Witnessing a Drug Smuggle & Other Asian Bus Blunders

Our travel time from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, was posted at twelve hours. For anyone who has bumped down National Highway 6, the ditch-filled, partially dirt highway connecting Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, you know this travel time is simply impossible. By day, it takes at least seven hours to get to Phnom Penh, and it definitely would take more than four additional hours to get to Vietnam. As it was my friend’s first time bussing around Southeast Asia, I told her to prepare for a fourteen-hour ride.

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What the bus ride might have felt like

Mental preparation is a key part of sitting on a bus for endless hours in Asia. Inevitably everyone loses touch with sanity at some point, but by expecting to be on the bus for an extended time staves off the delirium for at least a short while.

So down Road 6 we jostled until we pulled in to the Phnom Penh bus station. We had approximately fifteen minutes to switch buses for the remainder of the journey, so we grabbed our bags, ran to the bathroom, bought some creepy fried chicken, and tried to get on the next bus. However, they had taken our tickets in Siem Reap and not given them back. This meant that we didn’t actually have tickets for the bus we were trying to get on, even though we had paid for them. Luckily they called the Siem Reap bus station and sorted this out.

We were given the last two seats in the back row of the bus. They didn’t recline, like all of the other seats did, nor did they have footrests. But we were heading to Vietnam, we had air-con, and at least we weren’t in the literal lawn chairs they pulled out for the next two people boarding the bus.

We stopped too many times for us to keep track of, and, by the time we had crossed the boarder (where they let Aly retrieve my passport for me—sketch), we just wanted to get to Ho Chi Minh. We were nearing hour fourteen, certainly nowhere near the city, and rapidly sinking into a restless craze. But we figured that we probably wouldn’t be stopping anymore—next stop, Ho Chi Minh! Thank god.

But just minutes after loading back onto the bus on the Vietnam side of the boarder, we stopped again.

Jesus Christ we both let out exasperated sighs, Why the fu*k are we stopping again?! We literally just stopped. The bus attendant ushered everyone off the bus for a “tea break.”

In some declining mental state between fed up, pissed off, and delirious, we told the attendant we would not be getting off the bus. We stayed in the back row with the two Indonesian ladies who had suffered through this entire journey with us.

We watched as he began unloading very suspicious brown packages from the bottom of the bus.

The lights in the bus went out, and we saw the form of the bus attendant approaching us. Somewhere a few feet in front of us, he pulled up a compartment in the floor and descended into it. This was not the first bout of strange behavior we had witnessed from this bus attendant; he had nearly forced us to abandon our phones at customs in order to get us back on the bus, physically ushering us along as we scrambled to grab all our cords.

We watched as he began unloading very suspicious brown packages from the bottom of the bus. Since we were in the last row of seats, only us and our Indonesian friends could see the packages as he lined them up next to the nearest window.

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This was too much for us to handle in our current state. The two of us burst out laughing, incredulously shining our phone lights around and taking pictures.

Soon after he emerged from the floor, he came over to the giggling pair of us, grabbed my arm and started shrieking “DELETE DELETE DELETE!!!” reaching for my phone.

Trying to push him away with one hand, I quickly deleted the pictures off my phone and irritatedly showed him they were gone. And for the rest of the ride, Aly and I exchanged theories about why he had reacted so strangely. The answer we came up with was that our bus was involved in some drug smuggling scheme. We agreed to watch the packages, and decided that if we made a random stop and he passed them out the window to someone then it was definitely a drug drop.

This is exactly what happened. Just inside Ho Chi Minh, around hour sixteen of this seemingly endless journey, the bus pulled over to the side of the road, all the lights went on, but the door did not open. The bus attendant handed the three brown parcels out the window to a man on a motorbike below. The drop was complete, the lights turned off, and we continued on our way.

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