14.08.2013 38 °C
Today I leave Phnom Penh and Cambodia and head down the mighty Mekong River by boat to Vietnam. As we castoff I give a wave goodbye to the capital and the wonderful time I’ve had here.
Soon we join the main Mekong, its vastness of width making me realise this is actually the biggest river I’ve ever seen. It may only be the 10th largest river in the world but down here as we get closer to the sea its size is impressive.
The colour is this consistent light muddy brown with occasional grouped bunches of green plant material floating by, no doubt coming from some far jungle location up river. In all honesty though it’s not that exciting and once you appreciate the sheer size it soon becomes mundane, hours of plugging your way slowly down river in our small boat.
The river is lined with population and activity the entire way, people living and working on the river banks. Fishing, cleaning or transporting building materials and other minerals. I noticed several large coal depot loading large barges on our journey.
After a couple of hours we arrived at the border, a much more efficient process that entering Cambodia the other side of the country. We moored up at the Cambodian border exit for a quick disembark to get our passports stamped by 2 customs officers lazing in their hut, hardly a look up as they stirred enough to get the stamps printed in our passports.
We jumped back on the boat to travel the 100m down river to the Vietnam border, only two other young Americans sharing the boat with me. The Vietnam border entry was seamless; we didn’t even need to get out of the boat as our attended took our passports for stamping. Of course we already had Visa’s purchased in Phnom Penh as there is no Visa on entry for Vietnam. Getting a Visa is easy but takes 24 hours as you need to give you passport to a travel agent whilst they ferry it down to the Vietnam Embassy along with $60. The price has gone up this last year from $35 for a month’s Visa in Vietnam.
And now we were in Vietnam we castoff again to continue our journey down river. Another 3 hours saw us approach Chau Doc up a side artery of the Mekong which narrowed considerably.
Chau Doc is a river town on the Vietnam Delta only 2 miles from the Cambodian border to the North and quite a sweet little place, the town sprawling onto the river with use of floating house boats and restaurants.
We disembarked and I said to farewell to my travelling American friends and headed to find a Guesthouse for the night. The boat drops you at the only speedboat jetty in the town and I walked 100m along the river to the Thuan Loi Gueshouse which itself faces onto the river and has a floating restaurant. Cheap price at $8 for a night and I checked the room quickly, it seemed tidy and clean and didn’t smell, it also overlooked the river below so I booked in for 2 nights.
I decided to stay 2 nights in Chau Doc so I could arrange a bus ticket to Saigon the next day and also do some sightseeing, apparently the area has some good stuff to see including an accessible mountain with great views from top over the Cambodian Jungle and the snaking Mekong. Also there are killing Fields and Museums nearby plus we’re on the Vietnam Delta, a vast area of South Vietnam that is the rice bowl for the country and has a good chunk of the counties massive 90 million population.
That night I didn’t do much as I was tired. I had dinner on their floating restaurant beside the lapping water and retired. As I walked up to my room the old ladies were squatting on the landing gossiping in their pyjama coloured clothes, maybe they were there because it was too hot in their rooms I wasn’t sure. They gave a shy smile as I said hello and passed, then they were back to gossiping. It was hot but the powerful fan that scans the room on its articulated gimble giving periods of relief that I was thankful for and I was soon asleep.
Unfortunately sightseeing was off today, it had started to rain early and didn’t look like it was going to stop. I was planning to hire a motorbike and see some of the local area but it would be no fun in this rain. Instead I spent most of the day just watching life on the river, writing some of my blog and enjoying a few beers.
The river must rise considerably during the height of the rainy season, I noticed the height of the stilts on the permanent buildings lining the river to be over 3m above the current level. The anchored river houses and restaurant will rise and fall with the river, but still a considerable amount.
There was a brief respite from the rain allowing me to check out the local market and town.
Time to travel to Saigon through the Delta today. The bus, only costing about $7, picked me up outside my hotel late morning for the 6 hour journey. This was a Vietnam sleeper bus, I’d never seen one of these before and instead of normal upright seats they had rows of reclining beds, 2 high and 3 wide. Very nice and I had one of the front beds, which for tall people have a bit more room.
We thundered along winding our way through the maze of small roads and waterways of the Delta. Rice paddies out the window and continuous traffic on the road, again the horn being used liberally by the bus as it stormed up behind slow moving cyclists and loaded trishaws.
We had a small incident on the way when the bus driver reversed into a scooter behind when trying to reverse off a single lane bridge for an oncoming truck. The scooter must have been right up his ass and bus broke his front bumper. At bit of a scene pursued resulting in the police being called. It took them 45 minutes to get this resolved with lots of noise and shouting, and then we were on our way again.
We made a ferry crossing in the bus and then about an hour outside Saigon we crossed a large modern bridge over the Mekong giving an impressive view of the mighty river.
The rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived finally a couple hours late into Saigon but I was getting used things not running to schedule and I already had a hotel booked to fall into once I arrived.