From where we were in Kampot, Cambodia, we had the choice to either returning to Phonom Penh which was a 5+hr bus ride, then catching a 8+ bus ride to HCMC, or we opted for what seemed to be the more logical route of going through the new southern border crossing at Prek Chak. We were told that the bus would take us across the border to the Vietnamese town of Ha Tien, where we would change onto a 'big' air conditioned coach for the rest of the trip. All in all, the trip was to be 9.5hrs.
|At the Prek Chak border Crossing, Cambodia-Vietnam|
We left Kampot just after 10am via mini bus. There was only the 4 of us, plus 1 other fellow so it was a very comfortable ride. The border proceedings were quick, and we arrived in Ha Tien at a 'booking office' in just under 2hrs. We were told that our connecting bus would leave in another 2hrs. While this lay-over was unexpected news, we took the opportunity to have a brief walk around the nearby river promenade and enjoyed a lunch of 'pho' noodle soup, ice coffee and some ice cream.
Instead of boarding our 'big bus' at 2pm as we were led to believe, a taxi arrived for us. We were then told that it would take us to meet our next 'mini bus'. Furthermore, we would have to change mini bus again at Chau Duk. Interesting news but hey, we can live with it.
Or so we thought. When we arrived at the mini bus stop, we discovered that it was a fully loaded 'local' mini van versus a 'tourist' air conditioned bus which we had paid for. The back half of the bus was full of 8 other backpackers who thankfully shuffled around a bit so that we could sit together with the kids. The front of the van had about 4 or 5 locals. All in all, the van was now full, with 16 passengers, with our luggage strapped on to the roof.
Naturally as it was a 'local' mini van, they crammed a few more people in along the way who sat in the aisle and squished together on a couple of the seats. Then it started to rain and after about 5 minutes the driver realised that our packs were all on the roof, uncovered. He quickly stopped the van and proceeded to unload them one by one, slowly, and into the already packed van.
Off we went again, in the downpour, in our very packed, hot and now also leaky van along a very bumpy road. Luckily at least the rain didn't last long. 3 hours later, we pulled into Chau Duk, all grateful to get out of our sardine can, shaken and definitely stirred. With barely enough time to go to the toilet, we were rushed onto our seemingly nicer mini van. 'Seemingly' because while it looked nicer, the driver and his assistant were not very nice nor friendly. Not only did they refuse to turn the airconditioning on, but they also tried to make us all cram into the back half of the mini van so that they could make some extra money on the side by picking up extra 'local' passengers along the way (it turns out that this is a common practice).
About 45min into our journey we started to notice a strange sound, which Jim and I thought was coming from the river which we were driving along side. The driver thought it was coming from the laptop which the girls had on to watch a video at last. We soon discovered that we had a very flat rear tire. We all clammered out of the van into the darkness (it was 6:30pm), hoping that we could take the opportunity to find some food. While we were not lucky enough to have broken down near any restaurants, a woman pushing a sandwich cart happened to roll past and we hungrily ordered a few sandwiches with our last remaining Vietnamese currency (we had only a small amount on us and US dollars are not accepted here any longer).
Half an hour later, we were back on the road again. But the surprises kept coming. Around 8pm we got stuck in some traffic. It seemed a strange time and place for a stand-still traffic jam, and we soon realised that it was actually a line up for a vehicle ferry! It was extremely efficient, with numerous ferries loading one after another. Scooters, mini vans, cars and trucks all boarded for a short and quick 15min crossing of the river.
The rest of the trip continued without any further incidents. Just before midnight, we rolled into a bus station 13km outside of the city centre of HCMC. We found a nice taxi driver who was willing to accept our US dollars for our ride to the city. While we had an address of a hotel, we did not have any reservations. The driver took us straight there, but the street was quiet and the hotel we had hoped to go to, was gated and locked. There were plenty of other 'mini hotel's on that 'alley' and luckily we were able to awaken one clerk and surprisingly got ourselves a very clean and decent room. After a quick shower to wash the dust and grime of the trip away, we were all in bed at 1am.
|The 'Alley' Where Our Hotel Was Located, by day|
What a long day--5 changes of transportation and a ride on a ferry! We were so frustrated with how it turned out, as were the other backpackers on our trip. We are certainly use to unexpected changes and situations beyond our control during travel, but the worst part of this was that we were ALL sold a different trip. If we chose to travel on local buses, which we have on other occasions, then this trip would have been very typical. But we didn't. We all paid for a supposedly smoother, more comfortable, shorter trip. And we certainly didn't get what we paid for. Luckily the girls handled the trip very well, especially given that they couldn't use any electronic gadgets (except for a brief 1.5hr video on the laptop just before sleep) as most of the trip was either too cramped or too bumpy, nor could they draw or even play with anything. They both fell asleep on our laps for about the last 3hrs of the trip, woke when we arrived and had to look for a room, then slept again until 7am the next morning. So all in all, it could have been much worse we guess! Welcome to Vietnam..