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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Cambodia, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Transportation, Travel, Wet Season

Transportation Woes in Cambodia


From Siem Reap, we were making our way to a northeastern province of Cambodia called, Ratanakiri. Now, Cambodia is not a huge country, and on the map, a straight line from Siem Reap to Ratanakiri doesn’t look that far. The only problem is, there aren’t yet roads that go from point A to point B, so we had a bit of a journey ahead of us.

We decided to break our stay up in Kratie, but had to go via Kampong Cham to get there, so we booked tickets in Siem Reap for the entire journey, and boarded our first bus. We made it to Kampong Cham with no problems, but once we arrived there, we were told there were no other buses going to Kratie that day. We were getting mixed stories- some people told us the bus had left earlier that day, others said the bus was broken, so after making a few phonecalls and haggling with some locals, we were told that someone would drive us to Kratie for free.

We spotted an English couple, who were in the same predicament as us, and they had paid the same driver to take them to Kratie too. So, it was a bit of a squeeze, with three in the back and one up front and our bags, but I guess our driver didn’t think so. As we were pulling away, a lady ran over and asked for a ride, and he obliged, so she jumped in the back too. Ok, this was really a squeeze! Then, wouldn’t you know, about 20 minutes into the 2-hour drive, a man standing on the side of the road flagged us down and he jumped in too. So we now had four people in the back seat, and two in the front along with the driver. And we were in a very old Nissan Altima, or something of the like.

We were making our way to Kratie, and just hoping to get there quickly, but we were also noticing that the roads were getting progressively worse. Wet season was wreaking havoc on the unpaved, red muddy roads. We were beginning to slide around a lot, but so far nothing had set us back too much. Oh, did I speak too soon?? As we made our way to an upcoming bridge, we saw that traffic had come to a standstill, due to the fact that a truck was stuck in the mud, literally on the bridge itself. There was no getting around it, so we began to wait.

After about an hour of waiting, and no immediate help in sight, our driver was ingenious enough to find someone on the other side of the bridge who was going to Kampong Chum, so he could basically switch passengers with him. Great idea, but this entailed a ½-mile walk across the bridge in red mud that was coming up to our ankles. With each step, I lost more footing, so I decided to lose the flip flops- I could get more traction that way. Now with each step, this gooey red mud was seeping between my toes and I was just praying I would make it to the other side without falling over.

We all made it to the next taxi without toppling over, tried to rinse our feet in rain puddles and got into the car just as more rain was beginning to fall. By the time we reached Kratie, it was monsooning. We checked into a guesthouse and learned that the only ATMs in Kratie (and most of Northern Cambodia for that matter) were only Visa friendly. That was a bit unfortunate seeing as we both had Mastercards. We had enough money for our guesthouse, dinner and bus tickets to Ratanakiri, and we rose early the next morning to organize a Western Union transfer- Phew, dodged that bullet.

Kratie was just a stopping over point to break up the journey, and to scrub our feet! We left the next afternoon bound for Ratanakiri, with a short stopover in Stung Treng. Kratie to Stung Treng was no more than an hour journey, on a half empty bus. We then waited for the second bus, which arrived looking a little worse for wear. We boarded and got the first two seats behind the driver. We drove on a paved road for about 30 minutes and then it was back to red mud roads.

Our driver proceeded to drive as fast on these roads as he did on the paved roads, despite the mud and numerous pot holes, and every time we hit a pot hole, the bus sounded like a tin can that was about to collapse.

This journey seemed to be taking forever. After about two hours in, we reached a flooded town, where we proceeded to literally cross a river.(I was learning just what engines can handle!) Not to mention, we were sliding all over these roads. After about 6 hours into the journey that was supposed to take 4 hours, I was getting antsy. Surely, we had to be close, right? The roads were getting worse, and we came upon another bus that was stuck in the mud, so after maneuvering around that, I was also wondering if we were going to make it.

Shortly after this thought entered my head, we got stuck, and as we tried to get unstuck, the driver managed to reverse the bus off the road at an incline. It wasn’t a pretty site. Everyone got off the bus, as he attempted to get the right side of the bus back on the road, but it wasn’t working. We found out we were literally 10 kilometers from town. Ah, to be so close, but with no help…this could take all night.

After about 30 minutes, a tractor pulled up, and the drivers chained it to the front of the bus, and after a few attempts, we had success! We finally arrived in Ratanakiri at 11:00 that night, only about four hours later than scheduled. Thank you wet season!