Hue brought the family together in Phnom Penh in November. She made arrangements with Aunt Phai who promised safe travel to Thailand through Khmer Rouge-controlled territory. They knew it would be difficult to avoid Vietnam’s occupation troops, find their way through territory controlled by a resistance group, and follow the route of Cambodian refugees into Thailand.
On the night before leaving in November, in the middle of the night, they walked to the house of another family, stayed until early morning, then they walked to yet another family that owned the two trucks they would board. Aunt Phai herself was with them all, serving as a guide. She knew the way to travel, on Route 5 toward the Thai border, expecting to disembark near Battambang, and walking through the jungle until they crossed the Thai border. Then they would find a refugee camp where the rest of their arrangements could be made through the officials at the camp. The weather was sunny and warm. The rainy season was behind them. They would not travel together in one truck in case something would happen to one of the trucks. At least the other might be able to continue the journey. It was about 6 A.M. when Long and Phuong climbed into the first vehicle, a canvass-covered cargo truck with large sacks and crates of contraband stacked on the truck bed on which dozens of passengers sat and piled their small bundles. Long and Phuong were not carrying anything.
Hue and Thin, and the children—Au, Mui, and Kim Chi—with a few bundles of clothing and tradable goods, climbed into the second truck. People and cargo filled both trucks. Roads were terrible, full of ruts, so the trucks could go no faster than twenty kilometers per hour. Every few kilometers Cambodian people wearing a variety of clothing, sometimes parts of uniforms, stood alongside the road, and the drivers made payments to them for permission to pass without interference. All of the passengers had to stay in the trucks under the canvass, so they were not obvious, but the back ends of both trucks were open. Long tried to sleep as the truck jostled along, and sometimes he was successful.
The trucks rattled apart and frequently broke down. Having never travelled far before, Au soon became sick from the jarring motion. Occasionally when there was no one in sight they stopped to let people relieve themselves. Au tried to calm his unsettled stomach, but back aboard the truck he was sick again. Neither truck made any special effort to hide, but they avoided larger towns where they knew that regular Vietnamese Army soldiers were stationed. Until they got closer to the border no one was checking to see who belonged where.
During that first day they traveled most of the long road from Phnom Penh toward Battambang, over three hundred kilometers. When the sun had set and the road turned too dark for the driver to see where they were going, both trucks stopped for the night, and everyone slept in their clothing with a few shared blankets along the roadside near the trucks. Hue’s family slept together that night.
At daybreak they ate a little that they had packed and resumed the traveling. Long and Phuong were in the first truck all of the way. Near the end of the afternoon, in the area near Sisaphon, Long saw the other truck pass them briefly and then pull off to the side of the road. Mui and Kim Chi waved at him from the open back end. He waved and smiled back at them, not realizing this would be his last sight of them for a long, long time. Later that day, and on the many days following, he clung to the memory of them waving.
Toward sunset the road became impassable. Long and Phuong and the rest of their group climbed down off of their truck for the last time. The other truck was nowhere to be seen. There was no sign of activity around the shacks and buildings in that region. People were afraid to be out at night. The gravel path that continued where the road was no longer drivable served ox carts, bicycles and walkers, but not four-wheeled vehicles. As darkness fell they arrived at a hut, and they crowded into it to sleep for the night, hoping for some protection from the mosquitoes. Long and Phuong wondered aloud where their family was, but no one knew. They lay awake worrying about them. They knew that Hue had all of the gold and extra resources the family needed for the trip, and they themselves had nothing. Mostly they just wanted to be together again. They had no way of knowing that the other truck had been captured by occupation soldiers, and Hue and the rest of the family had been imprisoned.