-minivan stopped — that is, myself, the driver, the six other passengers and the blaring Khmer radio host — to drop something off, exchange goods for people or vice-versa, and have a snack and a chat.
I felt like Tim Allen in The Santa Clause, endlessly finding myself on a new rooftop — I really could have gone for some boxed wine. Only these houses didn’t have roofs or chimneys; they had corrugated tin and patched plywood. And water buffalo.
My plan to deviate from the tourist trail and enter Cambodia at the new Ha Tien crossing seemed a practical and, better yet, authentic way to get to my island destination off the south coast of Cambodia from the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. After weeks negotiating Southeast Asian cities and transport, I was in serious need of a relaxing retreat — but having already traveled for one entire day, white-sand beaches seemed more distant than ever.
Photo by Joya Thomas
Every hour or so we passed a checkpoint — two lawn chairs, an umbrella and several police officers spread out on the side of the road — at which our driver, at about 5 km/h, would casually hand over a pre-prepared bundle of cash to a sauntering, ample-bellied, cigarette-smoking member of national security before returning to normal speed.
Apparently these “checkpoints” become much more frequent during religious holidays when officers have special gifts and festivities to finance. I suppose this is Cambodia’s answer to state fundraisers.
Cambodia is much less developed than Vietnam, with fewer coherent villages and more stretches of countryside with smatterings of rice fields and rural dwellings. At one such junction of dust and rice paddy, our driver pulled over as he had done a thousand times before. Only this time he indicated that I was to get out of the car. Resisting the urge to grab onto my seat and hold on, I looked wildly around at the nothingness and tried to ask if I had reached the bustling backpacker destination Sihanoukville.
“Sihanoukville, Sihanoukville,” my impatient driver repeated, helping me gather my things (so NOW he’s in a hurry!).
Photo by Joya Thomas
Considering the devastating and very real possibility that I’d been mispronouncing the name of the town, I slowly got out of the car. As if to accentuate my desolation, a lone man and his motorbike awaited me on the road, striking up negotiations as my delivery truck (no longer looking like such a bad option) trailed dust down the dirt road into the distance.
For $2 this opportunist offered to drive me the two hours he said it would take to get to “Sihanoukville.” It was already past noon. I was losing hope.
So you can imagine my surprise when, a mere 10 minutes later, we arrived at a bustling backpacker hub. “Sihanoukville,” said my driver.
What? Does this word have some other meaning? Have we actually arrived? Is he just trying to let me off at the nearest town to save on petrol? In desperation I reached out from the back of the motorbike to a passing Westerner, pleading, “Please, can you tell me, what is the name of this town?!” And with an easy smile he replied with the inevitable, “Sihanoukville!”
Within 20 minutes I had purchased a boat ticket to my precious island and loaded up on used books for my stay, glowing with the good fortune to have reached my destination against all odds. I paid my driver $1 for his service, and tipped him with valuable advice about honest business practices. I’m sure he’ll thank me one day.
And as quickly as that my nemesis became a cheeky friend, my bedbug bites stopped itching and my delivery truck seemed charming and quaint. Wisely put by G.K Chesterson: “An inconvenience is only adventure wrongly considered.”
Joya began traveling with her family at a young age, but took this way of life into her own hands when she went to Thailand after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 to rebuild destroyed homes. After college she bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand with hardly anything in mind but adventure and discovery, and returned nearly two years later having experienced much of both. She now resides in her hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif., working through unearthed questions in her writing and building a small savings for which she harbours much hope. Read more on her blog at The Joyage.
Date Added: July 31, 2012 | Comments (0)
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