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Cambodia

The Bus Brokedown and so did the Frenchman

The important question of the day was where to go once we had crossed over the Cambodian border. The beach at Sianoukville was an 8-9 hour bus and hydrofoil ride away and Phnom Phen a 7 hour bus ride. The tour company told us there was a new road to the capital which would cut down our travelling time and visions of a smooth black asphalt thoroughfare clinched it for us. We opted for Phnom Phen. What the company failed to tell us was that we had to traverse five rivers on wooden ferries, inch over a large amount of rickety wood and stone bridges and ride along a deeply pot holed dirt road to get to it.

Blissfully unaware we all piled into the two mini-buses and set out. About two hours and a couple of rivers later the bus in front broke down. Obviously we couldn’t leave them there so we stopped to offer help. The drivers and male passengers gathered around the open bonnet, looked thoughtfully down into it and scratched their heads – even the ones who didn’t have a clue about car engines. Being female I have no such macho tendencies and an ability to recognise my own limitations in the event of a breakdown i.e telephone for help or leave it to the experts. Being pretty sure that the RACV would not respond to a call for roadside assistance from Cambodia – no matter how valued a customer I was, I headed for the shade.

The boys gradually drifted back as they realised that they were just getting in the way of the driver who had by now pulled out half the engine. We settled in for a long wait and got to know each other. My travelling companions turned out to be a mixed bunch. There was Frenchman (who wore a very bad syrup and fig), some English (too polite to complain about anything) , an Italian (life of the party and dopehead), some Australians (they had the beer) and a German (who didn’t find anything funny at all) . About an hour and a half later the bus was fixed and we all set off. As we lurched across the road to avoid goats, craters, pigs, chickens and human traffic, the Frenchman remonstrated with the driver. “We should ave left zemmm ere and carried on, I zink eett izz reediculous”. As he warmed to the subject, he grew red in the face and gesticulated with his hands to emphasis his point totally unaware that his wig was trying to take flight as the bus bounced up and down. Taking the silence in the bus as agreement with his sentiments he continued to rant whilst the bus occupants watched with fascination as the combined movements of his body and the bus lifted the wig off his head time and time again.
The bus in front broke down again. “Leave zemm, leave zemm” the Frenchman shouted. We stopped and all piled out again. The Frenchman had a tantrum, stamped his feet and looked absurd as his wig listed to one side of his head. Once again men gathered around the open bonnet but discussions seemed a lot more heated.

The Italian drifted back grinning. “Ah belle” he sighed in mock tragedy “the Frenchman he say fuck them and leave them to die of thirst, the German try to organise us into a working team, the Australian say no drama and hand beers out, the English sit back and politely wait, and I the Italian take the piss out of the situation – I find this funny, we all conform to stereotypes no?”

After sending out for a spare part, we lounged by an empty road in the middle of nowhere (or so we thought) to wait. The blonde little poppet in the other bus woke up and her parents brought her out to join us. Suddenly we were surrounded by Cambodians who materialised out of the bush. It seems that blonde children are a real crowd puller and when travelling everyone should carry a spare in the event of emergencies. Two hours later we were on the move again with the ever complaining Frenchman. By the time we reached the new road it was twilight. Here the buses were going to go different ways one to PP and one to the beach. Not fancying arriving in the capital at night we stayed on the bus that was heading for Sianoukville. Anyway, the Frenchman was going to Phnom Phen. It was a no brainer really.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:44 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel bus travellers humour journeys Comments (0)

The Mischevious Italian

Lorenzo lit up a bidi then started to tell us another one of his stories concerning his mis-spent youth which apparently never ended as his tales encompassed his early 30’s, 40’s and current 50’s. He was two marriages down and had an only child who’d followed in his father’s mischievous ways apparently encouraged by parenting skills that would never make it into a staid child rearing book. My opinion is that if they did it would be a best seller.

It was New Year’s Eve, we were sitting in one of the local bars and Lorenzo was regaling us with hilarious tales of past misdeeds. The village, all four 4 streets of it, was dark (no electricity) and very subdued for the time of year. There was no obvious signs of celebration and I would go as far to say that our group was the party. There weren’t a great deal of people around possibly due to the fact that it was the year that the tsunami hit Asia. I’ve heard many stories starting with “we were supposed to be there but” and my story is of a similar nature. Normally there is a break between Christmas and New Year for school holidays (my partner was teaching in Bangkok at the time) and we’d planned to be on one of the islands for the holiday. But for the first time ever the school decided not to close, we had to change our plans and spent Xmas on Ko Samet and New Year in Cambodia. It was a lucky break as the island we had planned to spend the holiday on was hit by the wave.

As our party moved around the bars we became more and more cheerful, Lorenzo more and more expansive and, as the man was permanently lighting up spliffs, more and more stoned. In all the days we were with him I don’t think that slightly glazed look that comes with smoking substances a lot less harmful than a normal cigarette ever left his eyes. The other significant fact that gave the game away was that he always carried a bagful of snacks around with him to stave off the munchies. Things died down after midnight – not hard considering there was only one bar open at that point and about 10 customers. We all dispersed to our respective beds in preparation for a day of recovery on the beach but Lorenzo was still in a celebratory mode and, as he informed us, horny. He decided to head out and use some of his Italian charm on the nearest available female he could find.

The next day we’d been sunbathing for a few hours when we saw Lorenzo weaving his way up the beach. He flopped down beside us and immediately started rooting through his bag for food. Not finding anything suitable he called the nearest vendor over and soon we were surrounded by hawkers. He bought a lot of dodgy looking food off a lot of dodgy looking people and then, as we declined to join him , proceeded to eat it all whilst recounting his exploits of the night. Not finding a single female/brothel/girly bar around the area we were staying, he’d jumped on the back of a bike of some random local who agreed to take him down to the dock area – suitably renumerated of course. After visiting several salubrious areas to no avail he ended up somewhere that you’d only go if you wanted a fight or to get mugged. Amazingly not only did he find a woman to spend the night with but he also returned unharmed and still cashed up.
We left to return to Bangkok but Lorenzo stayed on. Purely by chance a year and a half later we met him again at Bangkok International Airport. He told us that he’d never left Sianoukville, bought a broken down boat, fixed it up and lived onboard with his new girlfriend and her family. For income they took tourists on trips up the river. He’d just returned from a visit to Italy and was heading back to Cambodia. Unfortunately, we never got back to Sianoukville on that particular trip and didn’t manage to take him up on his offer of a boat ride – one experience that I’ve always regretted missing out on.

I’ve no idea if he’s still there, so if you are heading that way look him up for me and say hello. Better still spend some time with him - the man is a comedy show on legs and real nice guy.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:41 Archived in Cambodia Tagged people travel cambodia humour Comments (0)

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