Cambodia, January 19, 2000
My ass still smarts from the 'road' to Siem Reap, Cambodia
Remember that Nissan Pathfinder commercial that played in the States a while back, "The Road to Rio," where they filmed a family driving from Chicago to Rio de Janerio? I only saw one commercial, and it sticks with me to this day. The truck is shown plowing down crazy South American roads as the narrator says, "When they ran out of pavement, they used gravel. When they ran out of gravel, they used dirt. They never ran out of dirt."
Going to Siem Reap, the town next to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I lived all those road surfaces, many times simultaneously, as I bounced along in a Nissan truck. We traveled on what the locals called a road, but that random assortment of pavement, gravel, dirt, hay (on fire and not), moon-sized craters, fallen bridges, and cross-patty detours would only qualify to the western mind as a road in the most liberal sense. Oh, and we traveled fast and furious!
Look at the pictures to the left, and imagine a Nissan King Cab truck, filled with seven (7!) people in the cab, and ten to fifteen people, with all manner of bags, sacks, and tools in the back, flying along washboard (at the best) roads at 70-100 km an hour. Now imagine the driver only slowing a fraction to traverse potholes that literally swallowed the truck whole! I am very serious in saying that entire vehicles would disappear from view as they dove into a crater, re-appearing like a worm born from the earth as they climbed the other side.
That's if you could see the other vehicles, or event he road, for the massive dust clouds that everything produced. Headlights were blazing and the passengers in the back wore scarves across their faces, but that red choking dust still blocked light and coated skin. When I washed my clothes after the trip, the water turned orange with dust, and I was in the cab!
Not that being in the cab saved my ass from a savage beating. Those mad drivers, pushing the trucks painfully hard to make the trip in eight teeth-rattling hours, did not slow down for anything, sometimes even tossing passengers from the truck bed when they jump massive mounds in the road.
The funniest sight in all the dust and ass-pain was the random "workers" who would ask for spare Cambodian money for fixing the road. What they did, if anything, was not apparent to me. They usually asked for money near the worst sections, where drivers would need to detour through dry rice patties because the road was so bad, with no visible improvements this decade to justify the cash payments.
Those who did seem to earn payments, were the several police checkpoint guards. For a long time, this section of Cambodia experienced the worst of the decades long Cambodian civil war, and the road was impassable due to highway robbery and military activities (including millions of land mines). Nowadays, the area is relatively safe, though trucks will still not drive at night because of the horrible condition of the road.
If you are contemplating visiting Angkor Wat overland from Thailand, and you wanna see just how bad the road is, do yourself a favor. Don't make arrangements on Khao San Road, take a government bus to the border and invest in two things if you love your ass: a seat in the cab and a thick pillow.