Sunday, April 15, 2012

Khmer New Year and epic bus rides

I have had my share of epic bus rides - the kind that go on and on, up, down and around mountains, for long distances (or just really, really long periods of time).

In fact, I associate my Burmese travels with epic bus rides.  Imagine over 100 degrees, a non-air conditioned bus, 17+ hours of travel, screaming babies, and night-time checkpoints where the regime checks identification and passports.

Or, there was last summer's travels through western China, particularly the ride from Kashgar to Urumqi, which was to take 24 hours, but really took more like 36 hours.  Train tickets were sold out for a week. We had no choice.  I recall waking up in the early morning hours, just on the cusp of consciousness but aware  enough to register that the bus was rolling back and forth. I looked around.  Except for Ethan and me, the bus was emptied of its passengers.  They were outside, pushing the bus. A fire raged outside amidst screams of jubilation. It was the month of Ramadan. The other passengers had just had their first daily meal (and last since after sundown).

This Khmer New Year, Ethan, Vy and I went to the far-off province of Ratanakiri province in Cambodia.  Our friend Anna recently moved there.  Neither of us had been before, so we thought it was a brilliant idea.

Except it was Khmer New Year, a holiday that empties the streets of the city.  And the bus depot was utter bedlam.  We were pushed off our 7:30AM bus and after a few non-confrontational responses by staff, allowed to jump onto the 8:45AM departure instead.  On the way, the bus broke down.  Our 10 hour trip turned into a 17-hour trip.

We arrived at the Ratanakiri bus station a few minutes shy of 1AM.  The Tree Top Ecolodge driver had been waiting for us for hours.

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