Any trip worth taking includes its fair share of unforeseen circumstances, moments that, at the time, seem to embody the worst that could happen but, in the end, give you a better understanding of people, places and yourself. Those are the blips that make you grow, the oops that make your heart race, the memories you embrace for a lifetime.
One of the first travel blips I experienced was in Cambodia when I was still a novice traveler with just a few countries on my passport. For the first leg of a trip to Angkor Wat, my travel companion and I flew to Phnom Penh and took a taxi from the airport to the bus station to catch a bus to the town of Siem Reap, gateway to the temple ruins. At the station, we were engulfed by chaos, with ticket sellers swarming like mosquitoes. We purchased two tickets for $12 apiece—a bargain!—and settled into a six-hour ride on a bus with a leaky tire and a motor that overheated four times, adding four unexpected “rest stops” to our journey north.
When we finally arrived at the bus depot in Siem Reap, we felt more prepared to deal with the crowds that awaited. Staring out the window, however, all we could see was a sea of tuk tuk drivers, pressing anxiously beyond the gates. Now, I had done my research. And I had come across countless statements on sites and in guidebooks warning me to “Beware of tuk tuk drivers—they will try to take advantage of you!” So, when the first driver came up to us, I very politely explained that we preferred to take a taxi, to which I received a very hearty, you’re-a-silly-tourist sort of laugh as he maneuvered away. We quickly realized that it was either tuk tuk or strut strut—there were no taxis.
The second tuk tuk driver who approached said he would take us to whatever hotel we wanted for one dollar. A steal! I had booked a hotel online the day before so I told him where it was and we were on our way. I was a little nervous because I had heard stories of tuk tuk drivers taking fares to guesthouses owned by friends instead of the one requested, but he took us straight to our guesthouse where we discovered that it full! At first I was certain it was a scam but as it turned out, the hotel had never received our booking. Our driver offered his help. I hesitated for a moment, remembering the warnings I’d read, but his sympathy felt genuine. I accepted.
He proceeded to take us to 40 hotels and even called his friends to see if they knew of anywhere with an empty bed but every last accommodation was full, thanks to Chinese New Year. A group of Australian backpackers we met did nothing for our confidence when they told us they had slept on the street the previous night. Finally, our tuk tukker found us a guesthouse, a seven-dollar-a-night place for which we paid $40. The back-lane guesthouse left much to be desired but faced with the alternative—sharing a patch of roadside with an ox—it was a palace!
And after driving us through the streets of Siem Reap for more than two hours, our driver said to pay him whatever we wanted. He was friendly and honest and he had saved us from literally sleeping on the street. What did this travel blip teach me? I learned that it always pays to call ahead and confirm a hotel reservation. I learned that, sometimes, it’s better to trust my gut instead of a guidebook, especially when people are concerned. And I learned that the $12 bus tickets we bought in Phnom Penh should have been three dollars. Oops!
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your gut was more reliable than a guidebook? Tell your story in the comments below.