Kratie to Phnom Penh: Why we loathe Cambodian ‘bad boys’

Those drivers were certainly ‘bad boys’. We didn’t need to speak Khmer to understand that they were rude; loud; grossly inappropriate to poor, local passengers; profiteers; unethical; and equally importantly, incredibly aggressive and unsafe drivers.

We’d had a few uncomfortable and thought-provoking bus journeys by this point. From the stomach-wrenching, windy roads starting in Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng in Laos to the profiteering menace of Paramount from the Laos – Cambodia border to Kratie, I hadn’t really considered travelling could get any worse.

Route from Kratie to Phnom Penh (Map)

Route from Kratie to Phnom Penh (Map)

It’s our own fault, really. We were trying to be efficient, and trusted a polite-sounding guy full of smiles too easily. He made us feel as though we were getting a bargain – paying $12 each for a bus ticket to Phnom Penh from Kratie. He explained we could get a cheaper bus, at $8 each, with many people, no air-conditioning, and many stops for the indirect route. Naturally, we agreed to paying more for all of those wonderful ‘comforts’. If only we didn’t trust the seller.

It’s a shame I didn’t keep the business card with the name of the hotel; otherwise, I’d be able to warn future travellers. He was a hotel representative, doing what hotel reps do: getting commission off the sales. But commission wasn’t his only profit; with his false smiles and seemingly-good intentions, he coaxed us into paying more for a service he knew he wasn’t offering. He was merely trying to pocket the difference; and he succeeded.

At 11am, we arrived at our hotel in anticipation of this ‘comfortable’ bus we paid for. Instead, we found a random man on a scooter asking us to hop on; telling us he wanted to drive us with our massive backpacks to the bus station so we could get to Phnom Penh… We refused, and asked the hotel tuk-tuk driver to take us to the bus station instead.

I felt a bit sorry for the tuk-tuk driver. There was a placid, kind look on his non-English-speaking face that gave me the feeling he knew we were being grossly manipulated and ripped off. But, of course, he didn’t say a word.

We were then told to board an old mini-van that was clearly falling apart. To make matters worse, the van’s floors were stacked with planks of wood, leaving hardly any legroom at all. The driver demanded we sit in the back, which we complied to temporarily, but then realised the whole thing was a hoax, and that we should at least sit in the front.

Bus at capacity from Kratie to Phnom Penh (at this stage, we didn't think the 'bad boys' could fit anyone else in - but we were wrong!)

Bus at capacity from Kratie to Phnom Penh (at this stage, we didn’t think the ‘bad boys’ could fit anyone else in – but we were wrong!)

Without exaggeration, sitting with my knees scrunched up to my sweaty face and holding on to the mini-van’s side panels for my life, we sat through 8 gruelling hours of aggressive over-taking, honking and shouting in an incredibly full bus… watching motorbike upon motorbike being pushed off the road. A local lady and her child were abandoned in the middle of nowhere, as the drivers yelled at them to get off at a stop different to what their mere Khmer kip paid for. We witnessed local upon local getting stuffed into this 12-seater mini-van without any consideration of personal space. One teenage boy even had his bum pushed inappropriately into the bus when he delayed to enter as a result of the very obvious lack of space. What’s even worse is that none of us had the courage to say anything… do anything…To this day, I am so grateful that we came out of that mini-van in Phnom Penh all in one peace.

Now that I’ve completed most of my planned long bus journeys, I can confidently say our ride with the Cambodian ‘bad boys’ was the worst ever yet. I had never felt so uncertain about whether I would have a future at all, convinced it couldn’t be possible to survive such fast and unsafe driving.

Nonetheless, after a cocktail and a toast to ‘surviving our bus journey’, I did my research. I read as many news articles and reviews about transport in Cambodia as I could find on the net, and discovered that Cambodia had a notorious reputation in Southeast Asia for deadly traffic accidents. I also uncovered a company by the name of ‘P. P Sorya Transport’. Though some former travellers complained of smelly toilets, delays or losing some of their belongings: my discovery of this company enabled us to have some of the – most importantly – safest long distance bus rides we had yet experienced in Cambodia.

Thank goodness for P.P. Sorya. (http://www.ppsoryatransport.com/ – Cached)

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7 thoughts on “Kratie to Phnom Penh: Why we loathe Cambodian ‘bad boys’

  1. Hi Lina, I guess this is your blog.
    Great trip you have made through Asia.
    Over the last years I also travelled to Anker Wad, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and at least ones a year I am in Manila. I left Greece a long time ago for new adventures and got married to my Asian wife. You guys never left my mind but time and situation turned against us. Hope you are doing well…I say you on LinkedIn.
    I am currently working in the Pharmaceutical Industry. Drop me a line and hope you are not bitter against me.

    • Thanks for your message. Asia was wonderful indeed. Congratulations for your wedding and your change of industry. Hope all is well!

  2. Pingback: Shadows beneath the light: Six feet under, but not dead « Time Out – New Beginnings

  3. About this ‘Psoraya Transport’, I think you refer to ‘Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Co., Ltd’ (terrible service). Cambodian bus companies still in a very primitive development. Their drivers and assistants are persons with a very low formation, zero ethics and little idea of attention and good service to any customer. They even dare to charge foreigners the double (you could not notice, but in many so call ‘bus stations’ there are two boards: one is written in English with the ‘normal’ fee and the other is written in Khmer with cheaper prices. As foreigners certainly – though not always – cannot read Khmer, they will not notice that they are paying the double and even the triple of the price for a very bad service. The situation get worse during holidays. Recently the government was contemplating to cancel license to companies that produce accidents. I would never recommend Sorya and Virak Bunthan. The most professional so far is Mekong Express.

    • Hi, Albeiro. Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you on the point that Cambodian bus companies are still in development; both in regards to safe driving, but also in regards to customer service.

      After my experience with quite scary, unlicensed drivers (as per my blog post), P. Sorya Transport – in my view – was excellent. I suppose it is all relative.

      We sought a reputable bus company after what felt like a traumatic 8 hour journey. P.Sorya had positive reviews online; therefore, we tried them. The bus may have delayed by an hour, but we felt safe. We thought it was great we could book a return journey in advance and have guaranteed seats; great that the bus had air-conditioning; great that the bus driver would make an effort to answer any of our questions when we weren’t 100% sure where we were going, or why we were stopping. We were happy with our experience, and were too scared to seek out an even better experience – which, evidently – from your experience – exists.

      Many thanks for your insight. Will brave it next time, and try out Mekong Express!

      For future travellers, here’s their website: http://www.ppsoryatransport.com/ – Cached

  4. Quite a scary post. I’ve experienced some stressful bus rides – mostly due to overcrowding, but nothing like you described. While travelling, I do get paranoid about getting off at the right place. Being unfamiliar with the locations and the language, it’s very difficult to know where you’re being dropped off and usually takes time to confirm you’re where you want to be. All risky, particularly if you’re short on time and have appointments or connections that you must get to. Love the photo you guys took on the bus with your eyes and the passengers behind you. Goes really well with your narrative, I think. All your photos will be a treasure for he rest of your lives. Great job documenting it all. I assume you took many more than you posted. Hope you can share more someday when you’re back and setted in France or wherever.

    • I know. The post took me a while to write – but it seemed worthy to mention the story; if only for other travellers to Cambodia to do their homework before getting on a bus!

      The photo is great. Really captures the moment and our growing concern as the bus was filling up – seemingly without end.

      Regarding more photos – you’re right. We have LOADS. 🙂 Many of them aren’t too interesting; but there are plenty of wonderful shots that will certainly cherish (and share with you next time we see you!). Hope you celebrated your birthday in style!

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