If you’re wanting to travel from Vietnam into Cambodia you’re most likely going to want to go from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh. To do this you have 3 real options. First option is to fly; this is by far the most expensive of the options but should be the most convenient. Your second option is to take a bus. Busses depart pretty much every hour and take around 7 hours to get into Phnom Penh and sets you back around 11$. The third option which I took was to do a trip down the Mekong Delta. This can be done as a 2 day-1 night trip, or a 3 day-2 night trip. We chose the former.
I booked this trip in Ho Chi Minh at a tour operator for the following day. The whole trip cost $57 per person (I believe there was a slight surcharge if you were travelling solo) and included all travel, some food, 1-night accommodation in a city near the border and some activities on the first day. We were told to arrive at the meeting point for 7.30 am, to beat the morning traffic. In true Vietnamese style it was nearly 9am before the bus actually departed. The bus was however comfortable and the tour guide was friendly. The bus was made up of people doing a 1-day trip along the Mekong Delta and people like us making the voyage into Cambodia.
The first day’s activities were fun, we took a boat ride along the river past the floating markets. I really enjoyed seeing the floating markets as they were clearly authentic and still in use. It was nice to see that they had not just been set to sell to tourists as we didn’t even have the option to stop and buy even if we had wanted to. We stopped at a small village further along, where we saw people highlighting the many uses for rice in this area. We watched them make pop rice, candy and even got to sample the infamous rice wine. The tour guide was informative, funny and although the option was there, there wasn’t any pressure to buy souvenirs at the end.
After that we got back on the boat and continued our journey. The next stop was for a spot of cycling (anyone who didn’t cycle had the option to take a motorbike) – the cycling route was up to a restaurant where we were served a simple but tasty lunch. There was the option of chicken or tofu, served with rice and veggies. This meal was included in the tour and you had the option to pay and upgrade your meal to fish. After lunch, the 1-day and 2/3-day trip were separated. Us that were continuing on to Cambodia cycled back down to the boat and continued our journey. We were on the boat for around an hour before getting onto a bus. This is when the trip started to take a bit of a turn for me. After talking to others on the bus, it appeared we had all been charged different prices (normal conduct for South East Asia) but we had also been sold different itineraries. I had been told that we would be rowing in the afternoon, a couple of Australians had bought the package on the basis of a floating hotel (which we never saw) and 2 Chinese girls were looking forward to a Trek through the forest?
It felt like we were on the bus forever. For once, the bus wasn’t over filled but the seats are very small and it’s a hell of a bumpy ride. After around 3 hours we were dropped at a crocodile farm. Random. We were dropped and told to be back at the bus in twenty minutes. We headed into the farm not really knowing what to expect. But I certainly did not expect to see over a thousand crocodiles laying around in tiny enclosures literally laid on top of each other as there wasn’t enough room. It was not pleasant to see and I left with a bad taste in my mouth, only made worse by the packs of frozen crocodile meat being sold in the exit. Yes, I know that a farm is for that purpose, but to drop a group of tourists off here who have expressed no desire to visit? It was all a bit strange.
After this, the story repeated itself and we were back on the bus for another 2 hours until we got to the hotel (around 7pm). The hotel was basic but pleasant. It had WiFi and breakfast was included. However, Chau Doc town was not great. There wasn’t much to do and it wasn’t very well lit. We ended up eating an iffy pizza for dinner and heading back to the hotel with some drinks and snacks as opposed to exploring the town.
In the morning, we continued our very long journey into Cambodia. We had to be out of the hotel by 6.30 am meaning we had to be down for breakfast by 6am. The breakfast consisted of stale bread and an egg. We we’re back onto a coach for 5 minutes, then onto another boat. Our next small stop was at a fish farm and a Cham minority village. It was interesting to walk around the village and the town mosque is beautiful. Unfortunately, for the first time on the trip I felt an immense pressure to purchase souvenirs in the Cham Village. We then had to do a U-turn, to pick up another 2 people.
The tour guide decided the visa was now going to cost us $35 dollars. Despite protests we were told it would be $25. What choice did we have? We were on a boat in the middle of the Mekong Delta knowing a total or 4 Cambodian words between us. Be sure to have American Dollars on you because the guide will invent his own conversion rate that will definitely not work in your favour. Once the charade of the border crossing was complete we were back on yet another boat. The boat took around an hour and dropped us in a field of cow shit. We just climbed off the boat, into someone’s farm, full of shit. That was pleasant in flipflops.
We finally arrived in Phnom Penh around 3 pm after a couple of hours on a minivan. Day one of the trip was enjoyable, day two most certainly was not. To round off the feel of the trip the driver tried to scam us for further money, protesting that a hostel drop-off was not included in the price. Not today pal. He rapidly lost his battle for the extra few dollars when the van tyre burst leaving us all stood on the side of the road like a bunch of lost school children.
In all honesty, I would not recommend the trip. Although I would recommend seeing the Mekong Delta. It was a fantastic experience and wonderful to see. In my opinion your best bet would be to do a 1-day tour of the river which drops you back in Ho Chi Minh City. Have a night in the city and take the bus straight through to Phnom Penh the next day.
Once in Cambodia, here’s the perfect itinerary for your first trip.
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