Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kampot Trip - Part 7 - Scammed

Rotha got us back to Kampot in plenty of time, likely because the temple visit got cut short after my vertigo.  He dropped us off at a corner restaurant telling us he'd call the bus driver to pick us up there.  Promptly at 3:30 pm, the bus arrived, and we boarded.  The bus driver didn't ask to look at our ticket and I never gave it a second thought.

This bus headed for Sihanoukville, where we would eventually board the sleeper bus to Siem Reap.   Along the way we picked up and dropped off passengers, including three young monks.  I'd guess the age of the older monk at about 25, but the two youngest looked barely 10 years old.  Although I couldn't understand what they were saying, the young boys chattered as kids will do when they play together.  Although it was a fanciful thought, I imagined one of them pulling out a 'Transformer' toy from the sleeve of his robe, and I wondered if they'd ever done anything like that.

The day had been a hot one, overcast and muggy, and for the first time since we'd been in Cambodia, it began to pour... .... buckets.  The bus careened around corners and passed slower vehicles and people who stopped for cover.  At times the visibility was so poor I wondered if we would make it, or if we'd slam into something.  The bus stopped, and the monks got off, drenched before they'd gone only a few feet.
Running for cover

By the time we reached Sihanoukville, the rain had stopped as suddenly as it began.   We still had nearly three hours to wait before boarding the sleeper bus, and it might have been nice to explore the town, famous for its beaches and party atmosphere, but the bus terminal was on the outskirts.  We contented ourselves with exploring the bus terminal complex, grabbed some fried noodles at one of the food stands, then sat down to wait some more.  An hour later, Gordon wandered off and returned with some tins of peanuts for the journey.  He thought he'd also seen a bottle of wine in a display case, but the little old man who ran the kiosk wasn't letting it out of the case without payment.  I went over to have a look, and in my broken Khmer, managed to get the bottle of wine with a couple of plastic glasses (kao) thrown in....all for $1.00.

For the next two hours we watched as buses and people came and went.  Young men, clad only in their underwear, scrubbed buses down with soapy pads on long bamboo poles, and tossed buckets of clear water high up the sides of the buses to rinse them down.  No automatic bus wash (or even hoses) here.

Near our departure time, a bus arrived, and a man hollered for everyone to get off.  The bus was broken, he said, and pointed to another bus, commanding everyone bound for Phnom Penh to board.  I approached him and asked when the sleeper bus would come.  He asked for my ticket, and when I showed it to him, he growled 'Where did you get this?!'.  When said I'd bought it at the Kampot Riverview Guesthouse, he grabbed it from me, sat at a desk without a word, wrote out two new tickets, and kept mine.  He also asked me to write down my name, saying there'd be a free tuk-tuk waiting at the Siem Reap bus terminal for us.  Strange....These two new tickets had stubs attached...The one I'd given him didn't...But it still didn't register.

'Get on that bus' he said, and pointed to the double-decker bus with upright seats.  I began to refuse, trying to explain we'd purchased tickets for a sleeper bus.  'The bus is broken,' he said.  'Get on!', and realizing we had little choice, we boarded the bus with reassurance we'd be transferred to a sleeper bus in Phnom Penh.  To say I was upset is putting it mildly.  Not only had we paid for a sleeper bus, I had really been looking forward to my first time on one!

So there we were, crammed into a crowded bus.  Nothing more to do than sit back (not lay down) and enjoy the ride.  There's nothing better than humour to break a bad mood, and nothing else can get a few laughs going like a bottle of cheap wine.  I sneaked the bottle out of my bag, unscrewed the cap, poured some into our plastic cups, and we toasted.  Next came the peanuts....coated with chicken flavour.  (Chicken flavour? Yep, you read that right.)  Actually, it looked like CHSCKEN which really cracked me up.
Ginseng Wine - 23% alcohol
Tastes a bit like creosote.
'Coated with CHSCKEN flavour'
Pretty tasty, actually....
We managed to grab some sleep, and I woke with a stiff neck which made me even more anxious to stretch out in that sleeper bus.  (Sleeper bus? Did I say sleeper bus?)  In Phnom Penh, they herded us onto another double-decker bus.  Now I was furious.  But we were in a strange city, in the middle of the night!  What else could we do but get on the bus, and figure it all out when we got back to Siem Reap.

The bus was filled to capacity, and most of the seats were in poor condition.  Our seats wouldn't recline.  In place of the air vent above my head was a huge gaping hole that blasted arctic air.  I stuffed my kroma (scarf) in the hole, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get some sleep.  At 6:30 am, as we pulled into the Siem Reap bus terminal, another bus pulled in right behind us.   (You guessed it....the sleeper bus from Sihanoukville)  Of course, there was no free tuk-tuk waiting for us...... I wasn't surprised.

Later that day, we made some calls, and learned some interesting things.  In the end, we had to accept that we'd been scammed and there was nothing further we could do.  

Looking back, here is what I believe happened:  Rotha took our money for the bus tickets ($20 each), gave us a used ticket, and pocketed the money.  (I now know from sad experience that bus tickets are supposed to have a detachable part on one end, which ours didn't.  I also know that we are supposed to get one ticket per person, not one stub like Rotha gave us.)  We've since learned that several similar incidents have originated in Kampot.  It makes me wonder if  it's a scam that has been cooked up between Rotha and the bus driver in Kampot, as we weren't asked for our ticket when we boarded the bus there.  What better place to get used tickets than a bus driver?

When the man at the Sihanoukville bus terminal asked me where I got the ticket, and then later asked me our name for the 'free tuk-tuk', I wonder if he was planning to use this information to track down Rotha, the scam artist?  I hope so.

Bhuddism teaches that 'If you do good, you'll get good, and if you do bad, you'll get bad.'  After that awful episode was over, I wondered to myself what bad had we done to deserve this?  In retrospect, I see it differently now.  You know, when I handed that man the used bus ticket, he had every right to make us pay all over again, or leave us stranded in Sihanoukville.  Fortunately for us, he had a good heart, and said nothing... just wrote us out two valid tickets, and got us back to Siem Reap.  That was a good thing.  Funny how I was mad at him at the time, and now I realize I should have thanked him.  So often things aren't what they seem... 


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