Music on the Mekong Express

Kampong Thom, lunch stop on the way to Siem Reap

Here’s an idea: Ride a bus in Southeast Asia if you want to be entertained. There’ll definitely be music (always too loud), and they might play a movie or two. If you’re lucky it’ll be your kind of music and your kind of movie.

It was the 70s and 80s all over again on the Mekong Express bus I took from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh.

All along the journey, all six hours of it, the bus driver and his assistant played karaoke videos of classics by The Carpenters, The Eagles, The Righteous Brothers and ABBA.

In the videos, laughing couples ran in slow motion in parks and flower gardens and hid from each other behind trees. When there weren’t any couples in the videos, slender, sylphlike women sashayed in between flowerbeds, sniffed flowers and draped themselves over car bonnets, looking thoughtfully into the camera as they did so. A few seats away from me, five middle-aged men from Melbourne nodded approvingly and sang along.

On my bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the flavour of the day was action movies. They played The Avengers, dubbed into Vietnamese. Less than five minutes into the scene where the Avengers are getting testy with each other, I realised that the same man was giving his voice to Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Thor, although he did try to change the tone for each character. The effect was hilarious and I ended up watching the movie just to see whether the Vietnamese actor was consistent and had used the correct voice for the correct character.

The bus driver’s assistant, a man in his 30s, saw me watching the movie with great interest. “You like?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“You understand?”

“No, but I still like it.”

“After this, I play good music for you,” he said, and went back to his seat in the front.

When the movie ended, he got up from his chair and inserted a music CD. Loud, pulsating electronic dance music filled the bus. Passengers who had been sleeping during the movie woke up and groaned.

Trance and techno music already gave me a headache on normal days, what more on a bus ride. Good thing there was only two hours left to go.

So yes, ride a bus in Southeast Asia and enjoy the entertainment.


© 2012 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.

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