Get dressed, pack the last few items and out the door. Ready to go by… 6:15?! I wouldn’t say that we were ready to go, we had enjoyed Vietnam so much, but we were packed, on our feet, and standing outside the hotel we’d rather recently checked out of. The restaurant wasn’t even open by this time.
As a drastic change to the flow of events so far, started the day by loading our heavy luggage onto cyclos, then proceeded to walk a few blocks. We walked to a local park area, where we passed people playing games, dancing, crimping… Anything for a bit of exercise. It was here that we identified our bags once again, had them tagged, then boarded a public bus - the Mekong Express.
Our new tour guide, Sum (pronounced with the vowel sound of oomph or umph) said there was method to this 6:15am madness. Along the way to Phnom Penh we needed to cross the Mekong Delta, and the only way to do this currently was by ferry. In his experience, the ferry always seems to get stuck partway, probably due to the busyness of the area. He didn’t want for us to be roasting in the afternoon heat while we waited to get back to land. But more on that later.
It was two hours before we reached the country border. During this time we filled out forms and were treated to a variety of western and Cambodian pop music. Thankfully we were given a small packed breakfast from the hotel, and received a small snack on the bus, so we weren’t starving the whole way.
The border was very busy. If you think emigration/immigration at the airport sucks, you probably don’t want to go through a land crossing. The bus company made the process a bit easier, taking all the passports from the bus occupants to the counter at once, so we just had to wait until our names were called. We had gotten of the bus and entered a building to do this crossing. Once through, however, we were only half done. What we’d just been through was exiting Vietnam. We were now on international soil, and had yet to enter Cambodia.
For those with Cambodian visas, the next part was relatively straightforward. We all got back into the bus and drove over to the Cambodian border entry building. Those with visas could go straight through to the immigration desks and get their entry stamps. For those of us without our visas, we had given our passports back to the assistant from the bus, who went to a small building outside where the visas could be bought from. Our Vietnamese visas, which we sent our passports away for before our trip, cost about $95 (AUD) each. Comparatively, Cambodian visas at the border cost $25 (USD) each.
Just about everything in Cambodia is compared with Vietnam, in my head. The roads (and traffic) are no exception. Roads in Cambodia… Have been found wanting. They are not as wide, occasionally they are just dirt, and with more cars and less motorbikes, there’s generally just less room. The countryside, however, is still beautiful. Since it’s tropical, you’ll find more “New Zealand green” than “Australian green”, much the same as Vietnam.
We were still about 5 hours away from Phnom Penh, and it took about 1 or 2 hours to get to the aforementioned ferry. Luckily, we only had about ten minutes stand still, and soon we were back on land. But not before seeing the sheer number of people heading in the other direction, many in motorbikes, and all unbelievably packed into the ferry going the other way.
About five minutes later we’d stopped again, this time to have lunch. We’d stopped outside a small collection of food stalls, all under one roof. You would be mistaken to think it was just one big cafe. Spoilt for choice, I went for rice noodles with chicken curry. For $2. I also discovered the flexibility of currency here - I actually paid one US dollar and 20,000 Vietnamese dong. Over the moon at the price, I was just as happy with the flavours - Cambodia uses a lot more spice (note: not necessarily spicy) and the flavour palette just woke up my tongue. In Vietnam, at lot of food was oily and less strong in flavour.
Phnom Penh is a strange mixture of old and new. Many of the buildings are rather squat, with a few skyscrapers dotted around. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and went for a short tuktuk tour around the city.
We visited the hill and the statue of the woman the city was named after, though we didn’t go inside the temple on the hill. I was getting rather hungry by this time. We went onwards, catching the tuktuks to the next destination, a famed roundabout. In the middle of this roundabout was a tower, erected after the reigning king of the time drove the French out of the country. Nearby was a statue of the king, facing east in the traditional Buddhist fashion.
Walking along the river we soon reached our destination for dinner, the River Crown Restaurant. The menu was mostly western, which was disappointing. But it was happy hour, so I ordered a pint and a pizza. Besides, Phnom Penh was apparently not the place to get good Cambodian food made properly. Still, I probably didn’t need the whole pizza.
After a long day, there was no bandying about considering going to the hotel bar. Straight to bed, and an early night for Brett.