Last Updated 07/02/2024 | 7th February, 2024
If you’re looking for a unique way to travel between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh, this Mekong Delta river cruise might suit you.
Beware, though, this trip isn’t for the faint-hearted and has quite a few twists and turns. This article covers it all – the good, the bad and the ugly!
Via The Mekong Delta – The Overview
Travelling via the Mekong Delta is a unique way to travel between these two beautiful Southeast Asian countries.
You can take a two-day, one-night, three-day, or two-night trip. We chose the former option.
There are plenty of places to book this trip online. However, you will undoubtedly pay a surcharge when travelling between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh.
Therefore, I took the typical budget backpacker option and booked this trip in Ho Chi Minh at a tour operator for the following day. The trip cost $57 per person (I believe there was a slight surcharge if you were travelling solo).
This included all travel, food, one-night accommodation in a city near the border and some activities on the first day.
Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh
We were told to arrive at the meeting point at 7:30 a.m. to beat the morning traffic.
In true Vietnamese style, it was nearly 9 a.m. before the bus actually departed. The bus was comfortable, and the tour guide was friendly. The bus was made up of people who had booked a one-day trip along the Mekong Delta and people like us making the voyage into Cambodia.
To successfully travel around this region of the world, you must have a laid-back attitude. There are constant delays and disruptions to your journeys.
The first day of travelling between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh was excellent.
The 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 great 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 and candy and even got to sample the infamous rice wine.
The tour guide was informative and funny, and although souvenirs were an option, there wasn’t any pressure to buy them at the end.
Confusion and Crocodiles – Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh
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. We had 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 trips were separated. We, who 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 Southeast 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 based on a floating hotel (which we never saw), and two 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 overfilled, but the seats were very small, and it was a hell of a bumpy ride.
The Crocodile Farm
After around 3 hours, we were dropped off at a crocodile farm.
We were dropped off and told to return to 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 lying around in tiny enclosures. Literally laid on top of each other, as there wasn’t enough room.
It was unpleasant 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 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 very unsettling.
Day 1 Evening
After this, the story repeated itself, and we were back on the bus for another two hours until we reached the hotel (around 7 p.m.).
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. If you’ve ever spent much time in a border town, you will be familiar with their strange vibe.
We ended up eating an iffy pizza for dinner and heading back to the hotel with some drinks and snacks instead of exploring the town. We were eager to get an early night and continue our journey from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh.
Day 2 – Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh
Bright and early, we continued our very long journey into Cambodia.
We had to leave the hotel by 6.30 a m, meaning we had to be down for breakfast by 6 am. The breakfast consisted of stale bread and an egg.
We headed back onto a coach for five 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 immense pressure to purchase souvenirs in the Cham Village, which led to an uncomfortable end to the trip.
We then had to do a U-turn to pick up another two people.
Crossing Into Cambodia – Securing Our Visas
Securing our visas for Cambodia should have been straightforward. Unfortunately, the tour guide decided that the visa would now cost us $35 (rather than the official $25 at the time).
💡Visa Note: As of the last update of this article, the Cambodia visa on arrival from the UK costs $30 USD and permits visitors to stay for up to thirty days.
Despite protests, we were told it would be $35. What choice did we have? We were on a boat in the middle of the Mekong Delta, knowing only four Cambodian words between us.
💰Top Tip: 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 mess, where we stood and waited for the van.
This was a particular low light.
After a couple of hours in a minivan, we finally arrived in Phnom Penh around 3 p.m. Day one of the trip was enjoyable, but day two was not.
There was one final commotion, during which the driver tried to insist on another fee, and then the van tyre burst loudly, leaving us stranded on the side of the road. Looking back, this was a little comical, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time!
Alternative Ways To Travel From Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh
There are two clear alternatives to the Mekong Delta river cruise.
The first is to fly. This is, of course, the most expensive option, but by far the fastest. Please be warned that short flights in this region are often delayed or rescheduled, so it’s best to keep a little flexibility within your schedule.
If your backpacker budget doesn’t stretch to flights, the bus between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh will be your best friend! It takes around eight hours you take the first bus of the day so you arrive in daylight and can enjoy your first evening in Cambodia.
Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh Cruise – Would I Recommend?
In all honesty, I do not think this trip is the best option for those looking to travel between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh.
The Mekong Delta is truly stunning and is a must-see if you are in this region of the world.
Therefore, I think the best option is to take the one-day river cruise which drops you back in Ho Chi Minh City, and then take the first bus across the border the following day.