Italian Stalkers and a Borders Crossing

Trip Start Oct 02, 2012
Trip End Mar 31, 2014

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, December 17, 2012

We are hoping for a lovely, air conditioned, comfy, modern, large spacious bus, where we can relax on our way to the border town of Chau Doc.

Naturally, our hopes are soon dashed and we end up riding in a stuffy minivan, crushed in like sardines. The woman behind us has some serious phlegm issues and keeps hocking up greenies and spitting them on the floor of the minivan, where our unfortunate bags are being stored. It's a good job we are only on this bus for 6 hours, any longer and it may become annoying…! We are headed for the riverside town of Chau Doc and if we don't arrive soon we may drown in the rivers of spit being produced by our travelling companion. We plan on staying for a couple of nights while we arrange for a boat to carry us up the Mekong River into Cambodia. After an eternity we eventually exit the bus sporting new facial twitches and muttering lunatic nonsenses. The lady behind us has dried up after 6 hours of spitting and turned to dust. We reclaim our miraculously dry bags while the driver hoovers her up.

A short while later and we have checked in to a hotel and our sanity has started to return. We head out to the promenade to check out the mighty Mekong River and hunt down a veggie restaurant Ian has read about in our ever (un)dependable Lonely Planet Guide. Chau Doc is a small place and we walk the length of it in about 20 minutes. At the end of the promenade sits a huge posh hotel. Before heading back we call in for a quick beer and sit outside on a veranda overlooking the river. The night is warm and peaceful, the river is wide and calm, the beer is expensive and cold. We sit and enjoy while the mosquitos and other river flies eat us alive. Never go out at night without Deet insect repellant; a rule we have broken that we shall regret tomorrow, when the bites become itchy nightmares. We finish our delicious beer and head off to find the veggie restaurant for some delicious food.

The next morning we are awoke with a start as the world erupts in noise. Our hotel is situated in a prime location; directly opposite the town market. On the up side it is easy for us to grab any essentials. The down side however, is that the market starts to blast out traditional music at 5am every morning. It is rock concert volume and our bed is in the front row. We get up, wipe the blood from our ears and spend the day arranging a boat, relaxing and preparing for our departure the following morning. Ian also spends a large portion of the day complaining about the bites on his feet from the tiny river flies, collected whilst we were having our beer by the Mekong last night. He has over a hundred tiny bites on his feet (yes he counted them) from the tiny flies. It’s the first time he has been bitten by anything since arriving in Asia nearly 3 months ago. Anna has also collected a dozen mosquito bites from last night and advises Ian that he can start complaining when he has suffered the hundreds of mozzi bites she has had to endure. We rub cream on our bites and sulk. As with every hotel we have stayed in in Vietnam, the staff are amazing. They are always friendly, gracious, helpful and accommodating. They kindly help us book passage on a boat and change our remaining Vietnamese Dong into American Dollars (which is a joint currency in Cambodia along with the Cambodian Riel). We can't believe how quickly time has passed in Vietnam and are sad that we only have one more day before we sail up the Mekong into Cambodia, leaving Vietnam far behind. We fall into bed that night and sleep peacefully until…

…The sound explodes like the heavens above have been split asunder. We hold our hands over our ears and look about wide eyed. No, it isn’t the end of the world. It’s just 5am and the deafening morning music has started up. We crawl out of bed and head downstairs with our backpacks. We eat breakfast and are picked up from reception by rickshaw drivers who ferry us down the road to the pier and after a short wait we are ushered onto the speedboat which is going to carry us all the way to Phnom Penh. On board we meet up with a couple of Italian chaps who we first met in our hotel back in Saigon, it seems like the Mekong border crossing idea is a popular one! On board we are given a complimentary goodie bag containing water, bananas and a bread bun with a hotdog cooked in it. Yes that’s right, you read it correctly, a bun with a hotdog cooked in it! Genius! One of our Italian chums wolfs down his sausage-bun in pure delight and Ian makes his day by handing him his bun too. In a gesture of thanks, Ian is given the world’s smallest banana in return. Not the fairest trade off but every ones happy. The river is wide and calm with the banks alternating between lush jungle and open spaces and a few shanti towns dotting the landscape. Every now and then the shining roof of a temple can be seen through the greenery. Not long after departure we arrive at a small dock and disembark for about 30 minutes. This is where our passports are stamped with the exit date and we officially leave Vietnam. Not before having one last lovely Vietnamese coffee though! Delicious!

Back on the water and it’s another short hop to the Cambodian border where we step off the boat to get our visas. The border patrol here consists of a man in a tiny hut, six or seven relaxing military men and three adorable puppies…that will soon be their lunch. JOKE….probably. After getting our visas stamped we all pile back on our boat and sail into Cambodian waters. We feel a pang of sadness at leaving the wonderful Vietnamese people behind and try not to be too apprehensive about venturing into a country still trying to rebuild after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. We are expecting Phnom Penh to be claustrophobic, busy, crowded, dirty and underdeveloped.

Stepping off the boat though, we are surprised by clean wide boulevards, open parks, sprawling palaces and modern lively establishments lining the river front. The Cambodian capital feels open and spacious. Most unexpected! We say our farewells to our stalker Italian friends and set off on foot along the beautiful river front. Once we head into the backstreets, away from the main tourist drag, the city closes in a bit and takes on a more distinctly Asian feel. We follow our map to the hotel. We get lost. More than once. We blame the numerical street grid system implemented by the French and gradually turned insane by the Khmers, not our finely tuned senses of direction. We burst into the hotel foyer dripping in sweat, only to be greeted by……..our stalker Italian friends. Phenom Pehn is NOT a small city. They are defiantly following us. They are most probably thinking the same thing. We eye each other up suspiciously before heading off to our room for a well-deserved lie down.

Hello Cambodia. We look forward to spending some time with you.
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