The van ride we decided to take from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap turned out to be an interesting experience. We wanted to see the Cambodian countryside and experience travel like the locals, and the trip didn’t disappoint. It took about five hours to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, including a fifteen-minute break in the middle in a town called Kampong Thom. The tour company that arranged our trip was right; taking the passenger van, though it’s about the same price as taking the bus, was actually faster because the passenger van is smaller and can move faster and navigate around slower traffic better than the bus.
During the ride, it was interesting to observe the passengers inside the van. On the front row, next to the driver was a British older gentleman who was traveling alone. Next to him was a Cambodian man who seemed to know the driver as they had talked with each other like friends during the trip. I sat in the middle of the second row. On my left was a Japanese gentleman who carried his Canon DSLR with him. We picked him up at a hotel just after the van picked us up at our hotel. Before he left, we saw him giving a local person a hug — seemed to be someone who had helped him during his travels so far. During our trip, I saw him uploading the photos from his camera to his laptop, then he spent some time reviewing the photos. He had many portraits of local Cambodian in rural areas; beautifully taken and seemed to have one theme: showcasing the people of Cambodia (many if not most were smiling — wonderful to see in a country that many considered as among the poorest in the world). On my right was my cousin Kristi, who spent most of the time during the trip taking a nap.
Behind our row there were two more rows of passengers (5 more people). One of the passengers was the American girl who was a teacher in Phnom Penh (as I gathered from listening to her talking to a couple of other foreigners right after our pick up from the hotel). The rest of the passengers were local Cambodians. The American girl also spent most of the trip taking a nap. One Cambodian gentleman who sat in the back row provided an interesting ‘entertainment’ during our ride. Apparently he was conducting business during the ride. His mobile phone must’ve received calls every 5-10 minutes, and he talked to his colleague over the phone. Some calls were in Khmer, some were in English. Quite interesting to observe…
The scenery varied as we passed towns and rice fields. Once in a while I noticed roadside stands with people selling what looked like glass bottles of drink (brownish in color, looked like alcoholic drink). I wasn’t really sure what that was — later on I found out that it was people selling gasoline for motorcycles (unless you’re in big city like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, you rarely see gas station). As I mentioned in my post about National Highway 6, we passed people with various modes of transportation that are slower (oxcart, bicycle, etc.). Our driver didn’t slow down much, driving between 60-100 kmh and honking his horn to get people to notice that we’re about to pass them.
The photo below was taken when we stopped in Kampong Thom for a break in the middle. Here you can see our passenger van getting refreshed during the trip. It was quite a new Ford Transit, which we saw quite a bit in the Southeast Asian countries we visited (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam). Ford seemed to do quite a good business in the region to supply the vans for intercity travels.