Another day, another long bus trip! For our trip from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi
Minh City in Vietnam, it s the usual story of waiting around, unexplained
delays and that feeling of not quite being sure of what’s going on. We’d
been told the bus would collect us from our guest house at 6.45am, and
that it would take 6 or 7 hours to get there. But it was no surprise that
we weren’t picked up until 7:15, and then spent the next hour driving
around the city – picking up from one more guest house, and then filling
up with petrol from a shack alongside the road (from plastic barrels of
fuel, tipped into the tank through a funnel – right outside my window).
By 8:30 we were crossing the bridge out of the city, having driven past
one temple three times, and heading south and east to the border. At 10:30
half the passengers got off to catch a ferry down the Mekong to the
border, while we took a ferry over the river to continue along the road.
On the ferry we bought some snacks – we passed on the fried crickets, and
instead bought a coconut and some lotus seed heads (fresh, the seeds taste
like butter beans, but in England we’d normally only see dried heads, used
for flower arrangements).We stopped three or four times for drinks, and
toilet stops, and eventually reached the border with Vietnam at 12
We were all dropped at a small roadside restaurant for lunch, and then
walked across to the border.
It was hot, dusty and we felt like refugees
as we traipsed through the dirt, first to the Cambodian exit booth,
queueing up in the sun waiting for our turn to be stamped out, and then
walking the 500m to the Vietnamese entry point.
We quickly got a bit of an idea for Vietnamese bureaucracy – after the
passport bit had been done, we then had our bags searched by customs. Or
would have had, if they could be bothered – instead we just lifted our
bags onto the table, the customs man had me open the top of mine, to see
the bag of laundry on the top, and that was it. Then we went to the health
point, where our details were filled in from our passport on a form by one
man, who then passed it across to another man, who filled in the details
in a book (I looked over his shoulder – his reading of passports wasn’t
great, as all he was writing down was our first name – Mr Raymond, Mrs
Sarah etc). We then had to hand over 2,000 Dong (about 8p) and handed a
form which declared us to be free of infectious diseases. We then had to
hand the form over to the third man in the row, and off we went – now
officially inside Vietnam. All of this took us 2 hours!
Things were looking good at this point – the bus arranger didn’t have
enough seats in his minibus, so he said he’d ordered the four of us a taxi
to the city, which would get us there a bit quicker. But first we had to
take a little trip down the road, so that everybody else didn’t see our
So he hopped us all onto the back of motorbikes, and dropped us
off at a shack with a few Vietnamese. He told us that the taxi would be
there in 10 minutes, and the Vietnamese there would make sure he took us
to the right place, while he went back and sorted out the group at the
minibus. At times like this, you have to decide whether you trust what
you’re being told – after all, we were now on our own, without a guide,
and just having to trust what we were being told. In situations like this,
we tend to be more trusting than we would normally be, because of the
girls. In Asia people are very family oriented, and they make a big fuss
of the girls – so we guessed that it would be very unlikely that they’d
abandon a family with small children, in the middle of nowhere (okay, a
taxi driver in Koh Samui, Thailand, had done just that, but it was
fortunately an isolated incident).
After a while it became clear that the Vietnamese were trying to flag down
a car for us – hoping to get one bringing people from Ho Chi Minh to take
us back to the city. In then end, after almost an hour of no luck, they
piled us all into their car, and after an argument about who was going to
pay, and drove us into the city themselves. The fixer was there to meet us
at his office, paid off the car and apologised profusely for the problems.
It was now almost 5 o’clock – our 6-7 hour journey had turned into a ten
hour one, exacerbated by the mess-up at the border. We realised that it
was an honest mistake, perhaps caused by the fact that it was a public
holiday, and few people we making the border crossing today, so we just
shrugged and put it down to Asian-travelling-phenomenon (what normally
goes slowly, goes even slower when foreigners are involved).
Despite our fatigue, and the whirling buzz of motorbikes that fill the
streets in the city, it seemed quite a nice city to arrive into – not as
foreboding as people had warned us it was, and we soon found a clean and
modern guest house to check into.