19 July 2010

Crossing the Borders and Mekong River


Nowadays there are many buses, night and day, operated between Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Siem Reap (SR). It took 6 hours to go from HCMC to Pnomh Penh (PP) and plus 6 hours to SR. We decided to take Mekong Express (in the day time) based on people recommendation in internet. It is the first bus company that operates HCMC - SR route, so the buses were considered old but I believe they were more professional and experienced.

Our hotel in HCMC offered this bus ticket for $25 per person, but we could get $20 from other tour agent. We waited in the tour agent office, to be picked up to bus terminal where the bus was waiting. It was just few blocks away from the office (around backpacker area), but we brought along some heavy luggages so the picked-up-guy took taxi for us (he paid for the taxi).

They have one steward/stewardess (with uniform) for each bus who's traveling along. When the bus started moving (around 8 am), she started talking in bilingual, one was English and another one was a foreign language which we noticed were not Vietnamese. It was Cambodian language, or they called it Khmer. Most passengers were Cambodian people going home, not tourists. She then gave snacks box, mineral water and wet tissue for each passenger, Cambodian arrival card for foreigners and then collected our passports. When we reached Vietnam border Moc Bai, we alighted from the bus by bringing along all our luggages. We were waiting in front of immigration counters while our stewardess taking care our passport. Once a passport was stamped by the immigration staff, our stewardess called out a name on that passport, and the owner of it could go passing immigration staff back to the bus, without any further checking on our face/body nor our luggages. This is the first time I experienced this kind of collective passport stamp in immigration border, so careless.

Cambodian border Bavet International Check Point seems better, just like other immigration borders where we need to queue and hold passport by ourselves. Me and my friend who are Indonesian passport holders had already applied for Cambodian e-visa since May 2010. Well I just read news that Indonesian and Cambodian government recently signed agreement on visa exemption for both countries, that is good news! But I still don't know when it starts. Meanwhile, if you need to apply for Cambodian visa, better to apply it online. Be careful, there are many scam websites out there, do not apply from other websites. It costs $25 for tourist visa. Few hours after submitting the detail information plus payment, we will receive our visa by email, so fast and easy. Later just print it out, even in black-white color is OK :D

Just after the border, there are A LOT of casinos! Maybe 30? I didn't know that Cambodian and Vietnamese people like gambling.

After that, the bus stopped in one of restaurants for early lunch. With so many stops like that, the 6 hours journey between HCMC and PP was not so boring. We arrived in PP after crossing Mekong River where the bus (and other vehicles) boarded a ship for only 10 to 15 minutes. In PP, passengers who continued the journey to other areas, such as SR or Sihanoukville, were being transferred to another bus (from the same company, no need to pay more). In this new bus to SR, there were more foreigners than local people. We also got free snacks, mineral water and wet tissue like previous bus (this time there was a steward). Along the journey, the view was rice field, trees, poor people's houses with lack of electricity like villages in Indonesia. We only stopped in one place for 15 minutes. There I saw fried cockroaches as a food. Cambodian people seem like eating anything: cockroach, snake, crocodile, etc.

Finally around 7.30 pm we arrived in the bus terminal of SR, which didn't look like a terminal but someone's house, very small and dark. Tuk-tuk from our hotel was already arrived there to pick us up. The driver was really nice and speaking English very well. Later on the next 3 days we would be accompanied by him going around Angkor.

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