My friends told me they were bringing backpacks on our trip to Cambodia. I was planning to bring a carry-on with wheels. They grimaced in skepticism when I mentioned this. I realized I would need to borrow a hiking pack. And that this trip would be more adventuresome than I had anticipated.
This was not more apparent than when we took the night bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap that left at midnight. We would drive through the night, arriving at 6:00 am. One of our traveling companions had taken several night buses last summer through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. They give you an extra day of touring, instead of spending it in travel. Night buses also save you the cost of a hotel.
A couple hours before we left, we decided to get a massage (ridiculously affordable in most parts of Southeast Asia) because it had a shower facility. Afterward, we waited in the lobby of the hotel we had checked out of that morning until a tuk-tuk driver brought us to a bus. We loaded our packs underneath. Several friendly expats and locals were already aboard. The accommodations were permanently reclined vinyl chairs with colorful flannel blankets on each “bed.” With three of us traveling and the seats in pairs, we had to decide who would share with a stranger.
With your purse / giant bag of valuables occupying the narrow space (upper and lower bunks) you try to find a comfortable position to rest–and if you’re a hard core traveler, possibly sleep. It felt cool to be among the road tested and casually extreme backpackers, but I knew this was an experience not a lifestyle. What you save in time and money, you’ve traded in personal space, clean sheets, a morning shower–since we couldn’t check in to our next hotel until after noon.
My family can attest that I’m a girly girl who brought hair appliances on camping trips (present tense still applies). But I embraced the adventure. The staff at the hotel in Siem Reap allowed us to jump in the pool (our next macgyver-ed “shower”) before we took off in a hired tuk-tuk for an 8 hour first leg of temple touring. The hotel generously stowed our packs and prepared our rooms in the meantime.
We returned at 5 pm, sweaty from all day in 90 degree heat scrambling through dusty ruins, but in awe from the incredible temples. The shower and beds were a welcome return to a more recognizable travel routine.
The next morning, we planned to be up by 4 am for the famous sunrise over Angkor Wat…