26 hours of hell (and salvation at the gates of Songkran)

We never make mistakes and when we do, angels and bluebirds encircle us and lead us in the right direction. The Gods of travel always smile but sometimes just for a laugh, we get a chance to be on the radio in our home town and they think they'll mess with us. 

26 hours of Hell

We had 6 days in Paradise on Ko Rong in Cambodia. In order to offset all the sunshine and happiness we experienced, the Travel Gods decided we need some Yang.

 

We had a live interview scheduled for BBC Bristol at 3pm to talk about our experience of travelling with kids. According to the lady who worked at our bungalows we would be in Bangkok by 11am the next day if we took the 6pm bus from Sihanookville. She had done the journey 'loads of times'- 656 km (407 miles) was a 9 hour drive according to Google Maps. We could do that by bus in 17 hours, easy. 

 

By the time we arrived at the bus company office and found out it's name (Virak Buntham Express, for your information), we realised we didn't want to take the journey. Trip Advisor was full of stories of the journey taking up to 28 hours, thefts by the staff and worse- sexual assaults. Whilst processing this I was on the phone to our BBC Bristol producer, assuring her we'd be in Bangkok by 3pm the following day in a hotel (as yet unspecified) with a stable wifi connection. This was nothing if not optimistic. 

 

We were advised in the bus office that this journey would actually involve 3 buses with a 1am change in Phnom Penh (where we didn't want to go as it was in the wrong direction, but anyway..) Obviously there were no refunds so we'd have to suck it up or lose the £26 bus ticket each. We chose to suck it up and harness that optimism I was talking about. We reasoned that this bus goes every day and there were only about twenty or so recent bad reviews...? We might be fine.

18:00

On boarding the bus we somehow avoided the usual wrestling the kids into bed, as they fell asleep instantly. Angelic little poppets- they're always like this, honest. 

There was no toilet on the bus as advertised, which was fine. I relished getting to know my fellow female passengers by having them hold their iPhone lights up for me so I could pee in the dark roadside toilets.  Years of camping had stood me in good stead- what a great way to get to know each other.

Meanwhile on the road, Mike and I sat on opposite sides of the metaphorical fence as the driver stopped every 20 minutes to pick up his mates and drop off parcels all night. Mike checked Google Maps constantly to track our ETA. I stayed blindly optimistic, scowling at him each time he checked his phone, wishing he would just be a bit more bloody zen about it all. 

We changed buses as planned and all settled down for a good nights' sleep, safe in the knowledge we would wake up in Thailand

06:00

We woke to a beautiful sunrise in... Battambang. We were still in Cambodia,still stopping every 15 minutes- a bit behind schedule, but in the interest of travel zen, we (I) wouldn't let it bother us. Even when the driver stopped to get snacks but wouldn't let us get off to wee- no problem! 

The sleeper bus to the Thai Border- what you can't see are the 10 Cambodians sitting in the aisle behind us. Poor sods. 

The sleeper bus to the Thai Border- what you can't see are the 10 Cambodians sitting in the aisle behind us. Poor sods. 

11:00

Our seats stayed fixed in the reclining position- which was great at first. This was offset by the fact that we broke the wifi password on the bus and as our arrival time had been and gone, I had found the bus company's Facebook page and took great delight in spamming their page. I thought it would be useful to let them know how their service actually runs and we were still NOWHERE near the Thai border. Helpful feedback, no?

I could feel the anxiety rising as my 3pm interview was looming but managed to get a message to the producer promising to bribe the driver at the border to be fast and we would make it for 6.30pm. We really, really would.

Amidst our growing frustration the children were fine. Perfectly fine! For all those wondering how our children cope with long journeys- the answer is: better than us. 

It helped that for the first time ever we let the children have iPads on a journey- so they were in heaven. Rules are rules, but this was a time for them to be thrown out the window- preferably with the bloody driver.

12.30

Finally, we had reached the border. We went though Cambodian Immigration and carried our stuff and the tired children the 500 metres in searing midday heat to the Thai border. It was like the Southern Oracle in the 'Neverending Story' but this was filled with casinos and go-go bars. Sweat dripping down our backs and legs, being shoved out the way by other tourists, the immigration officers were waiting to see if there was purity in our soul.

Were our hearts pure? Not when people tried to push in the queue, no. It was the growing solidarity between us and the other Bus Survivors that made the 3 hour wait bearable. 

Apparently Thai New Year celebrations of Songkran hadn't escaped people's attention. The queue was such that People were high- fiving eachother and weeping with relief when they reached the other side. (When I say people, I mean us)

15:30

We just about managed to find the bus company HQ and were one of the lucky few to have seats on the minibus. Our dismay grew and then the driver announced he would be taking us to Bangkok but would first have to stop for food.

It was 4pm. We had been on the road for 22 hours. There was crazy in my eyes when I sobbed at him to please just get us there. For the love of all things good and pure in this world can we PLEASE JUST GET TO BANGKOK?!

He actually drove us there in record time and I could have kissed the ground when we arrived, 9 hours later than planned. The kids had had a blast, chatting to everyone on the bus about video games and making friends. Out of all of this came an intense respect for the children's capacity for patience which evidently was much MUCH greater than ours.

20:00

We limped into our hotel, having missed the interview by 2 hours, exhausted and frazzled. The producer would call me tomorrow.

Hoping for a shower and sleep, but that wasn't going to happen as the the children started bouncing off the walls- we realised we had to GET THE HELL OUT. They were frazzled too, it just looked different to ours.

Songkran came early! 

Songkran came early! 

We wandered out into Soi Rambutri where Songkran had started a bit early. We did the only sensible thing and got involved. Oh, the sweet, sweet joy of running up and down a Bangkok street screaming and laughing and getting soaking wet. It wasn't the shower and bed that I had hoped for when I got off the bus, but this is travel for you- you don't often get what you expect. It was however just what we needed.

The next day we woke up to breakfast and a lovely Thai chap called Biak insisted our boys start splashing passers-by on our lane. It was the only encouragement we needed as the WHOLE DAY descended in to a mega waterfight, soaking wet and laughing so hard I lost my voice. We stood in two lines, either side of the alley outside our restaurant who were suppling the fresh water. Soaking anyone who passed, we were united in this common goal. Apart from Monks, they were safe- but anyone else was fair game. 

 The children got cuts on their feet and we all got blisters form throwing buckets of water- our hamstrings ached from bending to fill up the buckets but it was all worth it. Our kids found a whole new level of crazy that ALMOST rivalled the Thais.

Songkran will go down in history as the most fun ever. The sense of solidarity that you can feel when united in a common goal to GET PEOPLE WET was intense- the kids were feral all day and loved every second. It was the perfect antidote to the horror of the day before which seemed like a lifetime away. So then we went to Kanchanaburi to continue the celebrations... day 5 and they were still going- where do they get the energy?! 

Needless to say, I missed the line check from BBC Bristol as I was too busy having fun. Luckily they took pity on me and we did the interview yesterday from Chiangmai, some 13 days later than planned... thank you BBC Bristol. It was lovely to speak to Home amidst our chaos, I hope we made the wait worthwhile.

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