Around the world travel, Backpacking, Border Crossing, Bucket List, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel, Vietnam

Walking Across the Cambodian Border

After getting off the boat from Phu Quoc, we made our way to the bus station in Rach Gia but found very little information on how we were going to get to our final destination (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). Often times, this isn’t that worrying because there are either other backpackers going the same way, or an information booth, or someone who knows what’s going on who can help you. Here, none of the above could be located. There were a couple of empty buses with signs in the window indicating they were going in our direction, but it didn’t look like they were going anywhere fast. In fact, all we could find was an old beat up white minivan that was going where we needed to go, and it was leaving in five minutes and it was cheap. So we hopped on.

I managed to snag the passenger seat upfront, which may have made for a more comfortable journey, that was until the driver ran flat over a chicken in the road. Ok, at least it was a chicken. After about 3 ½ hours, we pulled into the border town of Chau Doc. It was here that a hotel owner jumped on to the bus and informed us that there was no way we were going to make it to Cambodia that afternoon, so we should just make plans to stay at his hotel and make a reservation for the boat to Phnom Penh for the following day. I was fuming. We had about another 15 minutes until we arrived in town, and a lady on the bus handed me a hand-written note, obviously trying to inform me of what I could do instead, but it was in Vietnamese, so at that point in time, I didn’t know what to do.
We got off the bus and followed this hotel manager, who wanted to be ever so helpful in getting us a room and getting the commission off our boat ride to Phnom Penh the next day, but I was adamant that there had to be a way around this and another way to get to our final destination that day.

I wasn’t sure what was making me so adamant about making it to Phnom Penh. I think it was a combination of a bad experience in Phu Quoc and the fact that I didn’t want to have to spend ANOTHER day in transit. So I decided to find out if Mr. Hotelier was indeed telling us the truth. I walked a few doors down to a tourist office and they gave me the same information on the boat that the guy at the hotel had. Then, I began to talk to some kids in the street who told me there was indeed a land crossing and they could take me there by bike, where I could walk across the border and then get another bike to a small town the other side where I could find transport to Phnom Penh. I also showed them the note that the Vietnamese lady on the bus had written me, which they translated for me, and I learned it said basically the same thing. (Bless her. I’m constantly amazed at the kindness of strangers)

Ok, we had to move quickly. It was pushing 3:30, and the border crossing was a 30 minute drive by bike, and it closed at 4:00, so with no hesitation, I jumped on the bike, well, after they debated who was actually going to take me. Then, I got to experience again the art of balancing a backpack on a motorcycle. The driver took my big backpack, placed it between his feet, and I hopped on the back of the bike with my smaller backpack on. I guess the driver was stressed we weren’t going to make it in time, because he proceeded to drive like a madman, and I started to doubt I was going to make it to the border alive.

As we pulled up, a driver from the Cambodia side approached us, and it was sort of like I was handed off. I showed my passport and paperwork to a man in a booth on the Vietnam side, walked about 100 yards, filled out an immigration form and presented my passport and paperwork to the man in the Cambodian booth. As I was getting ready to leave, the man stopped me, and I got a little nervous because I’d heard that it was normal for them to request “additional processing fees, “on top of what you’ve already paid for your visa. But all he wanted to do was take my temperature as a preventative measure against H1N1. Phew!

So my Cambodian bike driver was waiting for me the other side, and we jumped on the bike. I asked him where my helmet was (he had one, shouldn’t I?). He said, “Don’t worry, this is Cambodia, you no need helmet here. “I then proceeded to make him give me his.

We drove about 20 minutes to a small town where I could get a ride to Phnom Penh. So, I was handed off again, and began the 2 hour journey to the capital of Cambodia. First impressions, this place was so green, but then again it was the end of wet season, but the rice fields seemed to be so green, they glowed. And, the land was flat for miles and miles. I don’t think we hit an incline once.

About one hour into the journey, I was feeling starving, like painfully hungry. I knew we only had an hour to go, but I realized the only food I had eaten the whole day were the crackers they gave us on the boat ride over from Phu Quoc. It was now reaching 5:00 and my stomach was rumbling. Unfortunately, my driver spoke no English, so I began a miming game with him, and as we drove through the next village, he eventually stopped and we ventured into a small market where all I could find was a huge box of animal crackers, which we shared on the rest of our journey.

I checked into Royal Guesthouse that night, which was $ 7 a night. Ok, it was sparse, but clean and central, and you can’t beat that! After 12 hours of travel, I ordered a cold Angkor Beer (the national beer) and shortly thereafter nodded off, still hearing the sounds of cars beeping in my sleep.

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