From Phnom Penh to Hồ Chí Minh
Transportation; tuk-tuk, taxi..?
17 th october 2012 .
Wednesday. Landed at Phnom Penh International airport around 8:00 am, still a bit drowsy as I just waked up from a 2 hour flight and everything seems blurry at the moment. Three of us on this trip this time. Immediately right after we stepped out of the airport, we were surrounded by the operators who offered taxis and tuk-tuks, a three-wheeled rickshaw used as main public transport here. There’s no bus from the airport, taxi is a bit more expensive, so there’s not much option here. Tuk-tuk’s fee to the city area from the airport is about USD 7 per vehicle.
At the main entrance of the airport, I saw two money changer stands and a few others selling telephone sim cards and taxi coupons. I converted about USD 20 to Cambodian Riel. Purposely didn’t want to change much as they prefer to use US dollars instead their own currency.
Communicating was a little bit difficult, and we had to asked for assurance and confirmation that the fee was for one vehicle, not per person to avoid disputes and being conned later on. After about half an hour ride, we arrived at what seemed to be an open space with loose rocks and clay earth, pot holes everywhere, it looked liked a construction site, and I was wondering what are we doing here. I can see a few bus parked at the open space, tourist waiting to board the bus, but didn’t see the ticketing counter. Then I noticed a small shack with plastic chairs, steel and wooden benches under it and people waiting, there’s a small grilled window at the other end and a lady waiting inside, this must be it.
We asked for the bus to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, the person behind the counter said that they sold out, as translated by our tuk-tuk driver, who seemed so friendly and insisted on helping us. He said that there’s another bus station somewhere at the town center that might still have tickets available, and offered to take us there, for an additional USD7. We declined and decided to walk instead as it might be close by, obviously a tactic to squeeze out more dollars, the driver persisted to send us emphasising that it was far and all.
We know that bus stations here are mostly located around Phsar Thmey (New Central market) area. Using that as a guide, we walked and referred to the map that we had, asked for direction, looking for road signs and, referring to the compass, and after walking for about 20 minutes we finally reached the market and asked for directions to the bus station. All along the way, tuk-tuk drivers would step in front of you, or blocking your way, offering a ride and at sometimes it does become irritating.
The weather there was quite hot and dry, you can see from the dry streets dust and sand being blown by passing motorist and most of the residents wear face mask.
Finally found our bus station, asked the boy at the counter and he said we missed the bus by an hour or so and the next bus is tomorrow, he guided us to another bus company, we asked for directions, a little hard to understand while at the same time being touted by a tuk-tuk driver at our side, but after some discussions and evasion at the same time, we got the directions needed and continued walking and surprisingly found Capitol Tours in just ten minutes later. 🙂
The counter is located inside a coffee shop as it seems, corner of a building, easily missed if not for the line of busses and concentration of people and tuk-tuks’ hawkers. We got 01:30 PM ticket to Ho Chi Minh, at USD 10 each. Als0 asked f0r some info on tours, price and place to visit and the counter staff was quite helpful, at least I felt the information she gave us was valid and not trying twist us around.
Nothing historical, scenic or awesome to be showed off along the streets, but the journey is just part of the experience, For me, I didn’t mind the walk as I get to see the life and streets of Phnom Penh as it is.
Next, for some food, unfortunately the place where we wanted to go and eat wasn’t on the map, couldn’t find the street as it seems to be missing from the map, we found all the street surrounding it but couldn’t find that particular street number, how strange. So after walking for about an hour, decided that it was enough and settled for another place.
Asking for directions? If possible try not to. It’s either that they do not understand where we want to actually go, or we didn’t understand their description or a combination of both, You’d get lost more often than find your way. So better plot your map real good and mark them as detail as possible before coming here.
Along the road, embassies, government buildings and office buildings was raising the Cambodian flag half mast, signs of mourning. later that I learned, Norodom Sihanouk, the revered former king who was a towering figure in Cambodian politics through a half-century of war, genocide and upheaval, died Monday. He was 89. This meant that most of the places that we would want to visit might be closed due to the public holidays declared.
Waited for the bus back at the shop where we got our tickets , the bus came a bit late but better than never, boarded the bus, and the conductor collected passport from the passengers and requested for ours as well, we were reluctant of giving-up our passports and requested to hold on to it and said that we will be giving them later at the border, he didn’t argue much, guessed he understood our concern and gave them back.
Off on the journey to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Went through the city center evading traffic, and about an hour later, out of the city. Honking and swerving traffic, going through traffic but still not that fast actually, felt scary at first, but you’ll get used to it eventually.
Two hours later we arrived at the ferry, Neak Loeung ferry terminal. The bus went on board the ferry, along with all the other vehicle here, even ox-carts.
Crossing took about 5 minutes only, and at the other end, there was about 2-3 km of traffic line up waiting to board the ferry. It was unbelievable… surely hours in the heat, before their turn to board the ferry. The bus dropped one passenger at Svay Rieng University, Svay Rieng, Cambodia.
The express coach continued through paddy fields, open lands and road is quite smooth, not so bumpy. Geographically, the land here is flat, come to think of it, I haven’t recalled going uphill since we left Phnom Penh.
the border; Cambodia-Vietnam
Then one by one I can see buildings coming to sight, squared and a few story high, wondering what town was this as I was certain we haven’t reached our destination because we did not pass any immigration checkpoint plus the passport is still with me, it became clear that almost all the buildings were casinos or hotels, or both, there were about 10 casinos I think, didn’t count them.
That time was 4:30 PM, the bus stopped at an eatery, then I noticed the large structure nearby, distinctively the Cambodian border. So near the border there are lots of casinos, don’t know why so many at the middle of nowhere here and I didn’t ask.
The bus conductor asked for my passport again, gave it to him and he put them together with a bundle of others passenger’s passports. There’s a guy writing something on a piece of paper and registering something inside a book. Soon afterwards we followed the rest of the crowd back in the bus, and moved to the immigration building. Nobody said anything and asked for nothing, basically we just followed them around. We left the bus and was asked to take our bags inside the building, there I can see the counter, with scanners normally found at airports, though I doubt if it’s of any use as I see people coming in and out of the gateway as freely as they want. I even went to the toilet for a few minutes and went back in line without passing the scanner for the second time as the operators not there.
The immigration officer, straight-faced, didn’t even smile, or speak much. Foreigners are required to scan fingerprints on the machine, all five of the right hands. Everything went smooth, cleared the immigration and back on the bus, we continued the journey as before and few hours afterwards, roads become wider, more houses and traffic building up, definitely almost there. There’s a visa fee of USD 20 applicable to most visitors.
Welcome Saigon a.k.a Hồ Chí Minh
Then finally about 6:30 PM, the bus stopped at a place that seems like nowhere to us, everyone went down, so we followed. Greeted by the familiar “tuk-tuk sir?… tuk-tuk..?” question the minute our feet touched the ground. Found our way around eventually and head for Pham Ngu Lao Street., backpackers hotel, tourist shops, money exchanger, foods, nightclubs bars, everything from one end to the other end of the street. From where the bus dropped us to the street, it was not that long of a walk, just a few minutes around the block and you are there. The street is distinctive from a large green park by its side. We saw the bus already passed the street earlier on just before dropping us off, so we just retraced back the road. So there’s no need for a ride actually unless you’d literally want to be taken for a ride of course.
As there are many hotels to choose from… getting one won’t be much of a problem, the problem is getting one that suits you and one good advise is not to get too excited hearing the price offered. That night we came across as low as USD 15/night but my friend chose to have a room for USD20/night for ourselves instead. Big room with 2 queen beds as they are the only ones available. They would allow you to inspect the rooms first so don’t waste that privilege.
After checking in, a shower and some dinner, we went out sightseeing the surroundings, obviously very happening and noisy street especially at the one behind our hotel, but after midnight, it gets quieter.
Night Life; nearby Phạm Ngũ Lão ; Saigon
Walked the streets nearby, lots of tourist in sight besides us so it doesn’t feel awkward when wandering around the area, shop owners, calling in for customers relentlessly along the streets.
9:00 pm. We were at Ben Tanh night market. 10 minutes walk from the hotel. You are there when you can see a big round-about and there’s a statue of a man and a horse (General Trần Nguyên Hãn) opposite the market. Many interesting stuff to see and buy, clothes, souvenirs, toys, food. We were advised by the locals, tour agent and guides there that, for any price which is declared by the seller, go for a 70% discount, the least, or else it’s already too expensive and you are taken for a sucker.
Head back to the hotel quite late, the streets have eased a little bit but there are still a lot of place still open for drinks. Up to our rooms, had a very nice warm shower, and went to a very nice bed. Everything seemed so nice. I jot down a few notes in my note-book, recalled my journey for a while,
8th-11th Oct; KL-East Java, Indonesia- KL.
12th-16th Oct ;KL-JB- Singapore.
17th Oct ;KL-Cambodia-Saigon…
Sleep soundly like a baby.