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A to Z Challenge: Day Eighteen – “R”

Guest Post by Richard: A Rooster on the Bus.

A Note From Donna: On my post describing our recent trip to Cambodia, I made a comment about a ‘rooster on the bus.’ Several readers asked for more details. As Richard is the best person to tell that story (I had my eyes closed almost the whole way), he offered to write today’s ‘R’ post. As this event happened last month, it’s a bit ‘retro’ for my A – Z theme. Otherwise, it fits perfectly. Welcome, Richard!

The plan was to take a deluxe bus for the six-hour trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Donna did the research. She repeatedly whetted our appetites with comments on ‘all bells and whistles,’ ‘nonstop,’ ‘air conditioning,’ ‘reclining seats,’ ‘WIFI’ and more. Unfortunately, the long-distance buses did not depart from the airport so we would need to take a twenty-minute taxi ride to a bus terminal in downtown Phnom Penh. Donna is usually very firm at sticking to a plan. When we got to the airport, a tout pulled Donna aside and recommended that we take a Tuk Tuk instead of an official airport taxi. Donna accepted on our behalf. That was mistake number one.

In the Tuk Tuk when we still hoped it was a good idea!

One-hundred meters into our Tuk Tuk ride to said bus terminal, our driver suggested that we take a VIP bus that was located near the airport. He said that in today’s traffic it would require forty minutes to get downtown. The place that he recommended was only ten minutes away and had a non-stop luxury bus to Siem Reap leaving shortly. I have never known Donna to be so gullible. Once again, she agreed. That was mistake number two.

The driver hadn’t lied about the ten-minute ride. Everything else was pure fantasy. Our replacement bus station could not be called ‘luxury’ by any standard. It was a make-shift dirt area on the side of the road near some pop-up food stalls. It was manned by a ‘smooth-talking fellow’ (related no doubt to the airport tout and the Tuk Tuk driver). He sat behind a beat up table that had neatly piled tickets that read “VIP Express” and showed a picture of a modern, shiny bus. The tickets cost $20 each. “The bus must have lots of extras,” Donna said wishfully (the deluxe bus tickets she had researched cost $12 each). My wife who usually runs away screaming when she senses that she is being ‘taken,’ calmly purchased two tickets. That was mistake number three.

With tickets firmly in hand, we took a better look at our surroundings. The ‘waiting area’ consisted of a few mismatched plastic chairs haphazardly scattered near an expanding group of locals with large (often moving) bundles. The locals stared at us with intense curiosity. Except for one weary-looking hippie, we were the only foreigners anywhere in sight.

Reality quickly began to sink in.

As we waited, several newer-looking buses drove past. Once again we were hopeful. Finally, a broken down red bus, hanging together by its hinges, slowed down in front of us. The ticket seller motioned for us to board — which we (robotically) did. That was mistake number four.

Locals began to pile on behind us carrying large boxes, crates, and cages. We quickly realized that the seat numbers on our tickets meant nothing. We scrambled for the remaining two seats together. When we asked where we could put our luggage, the driver pointed under our feet. This necessitated Donna and I contorting ourselves into yoga-like poses. That may have been fine for her. (Editor’s note: It wasn’t). As I was doing my best to be ‘Yogi-Richard,’ I noticed the dashboard of the bus had half of its instruments missing, including the speedometer, engine temperature, and gas gauge. The rest of the dashboard was rusted and battered with a few large holes. Not a good sign. Not a good sign at all!

This picture does not do justice to show how frightening the dashboard truly was!

My best guess is that our bus driver was approximately twenty years old. He looked like Phnom Penh’s answer to Tom Cruise…inclusive of aviator glasses and a cell phone glued to his ear. He was accompanied by his sidekick who took up position in the front stairwell. This prompted me to wonder why he would not take a regular seat. That question would be answered ten minutes down the road. With a loud roar, and smoke belching out behind us, we headed out of Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. All went well during that part of the ride. (Editor’s Note: There is a difference of opinion here). As soon as we got out of the city to a two-lane road, that all changed. ‘Tom Cruise’ began increasing the speed of the bus. “Donna is NOT going to like this,” I thought to myself. I suggested that she put her eye mask and leave it on. For once, she listened!

Donna choosing to avoid reality!

I swear we missed vehicles coming the opposite way by mere fractions of an inch. During all this, our driver was chatting non-stop on his phone and trading jokes with his sidekick.

Ten minutes further down the road, the first of our many pit stops began. Stops to pick up more passengers, stops to drop off packages, stops to obtain engine parts…and other items best left unknown. The most entertaining stop was in the middle of nowhere. Several male passengers lined up on the side of the road to form a ‘synchronized pee line.’ I could not make this up. Ask Donna. I am not this imaginative.

An hour later, steam began coming out of the front of the bus. Our bus stopped. Sidekick grabbed a few wrenches and a bottle of water and disappeared under the hood. After several minutes of banging and a few water refills, we are off as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It is a good thing that Donna was feigning sleep with eyes shut tight. She totally would have freaked!

As I was focused on watching what was coming toward us on the highway, I heard a sound coming from the back of the bus. It sounded like a rooster. And indeed it was. He was joined by a few chickens who rounded out the melody. The choir remained on the bus for the full trip to Siem Reap, reminding us of their presence every fifteen minutes or so. “What’s that noise?” Donna whispered without removing her eye mask. “Cambodian music,” was the best that I could come up with.

Two hours into our trip, we stopped for a break in a little town. Everyone piled out of the bus and headed for the washroom that ended up being a hole in the floor and a bucket of water. Flies were everywhere! Donna did a sharp U-turn and went in search of a cleaner venue. No success there. She crossed her legs and refused to take even a sip of water for the remainder of the trip.

When we tried to reboard, we discovered that our bus was now out of commission. A ‘replacement bus’ was to arrive shortly. ‘Shortly’ turned into a full hour. Although you wouldn’t believe it could be possible, our second bus was in even worse condition than the first. As a small redeeming feature, it did have lovely purple velour curtains!

After seven and a half long hours on two buses, we finally make it to Siem Reap. I’m not sure who was happier to get off of the bus, Donna or the rooster. Although the trip did not turn out as planned, it was a fascinating adventure. It provided opportunity to richly experience an authentic slice of local Cambodian life. Funny, Donna still refuses to see it this way!

Yup, definitely not amused.

52 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: Day Eighteen – “R””

  1. Oh, this is wonderful, Richard. Not only could no one make this stuff up, but the details bring the story to life. The second part of that sentence is usually “and I wish I was there.” Nope, not ever. But I’m so glad you had your eyes open so you could tell us about it!


    1. Hi, Karen – Funny, I wish that I wasn’t there for that particular bus ride either. But I can verify that Richard’s story is 100% true (at least for the parts I saw and/or heard). I was delighted that he offered to write a Guest Post (at Fran’s and Natalie’s suggestion). He usually pretends that he “cannot write.”


  2. Loved this story – I can hear the irony oozing through (including from the editor!) It’s stories like these that live on long after the horror has faded in our memories. I bet you’re still telling this story in ten years time – as “highlight” of your Cambodian trip 🙂 BTW Donna I’d be watching your back – I think you may have some competition in the blogging stakes!

    Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
    R for Remember Silence


    1. Hi, Leanne – You are absolutely correct that the most challenging, and unplanned, experiences often live the longest in our memories. I was delighted that Richard offered to Guest Host and would love it if he decides to write more. He absolutely assures me that this will not happen. He much prefers orally recounting experiences to writing them.


  3. Hey, wait a minute! I think that getting a guest host to write one of your letter posts is cheating. Even if the story is well written and funny. But aren’t you supposed to be doing this challenge on your own? Hmmm…


  4. Well, I need a serious rest after reading that! But it was pretty amusing too – thanks Richard! Can you write my R post for me too? I can submit potential words? Let me know will you .. I won’t be tooo miffed if you refuse ..


  5. Wow, what an adventure! I love how you’ve given us the opportunity to experience the bus trip from another perspective (especially since you had your eyes closed most of the way). Great story Richard! I hope to see you again on Donna’s blog as a guest writer.


    1. Hi, Janis – Richard claims that his ‘Guest Post’ was a once in a lifetime deal. However, he is happy to share a few stories over drinks in Palm Desert this October/November. Looking forward to seeing you then!


    1. Thanks, Antoinette – It definitely was a ‘true adventure’, and an ‘authentic local experience’. Just having arrived back from our recent trip to Boston, I am once again very grateful for the comforts of home.


  6. A rooster for company, a different kind of pee line up, filthy toilets, and a dilapidated bus. That’s quite the travel story. I racked my memory for any similar travel stories that we might have had, but no we had none as good as yours. The story Walter keeps telling is the way he was treated on the flight to China. He was fawned over by the stewardess. I was ignored. Enjoyed the story very much.


    1. Thanks, Fran – It was originally your suggestion to have Richard tell this story via a Guest Post. I never thought that he’d agree to do it — and actually follow through. I LOVED the result….and am even more pleased with my decision to keep my eye mask on most of the way.
      Thank you for the suggestion for this post!


  7. Holy Crap on a Stick!!
    This is one of the worse travel misadventures I’ve ever read!
    Leanne is right about this story have longevity. It will never be forgotten and everything that goes wrong from this point on will always be compared to the Great Rooster Incident 😳


    1. Thanks, Christie – Richard is very thankful for the experience and actually enjoyed (most of) it! I on the other hand, am thankful that we survived to tell the tale. You can bet that I will be much more careful with my travel decisions next time (especially when in the airport)!


  8. Oh this is just so good! I l think you cover all the Rs – rooster, retro and Richard! I would have had that eye mask on the whole way too Donna and I just love Richard’s telling of the story 🙂 You made me smile despite being gullible at times and being taken for a ride (!) – travelling is so much fun sometimes isn’t it? Loved it 🙂


  9. Now, that’s what I call a real adventure. It reminds me of tons of buses I took in Southeast Asia (and Central American a decade later) when I was backpacking! Very recognizable, except, in my case, I knew what I was getting into. It doesn’t help that Asian people are much smaller than western tourists. For tall Liesbet, it was seriously uncomfortable, as I”m sure it was for you two. But, a 12-hour ride would cost less than $5 or so.

    I’m glad you had this experience, Richard and Donna, but I’m not glad that you were taken advantage of by all these guys. Never again, I’m sure! 🙂

    By the way, traveling like this was fine when I was in my twenties. These days, I’d take the luxury bus. But, the one you were initially going to use.


    1. Hi, Liesbet – “Seriously uncomfortable” is a very accurate description. I totally blame myself for being taken advantage of. Who changes a well-researched travel decision based on the recommendation of an Airport Tout or a Tuk Tuk Driver (or both)? Apparently me!


    1. Hi, Leslie – Okay, I do admit that the story is pretty funny. But at the time, I found little humour! 🙂 I haven’t been to Uganda, but I can totally imagine how frightening the roads might be. I highly recommend blinders (unless of course you are driving)!


  10. Thank you, Richard and Donna, for accepting my suggestion to share your story of your bus Ride with a Rooster in Cambodia. I confess I had a few laughs while reading, even though I know it’s absolutely not funny to be on that ride. Now Donna, you’ll just need to create another adventure which is so grand that Richard will agree to pen another post.


    1. Thank you for your awesome suggestion, Natalie. As Richard claims that he does not like to write, it would never have occurred to me to ask him (without prompting). No matter how grand our upcoming adventures may be, I am not sure that I could get him to write again. It worked out well that he had a deadline for this post (‘R Day’), so there was no procrastinating!


  11. I remember a ferry ride from Bali to the island of Lombok back in 1995 and it was similar to your story. At the time we might not be feeling too enthusiastic but stories like yours are what makes travelling so interesting. Lovely to meet you Richard and thanks for sharing in detail your ride with a rooster!


    1. Hi, Linda – When traveling, Richard and I pride ourselves on engaging in ‘local experiences’ as often as we can. This bus ride proved to be a little too local for me. But you are right. Reliving the stories later can be a great joy (and sense of accomplishment)!


  12. I kept hearing Paul McCartney’s “Too Many People” in my head throughout this post (“that was your first mistake…”). Great post, Richard. It had me laughing, which is easy to do since I’m not the one who had to suffer through any of this! And indeed, that dashboard looks positive frightening.


  13. My goodness, what an adventure, Richard. I’m sure it would make a great episode for a travel show on the TV. I would have been very worried that I was being taken anywhere than where I thought I was going. Still, an experience I guess neither of you will forget in a very long time.


    1. Hi, Hugh – Richard and I still have very different views regarding the ‘joys’ of this particular bus ride. We both agree, however, that it made for a very memorable adventure!
      BTW – I hadn’t looked closely at the dashboard when I was on the bus (avoidance is my middle name). I also hadn’t seen the photo of it that Richard had taken, until he gave it to me for this post. Good grief!!


      1. It reminded me a little of one of the vehicles from the children’s cartoon show ‘Whacky Races.’ I don’t know if you’ve heard of it (or seen it) but that bus (with all its defects) would have been perfect in the lineup of vehicles in the race, Donna.


  14. Beware the luxury bus scam! I have had a few rather similar bus experiences in my travels, and have encountered some of those filthy hole-in-the-ground toilets too. Sounds like an adventure, for sure.



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