“Overbounced, overswayed.”

Disclaimer: the English is really starting to go, so I’m sorry if this entry is, um, less than grammatically perfect.

Credit to Kashif for the quote that is the title of this entry. It perfectly describes the state of being one is in when traveling by any mode, anywhere in Cambodia.

No matter what you are riding in this country, rest assured that you will feel the need to see a chiropractor afterwards. Finished roads here are often like taking a boat out to sea, so you can imagine what unfinished roads are like. My favourite is when you come to a place where they’re building a new bridge– they take you off the road onto a dirt track (the first few times this is terrifying), around the obstacle (sometimes this includes water, also terrifying), and back up onto the main road. There is only one of these paths on either side, so you’re constantly encountering oncoming traffic. The first rule of the road in Cambodia is, the bigger vehicle wins. So if you’re in a bus, this is a good deal. Bicycles and motos, or godforbid foot traffic, not so much. Taking a bus is the way to go for a tourist. To go from Phnom Penh to Kampot, for example, is three dollars, which includes air-conditioning, karaoke, and de facto “king of the road” status. Well, I take it back– the only thing that beats a bus are these huge, crazy trucks that they stack twenty feet high with cut wood. I wouldn’t mess with one of those. Downside to buses: it may take you 5 hours to get somewhere a taxi can take you in two.

Taxis are super fast, and regularly travel the same routes. You can get the number of a driver and use the same guy over and over as needed, or establish a routine if you go to work every day or something. Toris are similiar. A tori is like a VW bus, and they also generally travel established routes. They’re very popular for transporting goods, too. It’s common to see them packed floor-to-ceiling with everything from fans to boxes of soap to live chickens, with barely enough room for the driver. It’s also common to strap dozens of live chickens to the roofs of such vehicles by their feet; when they arrive at a place that wants a chicken, they’ll cut one down, fling it on the ground, get paid, and leave again. Sometimes I marvel that this country claims Buddhism as its national religion.

Tuk tuks are how tourists and PCVs get around shorter distances, like in a city. Tuk tuks, I can’t remember if I mentioned, are basically carriages attached to a moto. Tuk tuk drivers will do everything possible to rip you off if you are foreign. It is really fun to negotiate with them.

But hands-down the way to move in this country if you are Kmai is via moto. Sometimes I feel like Cambodians and their motos are the same as Mongols and their horses: they are literally raised on them. Babies routinely straddle handlebars. One-year-olds stand in front of their parents while they drive. Four year olds are definitely old enough to need to hold onto anything. I don’t know if it’s cool or what, but Cambodians don’t often hold onto the bike or each other or anything when they drive around. It’s miraculous to me that they aren’t thrown off every time they hit a bump going forty. Their feet are inches from the pavement as they fly down the road. Also, helmets are generally optional (except in PP [Phnom Penh], where they’re mandatory for drivers, but not really). In the city it’s natural to ride against traffic on one-way streets, navigating buses and motos and rickshaws alike. Never ask the question, “How many people can you fit on a moto?” Did I mention that vehicular accidents (read: motos) are the second-leading cause of death for young adults in Cambodia?

There are unspoken rules to when and where and what you can do whatever driving whichever thing, but I certainly haven’t figured it out yet.

Bicycles are the way kids get to school. Bicycles are not cool in PP, but you see them. They are very common in villages, and again you’d be astounded what you can transport by bike. Old ladies regularly peddle enormous stacks of hay and such that tower over them as they go down the street. Man, I hope I’m like that in my old age.

Of the common modes of transportation that Cambodians use on a daily basis, walking is rarely-if-ever one of them. Cambodians, by and large, seem to despise walking. In the city it may be something of a status issue: if you are walking, you are too poor even to have a bicycle. So if you’re a tourist walking around Phnom Penh, people will stare at you a lot harder (and probably giggle) than if you’re riding something, particularly since you’re expected to be rich so why on earth aren’t you driving a Lexus? In the cities, more people own cars, but it’s probably still the case that most of the cars you see are not family vehicles, but taxis. The most popular cars are Toyota, but Lexus is a huge brand here (don’t ask me) and people flaunt it by putting enormous decals that say “LEXUS” on the sides of their cars. My friends and I speculate that some said cars are not, in fact, Lexus. We also decided that when we get back to the States we’re putting giant “CHEVY” or “FORD” stickers on our cars; maybe we’ll start a trend.

Traveling in Cambodia is always an experience. Yesterday will speak to that.

Yesterday my friend Taylor (GA) and I left for our new province, Kampot. Thinking to have a leisurely morning, we left Phnom Penh on the late bus at 1:45. An hour or so into our trip, our bus broke down. But, they fixed it! A half hour later we broke down again, this time for good. Naturally we’d managed to get 2 hours away from Phnom Penh, from where they would be sending a new bus. That makes sense. So we waited by the side of the road with ever-patient Cambodian travelers and not-so-patient tourists, and contemplated existence.

By the time we were approaching our new villages where our sites are, it was pretty dark. Even in daylight I’m not sure I could have recognized my new site, having only been there once (a month ago), and definitely not whizzing by it at 50 mph. Heck, I’m not even sure yet how to stop a bus in order to get off it. Taylor’s site was first and we had passed her house by the time she recognized her village. Same story with me. Oops. So we spent last night in Kampot Town, which explains why we have internet.

If any of you come to visit me, I’ll try to brief you as best I can– the briefing I never got before they stuck in me a tori and sent me hurtling into oncoming traffic for the first time. Really, you get used to it. Really.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to ““Overbounced, overswayed.”

  1. Drewski

    I’ll come visit road trip buddy! How much time off will you have saved by next Summer or Xmas break ’11?

  2. Drewski

    Flights are a little steeper than I thought, 2,200 round trip to Cambodia.

    But I can do Delta, roundtrip to Thailand for a more reasonable 1700. Or Vietnam (which might be closer depending on which direction you are from PP) for 1800. Wanna tour SE asia together (at least Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand) ?

    How is your Khmer?

  3. mom

    Wait, wait! You have to save some time up for me, too!

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