Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Riding in buses in third world countries

Riding in buses in third world countries is not exactly like riding in buses in the developed world.

While buses in the first world generally stay on the right side of the road, those in the developing world tend to assume that since they are the biggest vehicle/animal on the road everything else should be required to move out of their way.

Buses in the West honk for one of two reasons: (a) another vehicle is approaching it head-on or (b) the car in front of it is being driven by a ninety-five year old man who is partially blind in his left eye. Buses in Cambodia, on the other hand, honk not once but at least five times at every moped, ox cart, bicyclist, cow, or mosquito that may get in its way.

A Greyhound in the Western world may avoid near fatal accidents by screeching to a halt in front of a semi-truck that has just pulled out in front of it on the highway. Those in third world nations avoid the same fatal tragedies by barely missing stray cows.

While buses in America breeze through one-way construction zones safely escorted by pilot trucks with flashing yellow lights, those in Cambodia spend 20 minutes in a power struggle stare-down with another car coming from the opposite direction until one vehicle (usually the smaller of the two) finally gives in and moves out of the way.

Most bus pit stops in the West provide, at the very least, a flushing toilet and running water in the sink. Those in the developing world provide, at the very most, a hole in the ground behind a creaky wooden door that won’t quite latch. And, at rest stops in America it is quite common to find a bottle of water to quench your thirst, but those in Cambodia provide large cement cisterns for weary travelers to wash their faces and refill their water bottles with the same stale rainwater.

Buses in developed nations may require a pre-paid ticket and a specific meeting time, but those in the third world require only a wave from the roadside and a small bribe for the driver and luggage boy.

And this five-hour, non-shock absorbing, honking, swerving, cow-breaking bus was exactly the way in which my mom and sister were officially initiated into traveling in Southeast Asia.

The three of us spent one very varied and memorable day in Phnom Penh viewing the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, bargaining for purses, dresses, and shoes at the Russian Market, visiting the King’s palace, and enjoying a quiet dinner and shopping at Friends, a restaurant and store whose employees are former street children who have been imbued with a skill in a school with the same name.
Then, with a hearty breakfast under our belts the following morning, we boarded the infamous bus for the soon-to-be long journey to Siem Reap, a city near where the famous temples of Angkor lie.
After our arrival, we were quite ready for a lovely dinner at the Red Piano restaurant on Pub Street and a massage at our hotel, thanks to the lack of shocks in the aforementioned bus. Welcome to Cambodia Mom and Sis.
Four down…four to go.



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