South East Asia December 2012 – January 2013
02.07.2013 - 03.07.2013
The junk boat cruise was an unusual way to spend the last day of the day of the old year and the area left us somewhat underwhelmed... This made us think twice about our plans to catch a sleeper-train into the heart of the country. After some quick pondering, we realised Vietnam was not ticking the right boxes for us and that we should maybe head over to neighbouring Cambodia a few days earlier than expected. And so, in a mad rush, we borrowed a laptop from the hotel and booked ourselves some flights to the Southern Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon). We informed the hotel staff about our last minute changes and they were so kind as to go sell our train tickets on for us at the station. They also managed to get us a room for the night in one of the other Rising Dragon hotels. Oh how we owed them!
And so the next morning, on...
Wednesday, 2nd January
… rather than waking up on a sleeper-train half way across the country, we took a flight down to Ho Chi Minh City. There were no direct flights available to any of the Cambodian cities, but we were told that there were regular bus services running between both countries. And once we found our hotel in the city, with a kind upgrade to a larger room as a celebration of the new year, we did not waste time and immediately booked our tickets. We could not believe how cheap the tickets were: $20 for a 12 hour journey! Absolutely incredible. The rest of the day, we had a short wander across the city and bought some supplies for our long journey ahead, such as a few litres of water, some French pastries (of course!) and other nibbles. Ho Chi Minh City definitely had a much nicer vibe than Ha Noi, but that was largely due to the vast climate difference. There was no complaining about the cold here and we were instead welcomed by a warm tropical climate. Not too warm and not too cold, so that even Ben was quite at ease. There were masses of tourists around, which in turn showed a difference in the local's attitudes towards outsiders. At times it seemed more like an act, rather than genuine kindness, but these Vietnamese knew that in times of tourist booms, being friendly was the difference between making an income or going broke. We had a quick meal somewhere and then explored the famous night market, before heading back to the hotel for an early night.
Thursday, 3rd January
We had an early breakfast at the rooftop buffet room of the hotel. No banana pancakes, no fresh French pastries, no happy Emilie. Clear to say I won't be given them full marks on my feedback form! We drove off in the bus around 8am and reached the Vietnamese – Cambodian border roughly around 2pm. Sitting in a bus for such a long amount of time may seem like hell to most people, but we drove by stunning countryside all along the way and we got to catch up on some much needed sleep. The border control represented an almost caricature-like image of both countries. The Vietnamese border patrol were rough, rude, prodded you along from side to side and objected to anyone jumping the queue unless they were fellow countrymen. It was very frustrating. The building was again a reminder of the Soviet state: a bunker like place. And then, a few metres ahead, you enter the Cambodian border patrol station, which might well have been in a different world altogether. Beautiful ornaments adorn the place, smiles all around and such a welcoming feeling. We could not help but let out a sigh of relief. We knew right then and there that we were going to fall in love with this country.
Driving through stunning country side, we finally made it to Cambodia's gorgeous capital Phnom Penh. A connecting bus should have been awaiting us there to take us to Siem Reap, but we were casually told that we missed it. You should have seen the look on our fellow traveller's faces: they were absolutely livid, shouting at the locals, demanding the bus to turn around and get them and all sorts of other nasty stuff. We weren't all that fussed, to be honest: we had made it out of Vietnam into Cambodia and were going to enjoy every moment of it! We quickly made arrangements to get seats on the next bus and flagged down a tuk-tuk driver to take us on a trip around the city. He recommended the “Killing Fields”, a remnant of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge past.
This site will bring shivers up your spine. Cambodia's history is a gruesome one, but when you know the details and you see how the people have gone through hell and back and still manage to show compassion, kindness and live their lives in happiness, that is when your respect for them multiplies a thousandfold.
We caught the bus at 6pm and after a long journey through the night, we finally arrived at our destination around midnight. We immediately walked to our hotel and had a really good ssssleep...
For all the pictures of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, please follow this free public link: Phnom Phen and Siem Reap Photos