Spooning Strangers

SihanoukvilleMy arrival in Sihanoukville was after a very long and disjointed journey via Phnom Penh. All in all about 15 hours. The first eight hours though were a little more unusual than I was expecting.

In Cambodia there is a bus that connects all the main centers; Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Battambang. It is a special bus.

It’s called the Hotel Bus.

All the regular seats have been replaced by beds; train sleeper-car type of beds. They are arranged in an upper and lower level on both sides of the aisle. Two mattresses per curtained unit. Four mattresses on each level across the width of the bus.

Yes, if traveling alone you spoon with a stranger!

The first stranger I was drafted to join was an older Cambodian man with a quick temper. He was adamant that he was not sharing with me. It may have been because I was bigger than the average passenger and he didn’t want to be jammed up against the window.

Or it could have been because I was a foreigner.

Or it could have been that he was simply a cantankerous elderly gentleman who was as surprised as me regarding the sleeping arrangements. If so his reaction was understandable. I could see him attempting to hold onto his solitary berth as long as possible in the hopes that the people assigners would forget about him.

After the argument settled I was shunted to the very rear of the bus; right above the engine on an upper level bed. My bunk buddy was a Cambodian student on his way to Phnom Penh.

We didn’t talk a lot. We just arranged our bags, ourselves, and fell asleep somewhat secure in the assumption that neither of us was going to molest the other.

The journey went by quickly and we slept remarkably well for a first date. No excessive tossing and turning. No inappropriate noises or unwanted semi-conscious hugging. All in all a rather pleasant experience.

I didn’t ask my bunk mate if he had the same experience; I am just assuming he did.

In Phnom Penh I boarded my onward bus. As is typical in Asia and Africa the scheduled departure time often means you leave that particular spot on the ground; drive ten feet further on then stop for the next two hours.

Waiting for something; what…who knows?

We all hope the driver knows and that is as far as that thought process goes. To take it any further would be futile.

Five hours later and with no events to report we pulled into the Sihanoukville bus depot. Commission hungry hotel wallahs scrap for your business. In Sihanoukville however the system is price controlled. There is no bargaining to get into town. The rate is what it is. If you don’t like it you can walk. There is no other tuk-tuks around.

You pay up and smile!

Also, in Sihanoukville don’t be expecting the driver to take you where you would like to go.

Oh no! You will end up at one of commission based hotels where the driver receives a kickback if you take a room.

I was heading for the Cove. I didn’t have a booking there but I knew it was in the area I wanted so figured I could start there and I would find someplace eventually. This method has worked over the last 28 years so no reason it should stop working now.

To get to the Cove I had to go through two other hotels first. Looking at rooms, rejecting them. Eventually getting to the Cove.

It  was full.

Right next door was the Malibu House. I stayed there instead.

Sihanoukville was named after King Sihanouk and it the first deep water port in Cambodia that feeds directly to the open ocean. Prior to Sihanoukville all shipping was done up the Mekong and therefore was ultimately controlled by Vietnam.

That wasn’t a good thing; far from it.

Nowadays Sihanoukville has several parts to it. The port, the city center, and the various beach communities; the most popular of these being Serendipity Beach.

It is a typical young backpacker beach town and as such became the location of another epiphany; of sorts.

I qualify this statement with the words “of sorts” simply because it’s not something I didn’t already know.

I am older than these folks.

What interests them doesn’t interest me much anymore. I kind of like relaxing in the evening, having a good meal, talking. I don’t drink much. I don’t want to wear multi-colored string anklets and bracelets. Most of all I appreciate a morning without a hangover…stumbling down the main street drunk and cursing at 7am is not my idea of a good time.

There seems to be a general lack of respect towards cultures that are non-judgmental.

If you want to be an asshole they are quite willing to look on in amazement and wonder why these crazy westerners act like this.

They must wonder a lot of things!

I did have a great meal on the beach. BBQ barracuda with all the fixings and a beer to wash it down. Toes in the sand and skyrockets lighting up the sky. The local Cambodian kids hawk these fireworks all night. By the amount that go off I am assuming business is good.

The next day I headed to one of the southern islands. Cambodia is not really known as a beach destination but Koh Rong is the main destination these days so headed there to relax and write.

The beaches of Koh Rong are gorgeous and some, in my opinion, are as good as the beaches found in Thailand.

The village on Koh Rong is called Koh Tui. It is tiny. It is probably no more than 100 yards in length. Has one policeman. Everything else is a hotel bar restaurant combo.

The incoming tide reaches the top steps of all the establishments. To walk around town means walking in the ocean for a several hours each day. With rising global tides it makes me wonder how long the village, as it is today, has got left.

I did a couple of treks on the island to distant beaches but other than that I swam, ate, and wrote. A perfect little getaway as part of a much larger vacation. Palm trees that curve towards the shoreline, soft white and golden sands, clear turquoise water, a jungle interior, and beach bungalows.

I just needed a break!

For photos of Cambodia click here.

51 thoughts on “Spooning Strangers

  1. Very enjoyable read, Tim! Your pictures are so beautiful and you certainly share your sense of adventure and a great feel for the experiences you had. The term “cringe-worthy” comes to mind as I read about that bus trip…. I hope you will stop by for a read of some of my articles on New Jetsetters and hope you will leave a comment or two! I look forward to reading more of your work! So nice to connect with you – keep up the travels and the great writing!


  2. Not sure how I would handle traveling under those conditions. I am not an up close and personal type of person. I love my own space!

    I really like reading about your travels and the mishaps.


    1. On my travels through India this very subject really came to the forefront. There is absolutely no such thing as personal space given the massive population. More so than the rest of Asia; except Bangladesh. I really appreciate your comment Jeri and thanks for reading my story. I have plenty more.


  3. First of all the pictures are beautiful. And I am amazed every week at your courage! I don’t think I could have spooned with a stranger…I probably would have stood up all night! LOL I look so forward to these posts every week!Soem of these places I’ll never have time to get to…so thanks for taking me along 🙂


    1. There was nowhere to stand. Any ideas you have in your head Jacquie are probably the same ones I had before boarding. Open air single beds with maybe a thin curtain for privacy. Wide aisle, bathroom, emergency exit. Nope. None of that. The aisle was only 12 inches wide. The curtains thick containing every hot, moist particle of air. It was jam packed. Thank the heavens there was no accident and thank exhaustion for allowing sleep to come and stay. It was an adventure though 🙂


  4. Sounds like an awesome trip. The bus in the first part reminded me of the Green Tortoise that goes across country from San Francisco – covered in mattresses. Not sure if its still running. The photographs are absolutely beautiful too. And I too am at the no hangover stage, thank you:-)


    1. Green Tortoise is still going strong and they have a hostel in San Francisco up on Broadway. I remember seeing the bus come through Chicago many years ago and always wanted to give it a try.


  5. You are really courageous to share with a stranger , I will never be brave enough. But first time I heard of hotel bus , it was nice to have a comfortable journey.
    I really liked the photos and the one with a small island with growing trees reminds me of the beach in Yunbo, Saudi Arabia , it does not have trees but the color of sand and blue sky is like that. There in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is a place with beach with white sand.
    All the pictures are very nice and I really liked your way of writing. It was another great read about travel. Seems you are relaxing and enjoying your travel.
    Happy holidays. .


    1. I guess most of us relax into travel after a few days away and it’s a nice feeling. When on a long trip I refer to it as being day and dateless.


  6. Tim, I love bbq but I do not think I could wrap my head around eating Barracuda. This place looks beautiful and inviting. I thought it was funny that you had to spoon the old man. haha That is the worst about traveling. Thanks for sharing. =)

    Crystal Ross


      1. Ok. Still funny though. It reminds me of when I am on the plane and I am sandwiched between two people in the middle. I love traveling but not the plane part. unless, there is someone interesting to talk to. 😉


  7. Traveling is fun isn’t it, Tim? You get to make new friends, never fading memories, some good and bad experiences and taste various dishes/recipes! I have a traveler friend in India who is out on a mission to cover 2500 km on a bicycle to raise awareness about adolescents rights and issues. I like people doing different things in life!
    May you have many more good experiences in the months to come.
    Keep writing. I like the way you describe things.


  8. Your title, “Spooning Strangers” got my attention and the humor in your writing made me want to continue reading. I’m glad you made it through the experience without being molested by your sleeping partner. It must have been a bit unnerving during the time, but it sure makes for a funny story. Gorgeous pictures of the beach!


    1. You’re very welcome Bill. It was certainly a great place to write. Now you have me thinking and I want to get back there. Soon.


  9. You are brave of had a spooning experience with a stranger, don’t think I would of had the courage 🙂 Your trip sounded very peaceful and relaxing for you. Made me feel like I was walking along the beach with you! Great pictures too.


    1. I didn’t have a lot choice by the time I was on the bus. It was a fun experience though am pretty sure I would try to avoid it in the future.


  10. Even my 26 year old travel blogger son came home from his most recent 6 month trip and said,” I can’t stay in hostels anymore. I need my own room”. He already notices that drinking and staying up to late, sort of interferes with his plans to get things done the next day. I’m even further along than you and he are—-I need my own bathroom. I don’t need luxury—just more or less clean and an en suite bathroom. We recently spent a month in southeast Asia, including a visit to Siem Reap—where we stayed in a great guesthouse (on a street with no name) for $39 per night, including breakfast. I know that sounds ridiculously expensive to a backpacker for Cambodia, but it suited us fine. I’ll look forward to your future posts—not too many other travel bloggers here 😉


    1. I totally understand the need for an en suite. It is a goal I shoot for now as well. My hotel in Siem Reap was the Shadow of Angkor and for $20 a night it checked all my boxes with an added bonus of being right on the river; just around the corner from the market and Pub Street. Glad you like the blog Suzanne.


  11. I think you highlight the difference between tourists and travellers. As travellers we try and fit in with the locals and get to know them. As tourists they seem want everything they have at home only in the sun.
    Tourists miss so much such as Spooning Strangers which you describe very well. In fact all your travels are described beautifully and the pictures always add to the story leaving a complete image.


    1. Thank you very much Mark. I appreciate the comment and you reading the article. Like you, it remains a mystery to me why some people would travel to the other side of the world looking for what they already have back home.


  12. Hi Tim
    You really pull the reader in and I felt I was traveling right along with you. I loved the story of the older man refusing to share with you – I wonder if he ended up having to share with anyone. Your pictures are gorgeous and provide us non-travelers with a fantastic view of places we’ll never visit. Looking forward to next week.


  13. I always feel I have been on the trip with you when I read your post. I mirror what others have said. You have a very nice way of writing about your experiences.

    Curiosity would have gotten the best of me. I would have loved to have heard the students thoughts about the trip and sleeping arrangements. 🙂


    1. To be honest I would have liked that to. Unfortunately the need for sleep trumped that. I am glad you feel like you are along for the ride Susan, thanks.


  14. I like some adventure when I travel but I have never encountered spooning with strangers on a bus. Not sure I’d do well with that because I’m not a good sleeper. Everything else sounded fun though. Great pictures too.


    1. Hi Beth, yes I was not expecting that either but once the situation presented itself I had no other options. Just went with the flow and luckily was tired.


  15. Tim you make this all look so fun and easy. Thanks for the inspiration! I’m stuck in New York City – one of the hardest cities to leave because it lures you back with addictive convenience – but I gotta move around more like you!


    1. I bet that once you get out and on the road you will wonder why it seemed so difficult to do. New York isn’t going anywhere and as great of a city as it is, it will be there when you get back. Believe me, it is fun and you will have the time of your life.


  16. This looks like a beautiful beach and a great place to eat fish on the beach and relax. I laughed out loud about how well your sleep with a stranger went. Sounds like you had sweet dreams that night, but that is my idea of a nightmare! Can’t even imagine.


  17. Nice story Tim! I am so happy you are doing what you love, and I love the title of your blog. It totally evokes a mood and image in my mind of what those faraway places must feel like.
    Hope your 2014 is happy and healthy!


    1. Thanks Christine. The title comes in part from the many stories that wouldnt have been, had it not been for a transportation mishap. But youre right, it also comes from the easy going attitude you must adopt when you are there. All the best in 2014 for you to.


  18. Hi Tim! I really enjoyed reading your posts about Battambang. Being back in Norway, freezing, your amazing writing took me back to everything we experienced. Hope everything is well!



    1. Thanks Susanne, I am glad you are reading the blog. It was nice having you guys to hang out with in Battambang as well. Please feel free to sign up as I have a lot of travel stories I am going to post from all my travels of the past. Like you, it takes me back there when I write about it. Have a great Christmas and New Year. Tim


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