On the Move – Mui Ne, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Heeding my own advice, on the journey from Mui Ne back to Ho Chi Minh City we had bottom row bunks on the bus! It was bliss compared to the inbound journey. I had space, I was on the ground, I could read and we even had wifi so I could catch up on blog posts and e-mails. With an almost sense of luxury the four hour trip flew by –

We arrived back in Ho Chi Minh in the early afternoon ready to transfer to another bus which would take us to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This leg of the trip was simple, straight forward and went off without a hitch. We had double-triple-quadruple-checked that we would get a Cambodian visa on entering the country, clarifying several times (as you know we’ve had some visa issues in the past!!) that there would be no surprises at the border. Everything was confirmed, the mini-bus arrived on time and off we went. Should have known it wouldn’t be that simple! Again the mini bus drove us to yet another nondescript bus depot – this time it was a bus depot, not the side of the road, where we would be switching buses – AGAIN!!!

This is where we met our wall of confusion and after several attempts to board another bus – we were shuffled four times between two buses and no one seemed to know which one we were supposed to be on. Finally one of the attendants made a stand, put his foot down, grabbed our bags and herded us onto a not-so-comfy-looking bus. We took a deep breath, clutched our proverbial, all too familiar, leap of faith and trusted that at some point in the night we would arrive in Phnom Penh.

As soon as we were settled in our seats the attendant walked through the aisle taking everyone’s passports and crisp US dollars (it’s $35 US to get a one month entry visa into Cambodia). I know you’re not supposed to give anyone your passport but hey, everyone was doing it! All we could do was trust 🙂

The bus was certainly not as luxurious as our earlier sleeper coach, and there wasn’t much to do other than doze on and off, which is what we did. We had absolutely no idea where we were and how it was all going to play out but around 7 pm we arrived at the Cambodian border.

Everyone was told to get off the bus and to walk through the immigration gate. It was the weirdest border crossing I have EVER experienced. As soon as we were off the bus there were crowds of women wanting to sell Cambodian Riel in exchange for Vietnamese Dong. It was overwhelming and there was no way they were going to accept “no”. They were worse than our coconut guy! Next thing you know Tony had traded a wad of Vietnamese money for an equally, if not larger, wad of Cambodian. Incidentally it’s just as easy to use US dollars as it is to use Riel in Cambodia.

Tiah and I went to use the washroom, which was like walking through a huge barn, empty except for the washroom at one end and a door at the other, which led to the border security. As soon as we were out of the washroom we were being waved frantically on to join the line where our passports were returned.

We then proceeded through a very understated immigration office with two attendants and some high-tech fingerprinting machines. And that was that. Visas had been issued, stamped and stuck into our passports and we were shown to the other side of the door, which was officially Cambodian soil. We waited for about 10 minutes as the bus cleared customs and then it was back on for 5 minutes before the bus stopped again for a dinner break.

(This is where we waited, at the border crossing for the bus – it all felt very casual)

Okay this was yet another super weird experience. There was only one place to go – a sort of old-fashioned dining hall with a dinner line and servers, standing behind, waiting to serve. We had no idea what to do so followed everyone else. It appeared you walked up to the counter and chose from a couple of different dishes, which were then slopped onto a plate and carried to a table for you. It was very basic but we just assumed that it was part of the bus ticket and there was no sense in complaining – besides we were starving!

Thank goodness I noticed that other people were paying before leaving! – honestly I thought it was free! Once we were finished eating I was getting ready to leave and get back on the bus. Good job I didn’t – I’d probably still be in some prison somewhere in Cambodia. Remember that ‘no free samples’ in Vietnam? well it applies to Cambodia as well!

Back on the bus and after the first novelty looking out the window at the Cambodian countryside we slept for the next couple of hours. It’s a good thing if you can sleep because watching the road and the traffic at night can be a little scary and makes you wonder how there couldn’t be more traffic fatalities or if indeed there are but we just don’t hear about them.

We did, however, arrive safe and sound into Phnom Penh at about 10 pm. Thank goodness a. we had a hotel already booked and that b. the bus company did have a deal with a tuk-tuk company to pick passengers up from the bus depot because it was very dark, quiet and a little sketchy and I wouldn’t want to be trying to find my way on my own.

Despite being tired and a little overwhelmed by our full day of travel, we were thrilled to arrive safe and sound, in Phnom Penh, complete with luggage and passports!

different language
different ways
across another border

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