The bus journey was absolutely fine and the road in really quite good condition all the way, despite the pikey $3-50 bus company I’d sought out. Ironically we passed the gold plated $6 bus which was full of westerners on the road, it had stopped as it had been involved in an accident – I bet that held them up for hours, heh heh…. I was the only westerner on my bus which was otherwise full of locals. A nice spin off effect is that we stopped for lunch in a lovely local’s caff set on water with great food, I bet the western bus gets taken to the usual overpriced slop bucket. Only when we arrived at the bus station outside of Siem Reap did I know how much trouble I was in….
There were hundreds of touts, motorbike taxis, tuk-tuks, vendors, you name it, banging against the window pane beside me as the bus pulled to a stop, holding up cards of their guest house. The local guy that was sitting beside me was absolutely horrified by what he saw happening to me. With a deep breath I got off, and I can only liken it to some of these scenes you see on TV where a famous criminal is being hounded by hundreds of papparazzi as he’s led out of court, or football players from the team that just won the world cup as they leave the playing field. With no exaggeration, I was totally surrounded by 25 – 30 of these guys, all yelling at me, shoving cards and leaflets right into my face and hands all over my body. My backpack from the hold was quickly whisked away and I had to rip that out of the grip of the “lucky” guy that got to it first, then as the only means of escape I had to throw a few people to the floor and tip one guy on a motorbike over into the legs of some others and then run. It wasn’t overly pleasant but I was in genuine fear of being robbed. Thankfully I’m about a foot taller than most of them, how someone small would have supposed to have managed is a mystery!
It didn’t end there as I still had to find a way to town. I eventually got a moto-driver (hopefully not the one I tipped over!) to take me for 500 riels which is way under what they’d even take a local for. Another scam of course, they’re after commission from whichever guest house they take you to, apparently it can be as much as half of one night’s rent. Craftily I told him to take me to a bank I picked from the guidebook in the region where I wanted to be. He wouldn’t let it lie of course, insisting he take me to a guesthouse afterwards, and then to be my driver for the next few days. This is bad news of course. At the bank I paid him off with 4000 riels if he’d leave me alone, which he did. So my freedom cost me a dollar – not bad! Hotels that I subsequently walked into to check out were amazed and bemused that I’d managed to make it in the door, on foot, alone with a backpack. Normally the driver will follow the tourist in, demanding commission which the hotel has to pay just to get rid of him.
Anyway, the town seems nice enough if a little touristy. I’ve found out that there is another branch of Happy Herb’s here which is great news! You’re not allowed to ride your own motorbike to the temples here which is a shame, so tomorrow might see me on a push bike doing some sightseeing, otherwise I’ll have to take a moto-taxi all day which I hate.