From Bangkok we journeyed to Siem Reap, Cambodia, but it was no easy road to get there. It began with a 5:55 a.m. train from Bangkok, one that was as third class as it could be. It was a cool morning, however, and with the windows open, the breeze kept the trip from being unbearable. That is, until the fires. We’d seen them burning in the distance and didn’t think much of them. Just farmers burning their fields, releasing nitrogen, whatever it is that farmers do. Then all of the sudden the fires weren’t off in the distance; they were all along the railroad track. Our train drove straight into a tunnel of flame. Smoke and ash and fire were leaping into the train car, while we huddled on the floor, trying to avoid all three. But the fun was only beginning.
After exiting the train a little more well-done and covered in soot than when we entered it, we took a tuk-tuk to the Cambodian border. After dodging the scam visa office, we exited Thailand, bribed a Cambodian border guard, and made our way to a tourist holding pen where buses routinely left for Siem Reap. Twelve of us or so ended up piling into a mini-van. I was blessed with the front seat. I had air-conditioning. I wasn’t packed like a sardine in a can. I thought I was pretty lucky. I was wrong. I was so wrong.
While the rest of the passengers chattered away in the back, I had a front row seat to a spectacle of terror that defies proper description. I have seen bad driving before. I though the Thai’s were rather reckless. They have nothing on the Cambodians. We fired along a Cambodian highway at 100 clicks an hour, swerving in and out of traffic like we were in a NASCAR race. It was a two-lane road, but you would never know it. I’m not sure what was the most terrifying–going three wide on the road (i.e., the car on the right, the car passing the car on the right, and us passing both cars) while a huge truck was heading directly towards us, flashing his lights like a mad man; shooting the gap between two cars, one heading towards us and one we were passing, something we did five or six times; or the fact that we did all this while our drive answered his cell-phone and fumbled with his iPod. For 200 km, with no seat belts, we drove. At some point, I resigned myself to the fact that if I was going to die, there was nothing I could do about it.
By some absolute miracle, we made it to Siem Reap. Wonders never cease. But the true wonders were to follow.