Better late than never
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
It will come as quite a shock to many of you I'm sure, but back home in England I developed a reputation for, shall we say, not being the most punctual of people (legend has it that the biggest concern in the lead-up to my brother's wedding was not whether he'd get cold feet, but whether I'd actually turn up on time). With this in mind I set off to Cambodia determined to shake this particular albatross from around my neck; making heartfelt promises to loved ones that I will use this experience to confront, amongst other foibles, my terrible tardiness. Which only makes it all the more shameful that, at shortly after 730am on Saturday morning, I am perched precariously on the back of a motorbike, frantically racing after the bus to Kep - my intended destination for some weekend relaxation!
It's not that I didn't try.
I reserved my ticket in advance. I packed my bags the night before (leaving a note to remember toothpaste, toothbrush and, of course, hair gel). I printed out a map showing the location of the bus station. I topped up and charged my phone. I even pre-booked a Tuk Tuk to collect me from my apartment at 615am. Ok, so admittedly the previous night's activities were not exactly ideal preparation for the journey ahead - cocktails in Raffles' Elephant Bar (where I took full advantage of the 2 for 1 happy hour and free nachos - and I do mean FULL advantage), washed down afterwards by beers in the Irish pub (standard), followed by flaming Sambucas in Zeppelin (a crazy little rock bar with a Taiwanese DJ who sits firmly entrenched behind the decks day and night; I know of only one person who claims to have even seen his legs). But goddamit I tried! And I was up on time - with a roaring hangover, yes, but I was up and ready to go. Alas, my trusty Tuk Tuk was not.
Something to do with traffic on the M25 no doubt.
And so, Tuk Tuk-less and getting more and more hungover (hungoverer?!) with every passing minute, I stumbled along the deserted street outside my apartment, desperately seeking transportation. I eventually managed to hail a taxi and miraculously found myself at the bus station five minutes before the bus was due to depart. However, my elation was short lived. Apparently 'reserve' loosely translates into Khmer as 'write your name onto a scrap of paper but sell your ticket to someone else if the mood takes us' (ok, maybe I've paraphrased a little there). Knowing full well that I was incapable of remaining conscious (or vertical) for very much longer, I argued with the sweet, blameless, Cambodian girl behind the ticket counter. And when I say argued, I mean argued. I constructed such eloquent and compelling prose on the unfairness of it all that I am certain even Rumpole of the Bailey himself could not have done a better job. It was just a shame that she didn't understand I word I said.
But on a human level she understood.
Through the tears in my bloodshot eyes, the panic in my voice and the stench of alcohol emanating from my pores, she KNEW that I had to get on that bus. 'Ok Sir, we look find you'. Possibly the most beautiful grammatically incorrect sentence I have ever heard. And just like that, some voodoo magic was performed with the seating arrangement and a space was indeed 'look found' for me on a previously full bus. Had I the energy or physical dexterity I would have jumped into the air and clipped my heels together with joy. Just as well I didn't though, because when I turned around to board my transport there was nothing but space where there should, in fact, have been bus. Which is how I found myself on the back of a moto, tearing down the highway, looking and feeling very much like an alcoholic tramp trapped in a wind tunnel.
I caught it of course. By. The. Skin. Of. My. Teeth.
It seems that drunkenly pulling up beside a moving vehicle and frantically gesturing to be let on board is the Cambodian equivalent of politely sticking your hand out at a bus stop in Central London. I clambered on, found my seat, and spent the next three hours semi-comatose, waking only for the obligatory restaurant break - during which I delightfully discovered that noodle soup doused with chilli sauce is in fact a wonderful hangover cure.
So, every cloud.