(Ed. note; We decided to go loosey-goosey after leaving Saigon and so waited until we arrived at the 5 star Rex Hotel to book travel and accommodation. However, it is Tet. This means that many, many people go home to the country, many many businesses close and many, many services aren’t available. This means that getting from Saigon to Phnom Penh is very, very difficult. Terry finally found a 2 day one night tour that would take us through the Mekong Delta and then up the river to Phnom Penh. Terry says “I wear this one, not proudly, but it is on me. Here it is:”)
I had a moment of doubt when I was booking but had already looked for hours to find a quick way to get to Phnom Penh while seeing some of the Mekong. I didn’t want another trip like Ha Long Bay and so opted for this one through Get-Your-Guide, an on-line service via Switzerland. Geoff checked it out on TripAdvisor to rave reviews but apparently the service stops at finding you a guide. They are not responsible for the guide’s service. Let’s just say it fits the adage, “You get what you pay for.” For $75 each, I thought we were getting a mostly-by-boat trip down the Mekong to Chau Doc, where we would stay the night (included), and then get on a fast boat to Phnom Penh (also included). Along the way we were going to have a MINIMUM of tourist stops and were going to be able to do a small amount of cycling. But no, we got MUCH more than that!
The traffic was heavy on the day of the trip, slowing the drive to our first starting point.
Consequently, once we got on the boat, we were hurried all day and “the tour” started to go sideways. We rushed by the floating markets (Ed. note: These are much different than in Thailand where they just sell crap. These sell vegetables and fruit only – mostly to restaurants but some “retail”. They pull up, drop anchor and wait.),
took time over the authentic coconut candy making,
sped right past the snake wine demo (rats! I wanted to try it)
and back on the boat to lunch (blah!), by-passed the cycling but were later taken to a crocodile farm. Is that a bye? (Ed. note: after the boat we enjoyed a 5 hour bus ride…)
We had five different guides by the time we were done. At one point on the bus, we had no guide and drove for quite awhile with no explanation of where we were or what we were doing. Finally, we stopped in a town and the driver said, “Washroom” and pointed. A few people disembarked, then came back and got back on, but no driver. We knew he had to come back because he had left the motor running. After 10 minutes, inexplicably a Chinese couple got on board. After waiting another length of time, we decided we should use the WC. When we came back, the driver was leading a large group of tourists who filled the bus. Our fourth guide arrived with a small lawn chair, opened it in the aisle beside me, plopped down and proceeded to make lengthy calls into two cell phones for over a half hour. We had no idea if he was the guide or not. The fellow behind us finally asked for some information and chewed him out a little. (Ed. note: We later discovered he had “lost” two people from his tour “Not my fault” he claimed.)
An hour and a half before Chau Doc, we were getting a little giddy…
Finally, after starting in Saigon at 7:45 am, we arrived at Chau Doc, 7:00 pm, much worse for the wear, and were directed to our rooms in the floating hotel. Imagine building an elevated dock with wooden planks, then framing rooms on top. The planking carries right on into the rooms. Click here: Chau Doc accommodations.
We went for a meal in the open-air dining room, which was fun, and had some grilled shrimp, rice and a spicy hot pot that we didn’t realize we were ordering. Geoff rejects anything “Pho-like” as he puts it,(Ed. note: For all you connoisseurs, it is actually pronounced “Fa” – as in fa la la la la…) so instead of eating, he drank beer. He had lots of fun wishing the patrons happy New Year: Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Ha ha ha ha ha. (Ed. note: THEY started it!) Why is that funny? Anyway…
Now, Geoff is very particular about some things and one thing he cannot abide is a running toilet. This one had a constant kind of trickle, not too loud but seemingly disturbing to his sleep. At 4:00am, he got up, turned on the light in the bathroom and in an effort to fix it, broke the float arm off, causing it to run for real. No shut off tap, either. I think, “It must be morning because he’s obviously in there showering” but soon enough he came out and told me to go back to sleep. Righty-O! Off we go, then.
Breakfast was what you might expect—a few eggs, a mini French loaf and coffee. I paid an extra 10,000 dong for butter and jam. We ordered an orange shake each, which was my attempt to get some fruit into me before the last leg of our trip. (Ed. Note: Did you even know Sunny-D made a shake?)
I tried to find out the night before if it were possible to bail on the rest of the tour and buy a ticket on the express boat directly to Phnom Penh. Not possible, the guide said. Why not? Blah blah blah blah blah blah. “The express boat is slower than taking the slow boat to the border then driving in the bus.” Needless to say, we were once again uncharmed by the experience.
There were too many tourists for one boat; some were going to PP and some back to Saigon, but all of us were going, come hell or high water, to see the cheezy fish farm
and Cham ethnic village. They had to play catch-up with the boats, dropping one group, off going back to get the other, then taking the first group on; repeat. Fortunately, both these two stops were less than 15 minutes out of the city! Poor guide #4! He was as tired as we were and feeling harassed. “New guide will answer questions!” I guess so!
Anyway, here we are at the border, still on the water but in a waiting area, drinking our third café suda of the day (fabulous Vietnamese coffee on ice) and eating a package of Oreos. We finished the blueberry ice cream flavoured ones on the bus yesterday so are reduced to regular. Once we are done here being processed (1 hour but the guide does everything), we move on to the Cambodia customs office, then onto a bus and 2 hours to Phnom Penh! I am praying that the hotel I booked is great! Mind you, at this point, anything is going to look great in comparison. But hey, it’s been a great adventure for $150! And any minute now, we’ll be in Cambodia!
The Shoe Blog
In what must be another lifetime, Terry took this photo in the Museum of National History in Hanoi. They are from about 2000 years ago!