Although it’s been a jam-packed week in Cambodia, I am extremely satisfied with this leg of the trip. We tackled multiple attractions a day, learned how to walk through Cambodian traffic, and learned how to bargain for and get around by tuk-tuk.
I really hope to come back and get a proper tour of the Siem Reap temples for a more educational experience. I would also like to travel outside of the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh areas as I’m sure the beautiful country of Cambodia can not be summed up by just two cities.
Now, we leave for the 8:30am bus and are due to arrive in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam at 3:30pm.
Scam at the Border
If it were not for the Vietnamese signage and the border process, undiscerning eyes would be hard-pressed to differentiate the Cambodian and Vietnamese countryside. Buildings are similarly narrow and the designs both have French influence. The countryside is just as vast and green.
At the border, we entered a dim warehouse-like building where they x-rayed our bags and told us to walk through a seemingly broken metal detector (my oft troublesome belt did not set anything off). Then we were directed to wait outside in the sun on a broken sidewalk with other confused backpackers and non-phased Vietnamese natives. Our bus eventually pulled narby us and an inspector went inside to check the contents of the bus.
“Where are our bags?” we wondered for 20 minutes before we saw a dodgy man pulling a cart with our luggage. He started motioning to each passenger asking which bag belonged to them. We saw people pulling $1 bills to pay the man before he was willing to put their bags on the bus. I guess, we have to pay him if we want our bags.
Clarence’s bag somehow got mistaken for another passengers so he did not have to pay. Me and Jon really did not want to pay the man. Deep down, I knew the bags would have to be put back on the bus anyway. However, being in a foreign country’s border with many guards, I didn’t want any trouble and surrendered my $1. I’d like to think that the man could use the dollars more than I could.
As we pulled further away from the border, I felt more at ease. A few more hours, and we will be in Ho Chi Minh.
Our First Hostel
My preconception of a hostel turned out to be completely wrong: I had always pictured a disaster relief area with people piled over each other in a gymnasium-like building.
So imagine my surprise when I entered the New Saigon Hostel 2 — located in an alleyway along with many other hostels — and saw a bright white lounge with light wood furniture. I was also very impressed that the clerk poured us a cold fruit drink upon checking in.
The room has everything you need: large wooden locker, sturdy bunk beds, A/C, fast WiFi, and a soundproof washroom with a hair dryer.
Since it was dinner time, we headed out and explored the nearby backpacker area. Crossing streets is much more stressful than in Cambodia and left us quickly exhausted. Our only solace was that the weather was about 10 degrees cooler (still around 30 degrees, mind you) than in Phnom Penh. Instead of a green light for “go”, no light, means go. The light for “stop” is a red cross. Further complicating things is only one street of the intersection has traffic lights so you may have to crane your neck and see if you can go based on the perpendicular lane’s light. While some intersections have countdown timers, many others have is no indication of the staleness of the light and may change abruptly as you are still crossing — something we have experienced while in the middle of a six-lane highway.
If this happened in Cambodia, the drivers would swerve around us, but in Vietnam, they honked and even advanced their vehicles. Our street-crossing skills of Cambodia obviously did not apply in Ho Chi Minh. The wave of scooters is much denser and it’s not possible for them to swerve around you on the larger streets, and the cars don’t care.
Scammy Frog Legs
Though all the restaurants we passed looked similar to our tired eyes, we eventually settled on restaurant in an alleyway. We contorted our sweaty bodies onto tiny red plastic chairs and squeezed into a low metal table. The fact that we were in Vietnam started to sink in.
We ordered a beef and pork dish with fries, Yang Chow fried rice, fried frog, and water spinach. The food was decent and prices were moderate.
When the bill arrived, we were charged an $5 extra for frog. We tried disputing this, but the waitress insisted that we were served two frogs. Not knowing exactly how many frogs we ate, we ended up paying.