Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Time, A Fickle Misconception

   June 27, 2012. We awake early, (yet again) for our departure to the ferry in Chau Doc, Vietnam which will take us to Phnom Phen, the capital city of Cambodia.  The Vietnamese rise early, their typical day starting between 5 and 6 am. It's no wonder by 9pm everything is closed except for bars that cater to westerners (a term used for all white people regardless of where they actually come from).
    We were supposed to catch the Hang Chau 2 speed boat which would take us up the Mekong at 8am, however the boat company had called our guide to inform her that the boat would be departing at 7:10 instead so we must be there on time. When we arrived at the boat, with the words "Hang Chau" gracing the side. We saw there were only a few other people on it and we departed straightway. We traveled to another two docks to pick up more passengers before beginning what we had confirmed three times to be a 5 hour journey. This five hours would include the time needed to make two boarder stops- one in Vietnam and one in Cambodia.
    The scenery was beautiful. Flat dirt roads bordered the river with corn fields lining them. Handmade tin and bamboo houses nestled themselves in the corn. There were a few house boats and small fishing vessels piloted by locals. There were floating tin homes and stick built pilings on which haphazard tin homes gingerly rested. I marveled at how much of this would be lost if there were a flood. Even the roads were precariously close and could be lost easily -some already had evidence of a washout, although we had been told the Mekong "rarley floods"
     Lindsay and I discussed our plans for Phnom Phen, we would have two hours to explore the city. We planned on hiring a tuk tuk to drive us around the city to see the sights then take us to the airport. At our designated arrival time we were still on the water and still moving at the boat's full speed. We looked out both sides and saw no city in sight.
      Two hours later we pulled up to the dock and raced to get our belongings. We spoke with the one and only taxi driver at the dock and a tuk tuk driver, telling them our plans. We had 40 minutes to make our flight and the airport was only 9km away. The cab would be the fastest way to get to the airport but, the driver informed us, "it too late- I think you flight it going to leave without you." But, he had said it was only 9km. Yes, but you had to be there two hours ahead of time to check in, the drivers said.  We asked how long it took to drive to the airpot and were told 40 minutes. Why so long, you must be wondering? Traffic- the dreaded Asian traffic which is slow and congested and nearly constant. There is hardly a time in an asia city, it seems, that there is not traffic.  The drivers insisted we were not going to make it and maybe they should drive us to a hotel instead. I insisted we go to the airport and Lindsay haggled the price of the cab fare. It would be more, of course if we wanted him to get us there in time and he promised to try his best.
     The trip was long and stressful. We were pissed about that boat ride too. The tour company put us on it, as if it were a great way to get to Cambodia when really we could have seen the Mekong on a short drive from Ho Chi Minh then returned there to catch an evening flight. Instead we drove a short drive form Ho Chi Minh to see the Mekong then got in a private car for a 4 hour drive to Chau Doc to spend the night in a creepy hotel (with numerous signs indicating that you'd better make sure you lock the doors and windows and do not let strangers into your room. We also got a lengthy lesson on how to appropriately lock the door from the front desk staff all while listing to the children's fair across the street play American children's songs like it's a small world sung in Vietnamese) and then board a boat in the early morning which took us another 7 and a half hours to Phnom Phen  for a 45 minute flight, which we were about to miss!
     Lindsay, in traditional New Yorker style, proceeded to goad the driver into driving faster. Nor was he driving aggressively enough, she pointed out when another vehicle cut  us off. "Taxis in New York know how to step on it! Why is that car passing us- you're not going to let him in, are you?" This went on for some time. Admittedly, this was making me a little nervous. I wanted to make it on time too, but who knows who this guy is? He might decide to teach us a lesson and drive aggressively only to end up in an accident or worse if we pissed him off. Maybe he wouldn't bring us to the airport at all. We were in a strange country with a strange cab driver who spoke a strange language  and were stuck in his car. No one know where we were or who we were with, no one would miss us for at least 48 hours, probably more.  He spoke good English and I tried to smooth things over by telling the driver not to worry about Lindsay since she doesn't actually drive, anyway. "He'll get us there safe and on time" I suggested. Right? Right? hehe oh dear god-get us there safe and on time. Please. Luckily he seemed good humored about this, giggling and saying "ok ok I will get you to airport." Lindsay made him promise and verified the time left to travel there.
     When we arrived at the airport we ran to the check in counter. No one else seemed to be rushing at all and we got a few curious looks. The check in counter was still open and allowed us to check our bags which I took as a good sign. We had 20 minutes before take off. We were the only people in the security line so that went quickly. We rushed to the gate to find that no one was there. No gate agent, no other passengers, not even a sign with our flight number or destination. We followed the gate to the asphalt outside only to find the doors locked and no plane is sight. We had missed it. We ran back up stairs and found an airport employee. "Oh, Siem Reap?" he verified "No, no boarding yet. You can wait here" he said pointing to a cafe. Somehow, miraculously, we had made it on time.  Time seemed to appear out of no where. A time warp again. It seemed a sure thing that we would miss the flight only 40 minutes ago. It time to take off but, somehow, we were actually early! I gave a quick thank you to the powers that be for getting us here safe and on time. Now for the most highly anticipated part of the trip, Angkor Wat. Sometimes, time is on your side.
Vietnamese house boats

Cambodian boarder passport check

Crew member of the Hang Chau

Vietnamese floating houses

Cambodian house, farm, and dock

All of us in the back napped at some point


Lindsy hanging on the Hang

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