I’ve just finished up my first two weeks of travel through Vietnam and Cambodia. Don’t have pictures yet since the internet is pretty slow here. Should have a few to upload by the end of the week.
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After a plesent sleep in a guest house in Siem Reap, we checked out and left our bags behind the check-in counter for the day. Tonight would be the first encounter with an overnight bus. Until 11pm, when the shuttle would come to retreive us from the hotel, we were left for the day to explore the city. The sun was hot and ever present. The only way to escape it was in the shade of trees which were few and far between. After several hours of walking and dripping in sweat and covered in dirt, it was time for the shuttle. The downside of overnight travel is that generally you’re looking at two to three days of dried sweat and caked on dirt before the next shower.
During our shuttle ride, my travel companion and I joked that the bumpy and uncomfortable ride was actually our overnight bus. Upon first laying eyes on our bus, I realized there was little, if any, difference between the quality of the two vehicles. Tonight would be a long night.
When it comes to overnight buses, instead of seats, there are beds. These beds are split into three rows with two aisles. The beds are also set up in the manner of bunks so if you’re on the bottom space is rather limited. Space becomes even more limited in the last set of seats where instead of aisles there are five beds across. I wouldn’t have mentioned this back section of seats if it wasn’t for the fact that this is where we got put. Even worse is that of the two tickets we had, we randomly chose which seat we got and my friend lucked out with the window seat.
Before continuing I must make note of the peculiarities of me and sleep. Excluding typical things on this bus trip that would prevent most people from sleeping, there were a few more that prevented me from sleeping. Never in my life have I been able to fall asleep on my back, it’s just not possible. Luckily for me, the beds were angled such that it would be impossible to sleep any other way besides on your back. Also, any sort of noise that isn’t of the white variety tends to distract me from sleep. For this trip, such noises included crying babies and the squeaking of the bus.
Every journey I’ve ever taken starts out with a transition period in which people put away bags, munch on snacks, and settle down in their seats. For longer journeys, this period usually ends with the lights shutting off, people dozing off and silence and darkness taking over. Just because silence and darkness come to the bus doesn’t mean it also comes to the rest of the world. In Vietnam, paved roads are uncommon which means that every space of every paved road is vital and lacking of periods fields or forest, in other words, periods of calm. This translates to a constant barrage of lights and sounds coming from all the different buildings lining the road.
Severely lacking within the bus was a constant barrage of cold. The air conditioning vents were designed with only the outer most people receiving direct air. Maintenance of the bus was kept to a bare minimum so even though air was coming out, it was sputtering and not a formidable opponent to the body heat of all the occupants. While I’m a seasoned pro, having survived many summer nights without AC, I did so with the use of two vital weapons, a fan and a bed big enough to spread out to the four corners. Windows without openings crushed any chance of a breeze. There would also be no spacing out since my fellow travelers and I laid shoulder to shoulder. Without a means by which to cool myself, sweat began to emit itself from every part of my body. A secondary attack, almost like a Trojan Horse, lay hidden within this. The sweat off all the other unwashed bodies began to mix and linger in the air, assaulting the nostrils.
The final battle against attempts at sleeping came without mercy. Back in elementary school, I strongly remember the daily rush for the back seat so that every bump of the road could be enjoyed. There were two spots along the route where the bump would send you several inches into the air. It was almost like a free amusement park ride. Multiply the bumps and divide the fun and thats what the bus felt like. There was also an added perk not found on the school bus. Since my bed transitioned straight into the aisle, every time the bus driver slammed on the breaks, which was often since scooters were weaving everywhere, I went sliding forward several inches. If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable columns of bars keeping the second layer of beds up, that I used to brace myself, I probably would have slid fully into the aisle several times.
The combined onslaught on the senses led me to to give up any hope of a peaceful sleep. Packets of resistance throughout the night tried to make a stand and allow me to sleep. Different positions were tried. Music, silence, and white noise were all attempted. A strong ressistance came late in the night when another bed opened up and the guy in the middle bed, the bed next to me, relocated. The metal divider between our two beds dictated that this situation was barely any more comfortable. In the end, all attempts to sleep failed.
In the process fo writing this, I’d been sitting on a train from Da Nong to Hanoi. When I bought the tickets I saw that the train would depart at 11:50am and arrive 7 hours later. This was long but doable. After about five hours on the train I pulled out the map and realized we’d traveled about one-fifth the distance. Looks like the 7 hours later was actually 7am. Oh well, everyone is still celebrating the holiday and the train is empty so we can stretch out in our hard wooden chairs and sleep peacefully. Twenty minutes later we pulled up to a crowd of people waiting to get on the train.
I was going to conclude with some joke about bringing enough sleeping pills next time to knock out even an elephant. Instead I’ll end with some words of wisdom from a good friend which I’m taking to heart more and more each day.