In other nations, Cambodian roads are cruel, furious slabs of asphalt riddled with potholes that would classify as valleys. Fortunately, I was able to make it from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh without incident. So I reasoned.
Taxis in Cambodia
I was bored, as were the three guys going with me, after spending two weeks in the peaceful seaside resort of Sihanoukville. It was time to go to Phnom Penh’s seeming turmoil, and then to Angkor Wat. Despite Cambodian roads’ legendary reputation, the proprietor of our lodgings assured us that the route to Phnom Penh was as smooth as glass. A local cab would transport all four of us to the city without issue for twenty bucks.
Around midday, two Australians, an Englishman, and I packed our bags and other belongings into a Toyota Camry. Our driver was a kind man who had a continuous smile on his face. We had a communication issue since he only spoke a few words of English while we only talked English. The road, on the other hand, was as smooth as we had hoped, and we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune.
We drove across the peaceful Cambodian countryside for nearly an hour. It was impossible to fathom the anarchy that existed under the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Aside from the occasional hamlet, there wasn’t much to see. The absence of any significant towns became a worry around halfway through the journey.
Our driver pulled over to the side of the road and shut off the vehicle in the middle of nowhere. We used a lot of finger pointing since we couldn’t communicate vocally. Were we stranded? Was he looking for more money? Was he about to go on strike? What was happening on here?
We foreign fools eventually figured out that the vehicle was overheating. I must point you that the temperature gauge was broken, lest you assume we were total morons. Regardless, our driver opened the hood, and our otherwise uneventful journey came to a halt. A half-inch fissure close to the radiator crap gushed steam.
In the middle of Cambodia, roadside help seemed a risky proposition. You couldn’t really contact your auto insurance company, could you?
“Hello,” I say. “My vehicle isn’t working.”
“All well, we’ll send a person for you,” the operator says. “How are you doing?”
“Out there in the middle of Cambodia,” I say.
“…[hysterical laughing]… Click,” says the operator.
The motorist gave us a sidelong glance. We fixed our gaze on him. We all began laughing at the same time. What other options do you have? We were in the middle of nowhere, the radiator was shot, and Phnom Penh was about 60 miles away.
Looking back, I can attest to the fact that Cambodian cab drivers are a dedicated and resourceful bunch. We sat on the side of the road, reflecting on the fact that we were about to go on a much more genuine Cambodian adventure than any of us had anticipated. Our driver had mysteriously disappeared into the bushes on the side of the road. He reappeared after a few moments, carrying a dark green leaf and a huge grin.
He proceeded to repair the fracture in the radiator using just the leaf and tube of superglue, putting MacGyver to shame. As he applied the superglue to the boiling hot radiator, we all stepped back, but nothing caught fire. All we needed was water once we had given ourselves enough time to dry/pray.
Although I am not a vehicle expert, I am aware that putting cold water into an overheated engine’s radiator is not a good idea. Despite our considerable arm waving, MacGyver, sorry… our driver, didn’t bat an eye. As we stared in terror, the water poured into the radiator with a huge grin. The only issue was whether the leaf patch would rupture first or the motor would seize up.
You can probably predict how that turned out. We not only made it to Phnom Penh, but we also discovered that the radiator had two more leaf patches on the bottom. Even though the journey had been smooth, my nerves were still frayed. Cambodia’s roads will find you in one way or another.
At the very least, I now have plenty of fodder for mocking MacGyver enthusiasts.