Thursday, 23 February 2012

From Saigon to Phnom Pehn

When planning our two-week holiday to Cambodia, we naturally wanted to include Phnom Pehn and it seemed like a good idea to do it at the beginning of the trip, but how to get there?  We could have flown or taken the bus, but we've always been fans of boat trips and Delta Adventure Tours, who organised our Mekong tour in December, were offering a bus/boat journey over two days with an overnight stay in a floating hotel. We decided to do that.

The first part of the journey was a three hour bus ride to Cai Be where we transferred to a boat and visited a floating market which was similar to the one we visited on our Mekong Cruise, but much smaller.  Following this, we were taken to a rice paper and coconut candy making factory and then we went for lunch.  Lunch over, we continued by boat to Vinh Long where we switched to a bus for the journey to Chau Doc.

Our overnight accommodation in Chau Doc was a floating hotel moored on the banks of the Mekong River.  It's true to say that it had seen better days, but, nevertheless, it was a novel experience.  We slept under bright blue mosquito nets with holes in it (fortunately, we weren't bothered by any biting bugs!) and had dinner in the restaurant with a life jacket on the back of each chair!

The next morning, the best part of the journey began.  We boarded our boat directly from the breakfast room of the floating hotel.  A money changer with the largest wad of notes I've ever seen had come round the tables whilst we were eating, so we were armed with a supply of Cambodian riel and enough dollars to buy our visa on entry.

Our first stop of the day was at a fish farm in a floating village.  It was interesting to see how the process works and to meet some of the people who make their living this way.

From there, we were taken to An Giang, a Cham village close to the border with Cambodia.  We got off the boat and went for a 40-minute walk around the village.  The people are Muslim, so we saw the mosque and the madrasah.  Traditional dress is worn by most and we were able to take some good photos.

We then proceeded by boat to the Vietnam/Cambodia border.  First, we had to disembark at the Vietnamese border control post to exit the country.  Then it was back on the boat for a couple of hundred metres to the Cambodian customs office where we disembarked again by climbing up a very rickety series of wooden planks.  It took about an hour to process the visas of everyone on our boat and get our passports stamped and returned to us.  Then it was full steam ahead to Phnom Pehn.

This part of our journey was due to take four hours and we should have arrived in Cambodia's capital at about 3pm.  As it was, it took over seven hours and we got there at just after 6.30pm.  This really wasn't a problem, though!  We were sitting in the open at the back of the boat and there was always something interesting to see.  Even though we were on the same stretch of river, when we crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia things seemed to change.  The scenery was largely the same - the people and their houses were similar - and yet everything looked different.  The only concrete thing I could identify was that there was a lot more colour.  Suddenly, we were seeing washing lines full of vibrant pinks and purples contrasting sharply with the browns and greens of the natural surroundings.

The journey passed quickly with so much to see and soon we were in Phnom Pehn, happy that we had made the right decision to travel by boat.

You can see all of the photos taken along the journey here.

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