Inquiry Submission By Cathy Coulthard
Just returned home from Cambodia with this bus company warning. I don’t want anyone else going through the hell that we did.
There is a newly setup Bus Company called AZ Transport in Cambodia (at time of writing it is 2 months old) – it has no internet or social media presence. We had arranged for a Sleeper Bus to take us from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap then to Bangkok overnight on 02/01/2019. This was arranged at the official Sihanoukville ferry transport booking desk. We were told that AZ were new and that they were a good bus company. We didn’t question this and were happy to get our tickets (this was for 4 of us). At the designated collection time, a guy in a dirty shirt turned up at the ferry port and said ‘Siem Reap’ – a bunch of foreigners, like me and our party crowded around him and proceeded to get taken in various waiting tuk tuks across the other side of town to a waiting sleeper bus. In all it was about 30 – 40 foreigners of various nationalities. Once we arrived at the waiting bus we noticed that the bus itself didn’t have any destination signage (part of its windscreen was smashed up though) and there was no one ‘official’ around apart from the guy who had rounded us up. I asked him if he was going to Siem Reap then to Bangkok but he dismissed me. We all waited for 1.5 hours whilst this guy unloaded the bus of wood. He didn’t speak to anyone during this time, so you can imagine that loads of us kept wondering what was going on, what time we were leaving and whether this was the correct bus etc.
A driver arrived with a friend of his and then we were ushered onto the bus by dirty shirt man. There was no order to how the luggage was loaded and luggage tags/receipts were not handed out. Anyone who has already travelled with Giant Ibis will know how organised they are, ensuring that the passengers leaving soonest get their luggage loaded last and are given receipts. We left Sihanoukville nearly 2 hours late but we were happy to be on the road and we also accept that things in Cambodia don’t always go to plan **Famous last words ** About 25 minutes into our bus drive the driver started to get lots of frantic phone calls on his mobile (I know this as my sleeper seat was right above him). He then pulled over into a clearing in the middle of no where. We were 32km outside of Sihanoukville with no signs, landmarks or anything else to determine where we were. Most of the bus load had gone to sleep by this time. 1 hour later and a mini bus arrived. The driver, his friend and dirty shirt man then proceeded to wake the loaded sleeper bus and ask us if we were going to Phnom Penh. About 5 people said yes and were then ushered into the waiting mini van. 2 people got taken off the mini van and were put in our sleeper bus in a rather weird passenger exchange that made no sense. Then, to our shock, the driver left in the same mini van. The driver’s friend and dirty shirt man got back on our sleeper bus and made themselves comfortable for the night. All this while the bus was idling and still in the middle of no where. About 2 hours went by before someone on our bus woke up and tried to figure out how to open the bus door. The bus was completely unmanned but idling and the doors were locked close. More of us woke up, trying to figure out how to open the doors before we prodded the Driver’s friend to wake up and asked him for help. We also asked him what had happened to our driver and why were weren’t on the move. He seemed annoyed and pointed at the button that we needed to press before going back to sleep without giving us any other info.
1 more hour went by and people started to worry or get annoyed. A few of us went outside trying to figure out what to do next. One Israeli girl was so worried and angry that she decided to wake the driver’s friend and dirty shirt man. The fuss woke up the entire bus – who by this time – thought that they’d be close to arriving at Siem Reap. We kept asking the crew for information and they kept telling us that someone would be back in 1 hour, more hours came and went and no help arrived. People were starting to get very annoyed at this point. My party and I had flights to catch and we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to make it in time. No information was forthcoming and the crew started to pretend that they didn’t speak any English. We got very angry with them and demanded that they call for help. Some of us called the Tourist Police but they were useless and barely spoke any english. This was early in the morning on 03/01 and no one wanted to help us.
7 hours later and the idling bus stopped idling as it had run out of fuel which meant that the AC got switched off. It forced everyone off the bus due to the heat and it was only after we kicked up such a storm that another AZ Bus finally arrived. This bus took us to Siem Reap but we were told that we’d need to stay overnight at a hostel for those of us that wanted to proceed to Bangkok. All of us arrived at our varying destinations over 7 hours late or not at all. It also turned out that one lady had been on the wrong bus all of this time but no one had checked us or told us what was happening. They pretty much rounded up anyone that they could find, realised that they’d made a weird mistake then half tried to remediate it with the weird mini bus exchange. All in all the experience that we had with them was pretty horrific. With no information, stranded in the middle of nowhere we were starting to wonder what our options were – the entire group of bus passengers got affected. It was a miserable time. I really hope that this was a one off incident but I get the feeling that AZ’s lack of organisation and communication skills will be something that affects many and I wanted to get the word out there.
The moral to this, is if you get offered a ticket on AZ, ask to go on Giant Ibis or one of the other better known bus companies instead. Proceed with caution with this one.