In Transit from Vietnam to Cambodia

On the fourth day of my trip around Southeast Asia, I woke up early, took a shower, and prepared my things. I readied my passport and bus ticket, stuffed my laundry in my one backpack, and made sure I had the essentials on my person. Today, I was going to cross the border from Vietnam to Cambodia.

It was a beautiful morning, so I took pictures of the view from my budget hotel.

Good Morning, Vietnam!

I took the elevator straight down into the restaurant, and I had a buffet breakfast for the last time. I loaded up knowing that it might be a while before I had a decent meal. I took my time because I was up quite early. After breakfast, I checked out, and walked down Bui Vien towards the Sinh Cafe office, where I would wait for the bus. On the way, I bought a large bottle of water as well as a set of batteries.

My bus to Phnom Penh, Cambodia was at 9am and would take roughly six hours. There were a couple of locals in the bus, and there was a trio of European girls, and… that’s it. The upside is that it gave all of us free rein to take entire rows of seats to relax and sleep during the trip. It was great; I didn’t have to worry about leg room!

Approximately four hours into the journey, we made it to the border. Because I am a citizen of an ASEAN nation, I didn’t have trouble going through immigration (in fact, I didn’t even have to face the immigration officer at all, unlike the three European girls with us). We had lunch at a restaurant on the border. It was tough, because I don’t think they spoke any English at all, so I had to make do with pointing to order. That said, the food was good.

The most surprising thing about the border was the number of casinos on the Cambodian side of the border. There were already a handful of resort-casinos there, and a lot more were under construction in the same area. It wasn’t something I expected, so it definitely came as a surprise to me. (In contrast, the Vietnamese side of the border was mostly farm fields.)

A couple of hours later, we were in Phnom Penh. It’s the capital city of a developing country, and we disembarked in the center of it all. I’d been warned about how unsafe it was there, and how underdeveloped it was, but I didn’t feel any of that at all. It was an emerging metropolis, not unlike some of the big (but not huge) provincial cities in the Philippines, like Bacolod. There were a lot more high rises than I expected, with more being built. The major highway was well-paved, not the dusty dirt road I was expecting.

I decided to walk towards the area where I wanted to stay at, which was near Sisowath Quay. Big mistake. It was extremely hot, and I was a little lost, not to mention I needed to use the bathroom. It took a while before I found the nearest coffee shop, where I stayed in for a bit to cool off, use the bathroom, and grab a drink. Within an hour of my arrival in Phnom Penh, I found what I was looking for.

I stayed at the Bright Lotus Guesthouse I. Still spoiled from my private room experience in Ho Chi Minh City, I got a Single room for $16 a night. The room actually had two double beds, so a group of four could, conceivably, rent out that room for $4 a night per person. The room had airconditioning, cable television, and a relatively large private toilet and bath. My room in Phnom Penh was $2 cheaper than my room in Ho Chi Minh City, but it was already considerably larger. If this was how Cambodia was going to be like, I thought, then I’m gonna like it here.

The guesthouse was walking distance from Sisowath Quay, particularly the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (more on that in my next entry), as well as the National Museum, the Royal Palace, and the Silver Pagoda. Wat Ounalom was also nearby, and if you really wanted to, you could walk towards the Night Market and Wat Phnom. There was a second-hand bookstore nearby, as well as a convenience/beauty store (think Watsons), a silk shop, a travel company, an internet cafe, and your pick of bars and restaurants. Also, as this was a heavily touristy location, there were a LOT of tuk-tuks around.

I rested a bit at my room, then checked out the area around me. Sisowath Quay was still being developed; there was a large strip of ongoing construction by the river. Perhaps in a couple of years, it would be even busier than it was now, but when I was there it already seemed busy enough as it was. I spent a little time at an internet cafe, then explored the area more. I spied a handful of pizza places serving “happy pizza”; I’d been warned by Robert Alejandro in his book The Sketching Backpacker than the “happy herb” in their pizza was marijuana, so I stayed away. Instead, I found myself at a bar-and-restaurant serving Cambodian food, and had dinner there.

I decided to keep my drinking and night sightseeing to a minimum. I needed to get some rest after the gruelling trip so I could get energy to explore Phnom Penh the next day.

You can check out pictures from my trip at Flickr. Click on the following to know about the passport office near you.