Mekong Delta and crossing the border to Cambodia
02.01.2012 - 04.01.2012
02.01.2012 – Our bus to the Mekong Delta left from the Pham Ngu Lao district at 8am this morning, and after the usual chaos we were shoved on our bus and off we went. A short drive before our first stop - a tourist trap selling some sort of painting and ceramics.
Back on the bus we drove to the docks of the Ben Tre province and caught a boat out onto the Mekong. Onwards to our next tourist stop – a coconut candy workshop where you can see how they make the candy, as well as drape a python around your neck once you’re finished….different. We caught a little horse and cart through to the local markets before re-boarding our boat and continuing down the Mekong.
We were taken for lunch to a little island where, if you wanted to, you can tease crocodiles with meat on sticks until they finally snap and grab the bait. Otherwise, you could relax in hammocks, or walk through the small theme park designed at the end of the island. Anyone who thinks the Mekong experience is authentic is clearly paying more than the $45 we paid! But we knew it would be like this, and to be honest, didn’t really think it was worth spending more money on.
After lunch, we took small rowing boats down little canals. This was lovely, and the ladies rowing were friendly, just a shame it was ruined by the people calling ‘give money, give money’ as they rowed past our boats. Obviously you have to tip the women; we get it, but no need to let it ruin the journey! After the boats we were given tropical fruits and listened to some local music before getting back on the boat and heading to the docks and our waiting bus.
A few hours later we arrived in Can Tho, and as we had booked into a homestay rather than hotel, continued our journey on a small boat down the river. We arrived at a homestay that was clearly aimed at tourists, as there were about 25+ people there. They had overbooked, so were sleeping on the floor in the lounge room – maybe it was authentic after all. They fed us dinner, and then the 4 of us took a short walk along the path beside the river. We were invited into a local house by some farmers, and after initially declining, thought – why not!
They loved that we had joined them, and started pulling out all the stops – fruits, prawns and plenty of rice wine. Fortunately we also had something to give them and shared some chocolate biscuits, which went down very well! They were so friendly and generous, and it really felt like a genuine interaction. Most of them didn’t speak English, but one young teenager did, so he translated a few things for us including where we were from and our names. The older guy just seemed determined to keep feeding us the rice wine! We stayed for about 20-30 minutes before saying goodnight and heading back to the homestay a few doors up.
03.01.2012 – This morning we woke at 5:45 to wander the rice fields at Sunrise. A local farmer took us around and showed us his fields, as well as different plants/flowers. It was nice, despite the early wake up. After breakfast, we loaded back into the boats and headed back out onto the Mekong. We met up with the rest of the group who had stayed in the hotel and took a tour of the floating markets
A few hours later we arrived in Chau Doc, the border town between Vietnam and Cambodia. We head straight to the Post Office to get rid of the last of our unwanted clothes, as we’ve heard bad things about the postal system in Cambodia and didn’t want to risk it. The women at the post office kept trying to jam our clothes and shoes into a box far too small, and after I kept telling them no, finally got the message, albeit with some dirty looks and plenty of talking about us in Vietnamese.
Tonight we ate on the water in a floating restaurant, our last dinner in Vietnam. Can’t believe how fast time flies. We are really looking forward to heading to Cambodia tomorrow and experiencing a different culture and country.
04.01.2011 – This morning we are crossing the border and travelling to Phnom Penh by boat up the Mekong River. We met at the hotel and were taken to a nearby café for breakfast before heading to the docks to depart. On our way out we visited a floating village and fish breeding area, before making our way up the small canals to the Cambodian Border. The guide organised our visas for us so by the time we got to the border, we were handed our passports back and simply boarded our very cramped boat to head for the checkpoint. We off-loaded at the Cambodian border and got our visas checked and stamped, then re-boarded for another 2+ hours on the boat. Mid-afternoon we switched to a very cramped mini-van for the final hour to Phnom Penh. By the time we got there, we were well and truly sick of ‘cheap travelling’, and wished we’d paid the extra for a more comfortable trip!
The bus dropped us somewhere on the outskirts of town, despite us being told it would be central Phnom Penh, but it was obviously a ruse as there were Tuk Tuk drivers everywhere trying to extort money out of us for the trip into town. We refused to buy into it all, and simply sat until they’d all driven away before walking about 250m to the main road and hailing on ourselves for a third of the price. Unfortunately though, as the other 30+ people all took the Tuk Tuks and paid over the top for their journeys, there’s no way they will stop doing this.
We got the Tuk Tuk to take us to the Backpacker district around 182 Street/111 Street, and from there Tessa and I went looking for a hotel while the boys watched the bags in a nearby café. It’s always easier to leave the bags behind when you are looking for a room as when you have them you look more vulnerable (i.e. you need somewhere to keep you off the streets tonight, rather than you’re simply interested in changing hotels/or for next time you’re in town).
We wandered a few blocks and checked out several different places, before deciding on Town View II ($17/night) for Chris and I, and a slightly cheaper hotel nearby for the others. Settled in our hotels, we showered and met for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. Dinner was $25 for 5 people including drinks, expensive for Cambodian standards, but we really enjoyed our Indian feast.
One last thing - everything is priced in US Dollars in Cambodia, despite them having their own currency – the Riel. The ATM dispenses US Dollars, and the prices in supermarkets are all labelled in US. The street rate is 4000 Riel - $1, so when they quote you $1.50, you can give them $2, and get 2000 Riel change. It’s a bit confusing as you find yourself constantly getting the Riel in change, and several times in only 2 days we’ve found ourselves being short-changed; presumably because they think we won’t understand the currency. The other thing is that because it’s priced in USD, you automatically assume it’s a lot more expensive, particularly compared to Vietnam. It probably isn’t, when you stop and think about it, but pricing it in USD definitely makes you think a bit more about the money you’re spending compared to VND or Riel. Anyway – just something I found interesting – it’s probably the Accountant in me!