Having missed our tour bus to the border town of Chau Doc, my friend Gayatri and I were stranded in the street in Ho Chi Minh City,Vietnam. After a lot of pleading , the tour booking lady managed to get us seats on a local bus which was supposed to go to Chau Doc as well. Having time to spare, we went down to our favorite bakery in Vietnam, the ABC bakery and had a steaming hot cup of coffee and a croissant. The booking lady was kind enough to book us a taxi to go to the local bus station. The tour cost was a million Vietnamese dong, which amounts to just 50 USD. The fact that we were paying millions every day, made us feel very rich.
Local long distance buses in Vietnam are amazing. The reclining chairs are double Decker and you can have a nice nap for the whole duration. They made us remove our footwear before entering the bus, and when the bus stopped for fuel and refreshments, the bus conductor gave everyone a pair of loose flip flops to wear outside and remove once we came back. This ingenious system not only made the bus clean, but presumably also saved up a lot on cleaning and maintenance charges.
We reached Chau Doc in the evening. Chau Doc is a small town on the Mekong Delta and our accommodation for the night was on a floating hotel boat. Immediately upon reaching, not able to control our now addiction for Viet coffee, we set off trying to find the best local brew. Walking down the river promenade, having had our coffee and munching on street food, looking at the daily evening scene, I acknowledged that no matter how different their appearances, how different their systems, people are pretty much the same everywhere.
It had now begun to look thunderous and we ran back to our floating hotel. Just reaching in time, we were greeted by a fight. A French lady was fighting with the boat manager for the manager had wanted a copy of the French tourists’ passports. Yelling and insulting the manager, the lady was evidently hysterical and scared that they would run away with their precious European passports. We, shaking our heads at the whole scene went straight to the restaurant to order food. Having no option than seafood, which I was half sure was caught on the boat itself, we ordered an octopus and fish curry like dish. The food was delicious and our stomachs full, minds satisfied and content, we crashed for the night.
The next morning, we packed our bags and took the boat to go to Cambodia, via the Mekong River. I’ve traveled across borders by buses, cars, flights, trains, but this was the first time by boat. The next border crossing would be on foot I assumed (which later turned out to be true).
Life on the river
On the way to the Cambodian border, we stopped at a floating market, a fish farm and a weaving mill. The ferry took a good 2 to 3 hours to reach the border. It was just us and two other local people in the ferry crossing the border. As we came to the border and shore, we had to leave our boats and walk towards the border gate. The Cambodian border from this side is one of the most relaxed in the world, in my opinion, and while our driver collected our passports to be stamped, we chilled and waited on hammocks till he arrived. The process was smooth and a bus took us to the Cambodian side where we got our passports stamped with the visa and got our fingerprints scan.
All of this was in a dense jungle in the middle of the Mekong delta and as such the infrastructure was minimal .What surprised me was the efficacy of the whole process. After the procedure, we joined our driver and bus mates to a local meal outside the police station. The whole meal cost just 1 USD (they use USD in addition to Cambodian riel).
After that we were on our way to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Budget : INR 1000 per day
Best time to visit: October through March