The Road to Cambodia

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Mekong River ferry crossing. Photo taken from the bus window.

It was an energy-draining journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) to Phnom Penh then to Siem Reap.

Our 10:45 PM flight to Saigon from Hanoi onboard JetStar was an hour delayed. Ha was right all this time. JetStar flights rarely depart on schedule. Having spent more days in Vietnam than planned, we had to find a way to adjust our timetable so we could spend more time in Siem Reap, Bangkok and Phuket. Flying of course is always the easiest way to get to where you want to be next but clearly NOT the most budget-friendly. We finally decided to fly to Saigon then take a sleeper bus from there to Siem Reap to cut short the 36-hour sleeper train travel time from Hanoi to Saigon which we initially planned, to merely 4 hours.

We found a guest inn by Pham Ngu Lao Street which we managed to get 3 dollars less. Haggling at 2 in the morning when you are tired and dying to sleep was so uncool. It really got the best of me. You just had to do it. A dollar off may not be much but it’s still a dollar that may get you a long way. By the time I doze off, it was 3:30 in the morning.

The guest house we stayed in offered to arrange for the bus that will take us to Siem Reap come daylight. The travel to Siem Reap will take a whole day including border formalities and a sitting bus or coach is just too tiring. The Phuket-Bangkok bus ride was more than enough long trip to endure. We clearly specified we wanted a DIRECT trip on a SLEEPER bus so we could be able to comfortably sleep. They promised yes and they offered us the 11 A.M trip. This means we have a couple hours to visit nearby places of interest in the city. Having spoken to someone who could speak English well, we hit the sack unworried of our next trip.

We were all set by 07:30 only to be told all trips were full except for the 08:00 A.M. Not letting the setback ruin the rest of our day, we let it pass, even chatting and taking photos with the owner and her daughter as we hanged around by the lobby waiting for someone to pick us up

By 08:00, a guy arrived to pick us up. A few meters away by the main road, there were buses waiting, but not one was a sleeper bus, all coach. We asked why was there no sleeper bus and the guy who picked us up handed our ticket, saying there is no sleeper bus to Siem Reap only for provincial trips. Then he asked, “Do you want to take the bus or stay?” Irritating but we had no choice but hop in or be behind schedule.

In the bus, we met Linda, a Cambodian lady traveling with her mother. She said such happen if you are not dealing directly with the bus company. It happened to them before and since they travel often to Ho Chi Minh for her mom’s treatment, she had to find out how to book directly from the bus company.

We stamped out of Vietnam at Moc Bai border with ease. At least that was a good way to cap my Vietnam experience…or so I thought.

Five minutes later, we had Cambodia Immigration Bavet border stamped on our passports. Welcome to the Kingdom of Cambodia!

Our bus stopped over at a huge restaurant for lunch. As we waited in front of the food glass stand to order, one of the restaurant crew came by and started yelling at everyone waiting on queue, asking rudely, “What you want?!”

We ended up eating steamed corn, papaya and watermelon from these food stalls outside the restaurant. As we feast on fruits, the guy who yelled at everyone was sitting by the corner and could not keep a straight face. Linda commented, “Now that’s the reason why we never eat here.“

The same thing happened at the next bus stop when I went to buy from the mini-store outside the restaurant. The young lady sitting behind the register was arrogant whenever you ask how much. Then again, patience is the key or your whole trip will be marred completely.

Arriving in the capital City, Phnom Penh, we were told that we had to wait for 2 hours for the bus to Siem Reap. Looks like we’re not yet done with the Vietnam experience. The early morning frustration haunted us until here. The ticketing office explained that the bus company’s only direct trip from Saigon to Siem Reap leaves at 06:30 A.M. And should we wanted to take an earlier connecting bus to Siem Reap, we had to pay US $3 more each. Irked but we did anyway. Arriving earlier in Siem Reap is a lot better than to stress so much over it.

The scene at the bus terminal in Siem Reap was also something. We arrived around 09:30 in the evening. Haggling for a tuktuk ride that takes you to town is quite difficult. Arriving earlier, if possible before dark, is best. I was just so glad we hopped on one and left immediately at $2 for 3 passengers.

After a few attempts by the driver to bring us to lodging houses he “seem” to know well, we ended up at The Backpacker Hostel at $2 less per night. We wondered why he didn’t stop by here. If we did not insist to turn around to check on the hostel, he would not have. I would find out later from the hostel’s Manager that tuktuk drivers shun the place because they do not get any commission.

I had no more energy to go out for dinner so my companion went out alone and I settled for some cookies and milk from the hostel’s convenience store.

For all of the good and all of the bad that happened that day, I was just thankful I was going to bed, excited about the upcoming fulfillment of a wish I had 7 months earlier.

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