Our excitement at being allocated the front two seats on the bus to Battambang soon turns sour as the bus “conductor” uses the space in front of my feet to sit on. My backpack already takes up a chunk of space and with his butt added to the melee, there is little to no space left for my feet. Along the way, the driver and his conductor stop to pick up stray travelers, no doubt pocketing the money they charge as there is no ticket being issued. With no seats available, the travelers sit on plastic stools between the driver, the assistant and us. The shrieking Kung fu fighting type dialogue emanating from the 1980’s VCR and TV cannot be drowned out by the music on my iPod regardless of having the volume on the highest setting and the earphones shoved deeply into my ears. This torture goes on for 7 hours interspersed with stops at foul fishy smelling, holes in the ground, fly infested toilet places along the route. We asked for rural Cambodia and we got it!
By the time we limp into the Battambang bus station , we are on short fuses. Traveling can be exhausting and requires a sense of humour, but some days a smile is nowhere to be found within my arsenal of good humour weaponry. The Royal Hotel, thankfully, lives up to its reputation of being a good 3 star hotel. After dealing with the checking in and dropping things off procedure, we take to the streets to stretch the legs and lift the spirits. Alas, when the moods are down, the world seems a less cheerful place and Battambang does not impress.
Our expectation of a sleepy, quaint, French colonial town is soon challenged when we come upon the market. Its busy, noisy, smelly and dirty. A man, high on something, walks around muttering to himself wearing nothing more than a short, filthy T-shirt. His butt cheeks toward me, I silently beg that he does not turn around, but of course he does and I get a full frontal view. A number of young boys pass by holding packets to their noses as they sniff glue to get high. This human decay does little to lift our spirits and our disappointment is palpable. There is nothing to do but to find a coffee selling place and discuss our options. We remind ourselves that we are not bound to any itinerary and if we want, we can move on the next day. Or we can stay a little longer, lie low and recover some energy. The time and choices are ours to do with as we please.
An early dinner, shower and bed are the most enticing option for now. We have a feeling that things will be better in the morning.