To travel from Phnom Penh to Siemp Reap, I was faced with two options. In order to cover a distance of almost 150 miles, I could either fly or travel overland with a tourist bus. The plane tickets were expensive as all flights were over $100, while a six hour bus ride was only a mere $10.
I decided that the bus would be a great way to see the rural villages of Cambodia, so I bought my ticket and met my transport at the pick up spot in Phnom Penh. The bus was a large air conditioned Coaster, and it was almost completely full. Soon after we departed, I met two girls from New Zealand and a brother and sister from China. They were also backpacking across South East Asia and they all agreed that they considered the bus to be an economical way to get around Cambodia, despite the lengthy transit times.
The bus neatly manoeuvered through the narrow streets in the city, avoiding hundreds of motorbikes and tuk-tuks before eventually leaving the urban areas behind. For the first two hours, I saw mostly unpopulated terrain full of lush grass as a result of the heavy rains accompanying the monsoon season. Occasionally, I would spot a farmer with a few cows, patiently waiting as they grazed near the roadside.
Soon after, small villages intermittently came into view. Tiny wooden houses precariously perched on narrow stilts stood over pools of muddy brown water, caused by poor drainage. I could scarcely believe the various activities which these pools of water were used for. I saw small children without clothes splashing about, women were doing their laundry and cows tied infront of homes were quenching their thirst.
Halfway during the ride, the bus driver announced that we would be taking a 30 minute rest stop, and we pulled into a parking area next to what appeared to be a large wooden shed with a thatched roof. Inside of this building were several stalls with local ladies selling various types of food. Quite a few of these meals were uncommon to me, but I tried some and found them to be delicious. I also bought a bottle of water and a bag of chips for the road, then went to find my new friends.
The New Zealand girls needed to use the bathroom, so we went hunting for the loo. We found what seemed to be a public restroom complete with squat toilets. Up to this point, I hadn't seen a squat toilet during my travels. If it hadn't been for the bus trip, I would've left the continent without seeing one! Unfortunately, there wasn't any toilet paper, so I offered them a few sheets of napkin from my purse.
Soon after, it was time for the journey to continue. Night started to fall and I eventually dozed off. When I awoke, I noticed signs of urban life once more. Small sheds selling fuel, an increased amount of traffic and rows of street lights alerted me to the fact that we were approaching Siem Reap.
The entire overland experience was quite enjoyable. I appreciated the gorgeous countryside views and treasured the short rural visit to the rest stop which I would've missed out on if I had taken a flight instead. In other words, this was definitely a case where the destination and the journey were both of interest.