Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cambodia - Day 2 Death on Wheels

"Are you Korean?" asked the driver and that was the last thing I heard this loud metallic thud. Immediately, glass was flying pass me and everything went black.

I opened my eyes to see a scene of carnage spread before me. Shattered windscreen glass was strewn inside the van cabin and both my legs were bleeding from the flying glass. I looked to my right, sensing more that seeing my travelling partner, Er, getting off the devastated van. I looked to my left and found Wei Han, lying just behind the front passenger seat beneath me.

"Are you ok?" I asked and Wei Han looked up saying he was 'ok'. He didn't look ok to me.

I looked to the front, seeing George for the first time. He had the look of desperation in his eyes and his left ear was bleeding profusely.

Outside, scores of villagers were rushing towards our van, one carrying a crowbar to pry open the door for George to get out. I myself staggered out of the wrecked van, stumbling across the side of the road before turning around to witness the sheer carnage before me.
We had been travelling from Pre Rup temple to Banteay Srey when disaster struck. A small Daihatsu truck sort of lost control, crossed into the opposite lane on the narrow road right into the path of the van my friends and I were riding in. It was about 9:54am in the morning, March 31st 2009. There was no warning.
Maxx, who was offering George and the driver his tidbits from Korea just before the accident was already out of the van, pacing around and taking photos, which I believed was a good idea. We might need the photographic evidence later.

As Wei Han stepped out of the vehicle, already I could see a nasty bruise developing over his left eye socket. Maxx had returned, holding the side of his head with a piece of cloth, perhaps stemming the flow of blood from a cut there. Er's head was bleeding from the top of his head.

With a mighty heave, the door trapping George inside the van was prised open. The villagers brought him towards where the rest of us were now settling down, over a woven mat that was brought out by another villager. It looked bad, his left ear looked like it had been almost been sliced in half, blood leaked out with great gouts. He appeared to be in a daze.

On the other side, the villagers were now working on freeing the trapped driver of the Daihatsu truck while his passenger had staggered over to a nearby hut to get his bearings. Little did I know there were more. Apparently, there were close to 8 people on the truck, 2 riding inside the cab while the rest sitting at the back. When the truck slammed into us, there was no doubt that those at the back were probably propelled out into the air, landing hard on the ground. There were children, three of them I saw lying on another mat prepared by villagers.

Our driver was relatively unhurt although at that time, he was clutching his left arm. He was calling the hotel, taking instructions on how to proceed. We asked him to call an ambulance.

The police and ambulance took their time. It was probably a good 15 minutes before I saw the first police arriving at the scene to direct traffic. The ambulance took longer but when it arrived, we sort of asked them to take the people in the pickup truck first because they appeared more badly injured.

I called the Malaysian embassy (+85523216176) and was told to look for someone in Siem Reap, a Malaysian who happens to work at the airport. I called this person, only to be told that he himself is on the way down to Phnom Penh. He did however recommended us to seek treatment at the Royal Angkor International Hospital, a private hospital run by Thais near the airport.

The Tourist Police arrived, bringing with them a van to take us to the hospital. The van was really not in good condition and it kinda stalled a couple of time when they switched on the siren. It took us almost half an hour before we finally arrived at the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department of the Royal Angkor International Hospital (

We were taken into the A&E Ward, nurses and doctors coming in to administer medical assistance. A rather neatly dressed lady came forward, "Doctor consultation fee, USD100, medical supplies, USD25." I sort of balked at the extravagent price and I guessed others had the same feeling too, but being hurt as we were and knowing the seriousness of our injuries, we had to accept the circumstances and agree to proceed.

I believed I was the least hurt of the 5 of us, me only suffering minor abrasions on both my legs, so I allowed the rest to be treated first. Maxx, Wei Han and Er were placed on beds where the nurses tended to them. George was wheeled into a separate room.

A nurse called me and instructed me to go to another room where she can tend to my wounds. I stepped inside to receive treatment.

A few slaps of medical gause and bandages later, I was sitting before the Doctor. As I did so, I felt for the first time, a sharp pain from my left thigh and shoulder. Fearing that I might have had a fracture, I requested the doctor to do an x-ray on the affected parts. I also told him that I blacked out a few seconds after the crash to which the doctor then recommended to do a CT scan of my brain to confirm there were no blood clots that had developed.

Knowing that the CT scan might cost a bomb, I asked why should the CT scan be done and whether it could be performed later in KL. The doctor replied that since we would be flying back, it would be dangerous for me should there be blood clots in my brain. Fearing the worse, I agreed to the scan.

The scan costed me USD300, the x-rays costed me USD80 and USD60 for my shoulder and thigh respectively. There goes ALL the money I had budgeted for this supposedly 'low' budget trip.

4 of us left the hospital, Wei Han with a cold pack over his swollen eye socket, Er with three stitches on the top of his skull, myself with bandages on both legs and surprisingly Maxx, with a neck brace. Poor George however had to spend the night in the hospital after going through emergency surgery to repair his ear. All of us were economically slaughtered by the private doctors.

The owner of the hotel which we had rented the van from came by while we were at the hospital. I had heard from the van driver that he might pay for the medical expenses but perhaps after seeing the hundreds of US dollars spent to treat our injuries, he kept mum. Instead, he offered us a free lunch, transport to the hotel from the hospital and promised a full refund for our first day trip. I understand his situation, nobody really wanted the accident to happen.

Two officers, one from the immigration department and another from the tourist police came to record our statements. They informed us that the other party involved in the accident suffered more grevious injuries than ourselves. There was one that hasn't actually awoken from a coma and another perhaps going to lose his eyesight. I also heard that some of the kids that were behind the truck had suffered broken bones as well. I sympathize with them. They were poor people. I was also later told that the driver did not have a driving license and that the truck was actually out of control when it struck us. If we weren't there, it might have hit a tree instead. I guess perhaps we were really at the WRONG place at the WRONG time. :(

The police asked us whether we want to make an official complaint and to this we said no, although we want to make a police report and get a copy so that we can claim the medical expenses from our insurance companies. We did told the police very clearly that we would not be seeking damages from these people especially after the police themselves had hinted that they probably couldn't afford to pay anything. The owner of the hotel, a certain Mr. Ly, agreed as well.

And so, our second day in Cambodia came to an end, in blood and tears. Definately not what I was expecting when I clicked the 'book now' button in the AirAsia website 6 months before.
Mr Ly took us back to the hotel, which after having lunch, we immediately went to our rooms to recuperate from this near disaster that befell us.

I for one was extremely grateful. My number was up today but perhaps I was given a reprieve. I thank the Lord Buddha for sparing me an awful and horrible death. If there was anything to be garnered from this experience, it was simply knowing that life is this precious thing that is only granted to us by leave of the powers that be. Savour every single day for we would never know when it will be our last. I am glad that the 31st of March 2009 was not my last.

1 comment:

  1. it was a nice gesture for you to not take it out on them...i guess it's true accidents do next time buy travel insurance! and always live your life top the full because we all never know when our time is up. =)