Most people will find that three days is enough time to see the sites in and around Phnom Penh. Travelers who are starting their journey in Cambodia will head out to popular destinations such as Kampot, Sihanoukville or Siem Reap. People who are ending their Cambodian tour will often head to Vietnam, particularly Ho Chi Minh City, which is still often referred to as Saigon. Regardless of your next destination, there are many travel agencies around the Sisowath Quay (Riverside) tourist area which can arrange transportation by bus, boat or private taxi.
Ho Chi Minh City was my next destination and I chose a combination of boat and bus to get there. It is important to note that most travelers to Vietnam will require a tourist visa which must organized before arriving in the country. When flying into Vietnam, the visa can be arranged on-line, but for overland travel or arrival by boat, the visa must be acquired before departing Cambodia. The Embassy of Vietnam in Phnom Penh issues tourist visas but most travel experts recommend using a travel agent to get the visa. A thirty day single entry tourist visa costs $45 USD; an agency will easily get the visa in two days or less and this saves multiple tuk tuk rides to the Embassy. In addition to the $45 USD you will need a completed application form, which can be downloaded and printed from the Embassy’s website, and one recent passport sized photo.
I used the same agency to book the $35 USD combination boat and bus ticket with Mekong Tours; www.mekongvietnam.com. Mekong Tours provides transportation to the dock which is located at the Titanic Restaurant just to the north of Riverside at the junction of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. The border between the two countries is roughly 59 miles (95 km) south of Phnom Penh. On each side of the border, on the Mekong’s west bank, are check points. The boat stops at each one to clear passengers out of Cambodia and into Vietnam. The immigration process is very easy, taking around ten minutes at either check point. From the border the boat continues down river for another eight miles (13 km) before turning west into a narrow canal which leads to the Bassac River and the town of Chau Doc. The trip took just under five and a half hours and was quite enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City was not particularly pleasant and in retrospect I should have spent more time in the Mekong Delta. It would have been better to break up the bus trip into several legs and seen southern Vietnam, which is the reason that most people take the boat trip to begin with. The bus that I had booked departed Chau Doc at 07:00 PM, and was a “semi-sleeper”, a method of transportation that I will avoid in the future. Instead of regular seats, the semi-sleeper has rows of tiny bunks which are much too small for the average Westerner and I found it impossible to get into any comfortable position. In addition to the discomfort the bunk caused, the air conditioning must have been at maximum cool, as the bus was absolutely freezing. The icing on the cake was that the speaker directly over my head was blasting Vietnamese music which my ear buds could not quite block out. The one positive thing I can say about the bus company was that upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City they had a car take me to the hotel.
Here is a link to a map I created which shows most of Cambodia's major temple groups and towns that are often used to visit these sites. An approximation of the boat route from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc is included as well.
Until next time,