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A Morning with Haste

"You go airport?"

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Phnom Penh, September 5th 2011

Actually, my first plan was to end the trip in Phnom Penh, take a bus back to Sai Gon, and fly home to Jakarta, because Air Asia has no direct flight from Phnom Penh to Jakarta. However, approximately 35 days prior to my departure, all seats of Air Asia from Sai Gon to Jakarta were sold out. I searched for other alternatives like flying the next day, transiting in Kuala Lumpur instead of Sai Gon, checking other airlines, etc. The most thing I didn't want to to do was to transit in KL. Not because I don't like KL, but due to my current economic state, I still have to rely on Air Asia whether I like it or not. Hence, flying with Air Asia from Jakarta, provides chances to visit KL more often than I can wish for.

My research through out the internet brought me to the most effective choice which is extending my trip 2 days and fly to Jakarta from Bangkok with Garuda Indonesia. The fare was a bit less than Air Asia's fare for the same flight on the same date. For sure I would get more space for my legs, a meal, a seat by the window, and a max of 20-kilo-baggage allowance, without any additional fee. Why should I take Air Asia, then? Hahaha. I turned from panic to excited. This will be my first international flight with Garuda Indonesia! (What a silly thing to admit.) I made some of my friends envy me for getting such a good offer from Garuda Indonesia.

Next step, I booked a bus to Bangkok from The Sinh Tourist. Bangkok, here I come again!

Since the bus is said to leave at 6:30 AM, I scheduled myself to leave the hotel at 5:30 AM. During negotiation with Mr. Phana through email, I asked whether I could get an early breakfast at 5:00 AM. He negotiated for 5:10 AM and I agreed. So, this early morning I got down to the lobby and required for my breakfast. Mr. Phana wasn't there. The other staffs gave me a weird look. "Our breakfast starts at six," said one of them.

I returned a frustrated look to them while explaining my deal with Mr. Phana.

"What would you like to have?" I was asked at last.

"Fried rice will do," I answered. The fried rice appeared 10 minutes later. While waiting, I had already grabbed 2 slices of bread from the buffet which had just started to be set. The staffs appeared to try their best to serve me. They pulled a chair for me, brought me a glass of water, pulled a standing fan near me and turned it on, and so on. Fearing I would miss my bus, I didn't finish my breakfast.

Once I was out of the hotel, although I was still standing in front of Khmeroyal Hotel, no one from the hotel cared. Maybe they all sighed together behind me as I walked out. Two days ago when I asked Mr. Phana how to get to The Sinh Tourist's office, he wasn't of any help. It seemed that he wanted me to hire his car and driver (again), otherwise he won't care. His attitude was just like when I asked how to take the sunset cruise. He suggested me to take a private boat whereas all along Sisowath Boulevard many travel agencies offered a sunset cruise. I can't believe Mr. Phana didn't knew about that. He could have recommended me to go to one of the travel agencies, or at least tell me to search down the road. He said nothing when I said I preferred a group tour. Phew.

I thought it would be easy to get a tuk-tuk, because there were many during the day. Even while strolling the streets, I had been frequently offered a ride on a tuk-tuk. However, it turned out that tuk-tuk drivers aren't early risers like those who workout at the bank of Tonle Sap River. A man on a motorbike stopped by. Apparently he came to fetch his wife (or girlfriend) from a night shift. He asked me where I wanted to go. I showed him the address I had printed on a piece of paper. Suddenly a tuk-tuk passed by. He hailed and talked to the driver while showing my piece of paper.

"Oh, airport, airport!" said the driver.

"No, this is not the airport. It's the office of The Sinh Tourist," I said.

The driver shook his head, said something in Khmer, and drove away.

"He doesn't know the place?" I asked the man on the motorbike.

"No, he doesn't."

The exact same thing happened again after several minutes. Another tuk-tuk. "Oh, airport, airport!" Ah...

I blamed myself. "There you go. Be eccentric and nobody understands where you are going. Why don't you just travel the way everybody does? Ada-ada aja sih pake naik bis segala."

Taxi was not an option for me because of the same reason as last night. I'm broke. I still have 3 days to go, you know. I sighed. Now I understand why people work hard day and night even while neglecting their family. Who says money isn't important? Ah...

Minutes went by. 5:40 AM by now. I calculated in mind, if I miss this bus, I might have to take a plane, or stay another night in Phnom Penh. In the end I would spend more than a taxi fare. It was then when I realized that Phnom Penh is no Sai Gon. There aren't taxis!!

Meanwhile another guy came to us. He looked concerned. The man on the motorbike then said to me, "You wait here. I'll look for someone with a motorbike to bring you."

"A motorbike? How can I carry my suitcase?"

"You just wait here," he replied and went off with his wife (or girlfriend).

Tonle Sap River stood still in front of my eyes and so did Sisowath Boulevard. The other guy next to me turned his head left and right searching. Suddenly we both turned to the right and our eyes bumped into the same thing. A tuk-tuk! That tuk-tuk was hidden behind the cars parked in front of Khmeroyal Hotel. The guy ran to the tuk-tuk and patted the driver's shoulder who was sleeping tight inside his tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk driver jumped off at once.

The guy spoke in Khmer and showed my piece of paper. The tuk-tuk driver nodded enthusiastically, excessively.

"He knows the place?" I asked the guy.

"Yes, he does," I heard.

"But how about that man who told me to wait just now? What if his friend comes here?"

Instead of answering me, the guy carried my suitcase into the tuk-tuk.

"How much?" I asked the tuk-tuk driver. The host at Sinh Foo Restaurant had taught me how to bargain with he tuk-tuk driver. Therefore, I was about to practice it. He said, if the tuk-tuk driver mentions a price, I should bargain half the price, and then go a bit higher, and so on. He also told me that it would cost about $5 to get to The Sinh Tourist's office but a short city tour on a tuk-tuk is about $3.

To my astonishment, the tuk-tuk driver answered, "Three dollars."

Wow! This is already cheaper than the expected price. It would be crazy if I bargain half the price.

I got on the tuk-tuk without bargaining. I cannot thank those two guys enough for being so concerned about me. Ah, forget Khmeroyal Hotel. Phnom Penh is really charming, and kind. Moreover, I think, that's how life goes sometimes. The people who ought to care for you pays no attention. On the contrary, the people who actually has nothing to do with you, who doesn't know you, to whom you have given nothing, express their concern.

Haste is not at all over. My tuk-tuk driver turned left whereas 2 days ago when I arrived, I came from the right side of the road. Thinking that maybe some roads are closed in the morning, or is only for one-way traffic, or such, I kept silent. Suddenly...

"There! Mekong River!" My tuk-tuk driver pointed to his right.

"I know, I know!" I retorted. Inside my mind I added, "Don't you know that I've come all along Mekong River from Vietnam to Cambodia? Don't you tell me about Mekong River!"

"So where you want to go?" My tuk-tuk driver turned his head to me and slowed down.

"What?! I want to go here!" I tapped hard on the piece of paper with The Sinh Tourist's address. "Just now you said you knew the way! I'm not going for sightseeing!"

My tuk-tuk driver said nothing. He just went on straight.

I said again, "Yesterday when I arrived, I came from that side." I pointed to my back. "Why are you going this side?"

My tuk-tuk driver said nothing again. He stopped and turned back. Hah... at least this doesn't look the opposite direction anymore. I was just about to sit back and enjoy the morning city atmosphere when I heard,

"You go airport?"

"I am not going to the airport!!" If our tuk-tuk wasn't moving, I'm sure my voice would have waken the neighborhood. "I'm going by bus from the The Sinh Tourist's office!"

My tuk-tuk driver looked at my piece of paper. He took out his cellphone.

Because The Sinh Tourist's phone number was written there too, I said, "If you don't know the place, just call that number. Ask them to tell you which way to go."

My tuk-tuk driver nodded, but did not make a call. I assumed he was by now awake and has eventually read the address and knows where to go.

My tuk-tuk stopped. "There. Bus terminal," said my driver. It was the city's bus terminal, but it wasn't The Sinh Tourist's office. A good thing it was that I had arrived in Phnom Penh by The Sinh Tourist's transportation also. Otherwise, I might have thought that that was The Sinh Tourist's bus terminal and got off there. It certainly would be more chaotic.

"No, no! The bus terminal is in front of The Sinh Tourist's office. Just call that number," I told my tuk-tuk driver.

Now, he did make a call. I sat back and enjoyed another side of the city I hadn't seen. Then my driver stopped. The street looked like the street where The Sinh Tourist's office ought to be. Stores lined up on the left and right. But, nowhere was "The Sinh Tourist" sign to be seen.

"It's not here," I said.

My tuk-tuk driver said nothing, but moved on. Just a few meters ahead, he stopped again. On my left I saw the sign "The Sinh Tourist".

However, very unlike the situation in front of The Sinh Tourist's office in Sai Gon, it was eerily quiet here. There wasn't even a single bus. Cold sweat fell on me. My bus has left.

I was just about to blame my tuk-tuk driver for making me miss my bus when a man with a big smile approached me. "Bangkok?"

"Yes, yes! I'm going to Bangkok!"

That man took my suitcase down from the tuk-tuk. I gave $3 to the tuk-tuk driver. He was silent for several seconds with my notes still in his hands. When I told Mom about this, she commented, "Poor guy." Yeah, he must have thought I wanted to take a city tour. That's why he offered me $3. He mustn't have thought it would be this far. He also had to make a call with his cellphone. Well... I can only pray that God will pay him back abundantly and forgive me for being less compassionate. I admit that if he had been honest that he didn't know the address on my piece of paper, I might still not be at The Sinh Tourist's office by now, for there weren't any other tuk-tuks.

On the other hand, I don't mean to justify myself, but as a matter of fact, my mind was preoccupied with the bus to Bangkok. "Has the bus leave already?" I asked the man from The Sinh Tourist.

"No. Come inside." He pulled my suitcase with him. He looked very calm. The calmer he looked, the colder my sweat. He is taking me inside to tell me that I can take another bus tomorrow so that I won't cry by the side of the street, I thought myself.

Inside the office was only a young man behind a desk. No guest. No one else. Very contradictory to the office in Sai Gon. "May I see your voucher, please?"

To make matters worse, I had forgotten to print out my voucher. I used to be very careful with documents when I travel. Even phone numbers, like The Sinh Tourist's, I had it with me. If I hadn't, it certainly would have taken more time to get here. It was just last night when I realized that I hadn't printed my bus voucher. However, based on previous experiences with The Sinh Tourist, after I show my voucher, I will get another receipt anyway. So I figured that jotting down my booking number would be enough.

The man behind the desk said, "We need your voucher to exchange it with the bus ticket."

"I'm sorry, I forgot to print it out. This is my booking number. May I ask you to print it here?" Logically, I thought that they could just enter my booking number into their data base and the voucher would appear. They ought to have that data base. Otherwise, what if a customer comes with a false voucher? How would they know?

The man behind the desk said that booking number only wasn't enough. He definitely needed the voucher. So I showed him the voucher I had downloaded to my cellphone the night before. I thought it would be quicker that way instead of turning on my laptop and showing it to him from my laptop. Nevertheless, he seemed to have a hard time scrolling up and down. I really couldn't understand what was so difficult.

"Can't you hurry? Wouldn't the bus leave?" But he kept on scrolling up and down.

"Don't you have another one?" he asked.

"I have, but it's in my laptop and you cannot print it out anyway. The content is the same."

These were really frustrating moments. I took my laptop out of my camera backpack, turned it on, and clicked the pdf file of the voucher. "Here it is." I said again.

"Hah... this is better," he replied. However, no paper appeared. I regretted I didn't bring a flash disk with me. When I asked him whether he had a flash disk or external hard disk which can be used to copy my voucher file into his computer, he looked at me as if I was asking him to bring me to the moon. Ah...

This man behind the desk made a call, tooted on the keyboard, made a call again, tooted again. And then a pretty young lady with fresh make up appeared from inside. She had a glass of hot coffee in one hand. I knew it was hot, because I could see thin vapor above the glass. She walked towards the desk very calmly as if walking on a catwalk, then sat in front of the computer. My laptop was next to her. She turned her head to my laptop one two times, typed, and a piece of paper emerged from the printer machine.

The man who helped me with my suitcase just now grabbed the fresh paper from the printer, and pulled my suitcase out. "Come on, let's go!" He said to me. He looked more relieved than I was.

The street was still as quiet as before. There still wasn't any bus. There was only one tuk-tuk. He carried my suitcase into the tuk-tuk. I climbed up, and so did he. I hardly could figure out what was going on.

The tuk-tuk stopped at a busy corner. There was a big bus and lots of people. Food vendors and their guests having breakfast covered the terrace of the shops and restaurants along the street. It seemed that I had come into a different world.

The man from The Sinh Tourist handed my suitcase to me. "Wait here," he said. He went into a shop that looked very much alive. I kind of felt like I had went into a time tunnel and skipped several hours ahead. Several minutes later he came out with a ticket in his hand. He ushered me to the bus, and helped me store my luggage under the bus. My seat number was "6", so a sticker of number "6" was attached on my suitcase. Good thing. Next, I was ushered to my seat. Ah, it isn't a seat by the window. Anyway, I should be grateful to be able to be in this bus in time. Yes, Bangkok I'm coming!

Posted by automidori 21:44 Archived in Cambodia Tagged bus cambodia phnom_penh the_sinh_tourist

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