Saturday, 20 July 2013

Day Eleven - Chau Doc to Phenom Penh - Vietnam to Cambodia

We spent yesterday evening in Chau Doc after our long car journey from Saigon. The heavy clouds that had been bubbling all afternoon finally burst and lightning lit up the town around us. We ventured out of our hotel through the local market to the Victoria hotel the other side of the town on the Mekong river. We sat and looked out at the colourful shelters that were piled up on top of each other on the other side of the river bank. These are home to local fishing families and as watched the sunset, boat after boat mored up outside each one as they ended their days fishing.

We sat outside cooling off in the rain until it became to heavy and started to soak through our clothing. As this is a very small town, well off the tourist track, we didn't have a huge choice of places to eat. We decided to eat in the Victoria Hotel restaurant as it was supposed to be highly rated and eating out in the rain in the market became less and less appealing as it got darker. We chose one of their hotpot/fondues which is a traditional Vietnamese soup that is placed in the centre of your table over a burning stove that you add noodles, seafood, chicken, beef and vegetables too as you wish. You then poor it in little bowls and eat away as you go. I will definitely be re-creating this at home once I am back!

We left the hotel and walked back in the rain through the now deserted streets of Chau Doc. I don't know if it was the rain that made everyone disappear or if this is just a more rural town that actually sleeps unlike the other cities we had been to in Vietnam.
I woke early to the familiar sound of mopeds at dawn coming to set up the market just below our hotel. We had to be up early as we had a car picking us up at our hotel to take us to the dock to catch our boat at seven thirty to Phenom Penh. As we ate breakfast I suddenly realised we no longer had any passport photos for our visas at the border crossing (we somehow managed to leave our folder with these, all our flight and hotel bookings and vaccination records somewhere along our journey). In a panic we got a man with a push bike and trailer with a tray on the back to give us a lift round town to somewhere that we could get a picture taken (before 6am in the Morning). We had no luck so headed to the boat where they said we could get one at the crossing anyway - phew!

We boarded our boat that like most methods of transport over here was quite cramped but comfortable. We set off along the river past floating houses and factories on our way to the border. It's a lot more rural here and lots of the land lays uninhibited but you do pass villages of homes on stilts and lots of corrugated iron barns full of rice sacks. Even factories with huge fired up furnaces that must be drying rice or something float on the river as well.

At half nine we reached the Vietnamese border with Cambodia in the Mekong river. This is unlike any other border I have been through, its very quite, in fact besides another boat of about ten people we were the only ones there. We first pulled up at a Portacabin floating on large drums in the river which was the Vietnam border. We stopped for about Fithteen minutes and had our visas stamped for exit. We then boarded the boat again and went another couple of hundred meters up river to the Cambodian border. This time we got off the boat onto the bank and walked into a courtyard consisting of about six small shelters.
At this point Jamie and I were pulled out of the queue for not having a photo and taken round the back of the immigration courtyard and down a dirt track lined with shelters and shops. We were taken to one shop (well six stilts with some corrugated iron roofing and a rusty bed with no mattress in the middle) that offered us to have our picture taken for a few dollars. A young woman came out with a blue board on wheels and set a small red plastic chair in front and asked each of us to sit. She whipped out a new Fujifilm camera, quickly took our pictures and disappeared round a tin screen. At first we heard someone chipping at stone and joked that they may be sculpting our picture as there was no sign of and photographic machines nearby let alone electricity! A couple of moments later we heard a generator being fired up and five minutes later, as if by magic (this is still my only explanation) the lady reappeared with six passport sized photos of us both neatly wrapped in re-sealable bags - magic! We headed back to the courtyard and got our passports stamped (numerous times) by a gentleman in a dusty shed. This was the easiest border crossing I have ever encounter (even without the correct paperwork) and the people who worked there even smiled!
We carried on up the river towards Phenom Penh passing miles upon miles of green countryside and waving at people working on its banks. Four hours later we reached a split in the river where the Tonle Sap, Cambodia's main river, meets the Mekong river and there lies the city of Phenom Penh.

Phenom Penh's not like the other cities we have entered back in Vietnam. There is one lonely skyscraper on the horizon and signs of others starting to be developed but otherwise it's quite flat and instantly seems less busy. We disembarked the boat and took a moto to our hotel. This city instantly feels a lot calmer and less chaotic which is a breath of fresh air. We passes through the royal palace and its surrounding buildings that we will explore in depth later on. We arrived at the Pavilion Hotel where we will spend the next couple of days at mid afternoon and enjoyed a traditional Khmer lunch of fish on sticks for me and chicken curry for Jamie. I then took advantage of their complimentary massage before having a quick nap.
In the evening we ventured up one of the main streets to get a feel for the city. There's a mixture of huge four by fours and mopeds here and a few small cars too. The streets are a lot less intimidating to cross though still very chaotic! We stopped off at a couple of bars and grabbed dinner at one before heading back to out hotel for the night.

Location:Preah Ang Yukanthor (St: 19),Phnom Penh,Cambodia

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