Hi lovely people! Here is the third and final post in Michelle’s guest blogger series on Vietnam and Cambodia. Michie has actually had this post written for a while… but I’ve been so busy I’m only just posting it now (bad blogger!). I’ve been spending a bit of time re-vamping my blog, which I think I’ll chat about in a post soon. But for now, here’s the final part of Michie’s trilogy – enjoy! Kimmy x
Chào bạn, and welcome to the final instalment of my mini-series on Vietnam and Cambodia!
This week we’ll be travelling south to Phnom Penh (still in Cambodia), and then finally down to the little island of Phu Quoc back in Vietnam.
48 hours in Phnom Penh
The flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh takes around 45 minutes (we flew with Cambodia Angkor Air). We had a car waiting for us on arrival, but there are plenty of places to pick up taxis.
We stayed at the Harmony Hotel which was about half an hour from the airport. It was lovely and modern (with a sky bar on the 11th floor offering amazing views of the city) located on the banks of the Mekong River. It is next to a little street full of bars, clubs and *ahem* gentleman’s clubs, but we never felt unsafe walking around, and with a room on the 9th floor we didn’t even notice.
[We were warned by our tour guide not to have cameras or valuables on show when walking around at night, and to be aware of pick-pockets, but this is the same with any major city]
Phnom Penh is home to some beautiful pagodas, and an amazing palace. It’s also lovely just to wander along the river walk-way, soaking in the atmosphere and grabbing a coffee, or jump on a boat for a private little ‘cruise’ along the Mekong River.
We didn’t stay for long enough to take in everything this city has to offer, and wish we’d spent an extra day here. Phnom Penh is also great for markets – if you want to pick up any souvenirs visit the ‘Russian Market’, or there is a (smaller) night market about a mile from where we stayed. Getting around is super easy – there are tuk-tuks everywhere (travelling from the night market back to our hotel cost around $3).
Here is a shot of a local market from the balcony of our hotel (doesn’t it look like lily pads??):
The main purpose of our stay in Phnom Penh was to visit the Killing Fields and S-21. Cambodia’s recent history with the Khmer Rouge is both horrifying and devastating – I’m not going to go into details here, but I urge any readers (whether planning a trip out here or not) to read up about what happened. It truly puts things into perspective, and made me realise how lucky I am to live in a country that is politically stable.
The Killing Fields are located around an hour outside of Phnom Penh, with S-21 (now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) located in the suburbs of the city. Out of respect I didn’t take any photos, but I can say that my experience there was profound and heart-breaking – it is impossible not to be moved and upset by what they went through, especially when faced with the photographic evidence (in S-21) or remains of the victims (at the Killing Fields). It blows my mind that this all happened so recently.
When we visited S-21 we got to meet someone pretty special. This is a photo of us with Chum Mey. He’s one of the seven adults found alive in S-21 on the day Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge, and we were truly humbled and honoured to meet him – I can’t imagine what this man has seen and experienced. He’s back at the prison now selling his book, so if you visit soon he may still be there.
To Phu Qoc
There are no flights from Phnom Penh to Phu Quoc, so the only way to get there is to drive and then take a boat. When I was planning our trip I could find very little information on this journey (which involves crossing the Ha Tien land border), so I thought I’d put some information out there for future travellers. The last bit of this blog will only be of interest if you are planning on taking this route, so if that’s not you then you have my full permission to stop right here (thanks for reading, byeeeeeee). If you are planning this not-so-well trodden route, then hopefully the below is helpful.
- Ha Tien is only 97 miles from Phnom Penh, and we booked a private car (with an English speaking tour guide) to take us for about $100 (you can catch a bus, which is much cheaper, but also much slower – and you can’t stop for the loo whenever you want). It was really interesting travelling through the countryside and small towns, watching the lotus farms whiz by and driving through all the local markets (did you know that people in Cambodia buy food from the market every day? Our tour guide found it most odd that we only went to the supermarket once a week …).
- The drive to the Ha Tien land border took about 3.5 hours (the drive takes much longer than you would expect, as the roads are poorly paved, and I don’t think we went faster than 40mph the whole way).
- I would suggest that you allow an hour to get through the border, as you need to wait and get your passport stamped to leave Cambodia, before walking 300m to get your passport stamped to enter Vietnam (a little note here – the ‘roads’ at the land border are not paved, and dragging suitcases across was pretty hard … this was the one point on our trip where we wished we had brought backpacks).
- On arrival at the Vietnamese checkpoint you need to complete a medical form (saying that you haven’t had a fever, sickness etc. recently). They also take your temperature with a laser-gun-thing before allowing you over. The Border Patrol Agent here asks for a $1 ‘medical charge’ per person – this is obviously not an official charge, and we did see a lady refuse to pay, but given that this man is standing between you and possible quarantine my advice is to just pay the dollar and be on your way.
- You then need to present your passport (and visa if required – see my previous blog post on visa’s for Vietnam) and wait whilst they perform their checks/photocopy everything. Once they are happy you are allowed into Vietnam (hoorah!). [If your visa is separate to your passport, do not throw it away once you are back in Vietnam … we had to present it multiple times afterwards, including when leaving Saigon to fly home … so keep it until the very end].
- The port is approximately half an hours drive from the land border, and you will need to stop along the way to pick up your boat tickets (we had pre-booked, so we had a pre-paid voucher to present).
- The Ha Tien port is very very basic (the port is essentially a group of plastic chairs under a tin roof), and this is the one place we encountered on our trip where people were incredibly unfriendly – there is a small corner shop/restaurant next to the port, and whilst we didn’t have any problems (we were begrudgingly sold a Coke) we do know of people who were refused service here because they were tourists. The toilets are pretty much what you would expect – ladies, if you need to pee here, be prepared to squat – and they charge 2000 dong to use them [there is also no running water, so you’re expected to ‘flush’ the loo yourself using the well of water and little bucket provided, and you also use this to wash your hands… hand sanitiser is your friend here!]. We were at the port an hour and a half before the boat was due, but we saw people rocking up 15 mins before and still making the boat with no problems (maybe they had had a heads-up about what the port was like!).
- The Superdong (*snigger snigger*) boat to Phu Quoc arrived on time, and is large and modern with aircon. The journey to Phu Quoc takes an hour and a half, and they give you a bottle of water on board. You are expected to carry your cases on and off the boat yourself, and whilst there is a small communal area under the stairs to store bags, most people were expected to take them to their seats (you get assigned seats when you pick up your ticket and luckily we had front row seats with extra leg room, so we could keep our cases with us – but again, backpacks would have been better here).
On arrival in Phu Quoc we were met by a representative from our resort (we treated ourselves to a stay at the Salinda), and spent the next few days chilling out by the pool/beach and generally being pampered pooches. We were here for four days before taking the internal flight from Phu Quoc to Hoh Chi Minh, and then our flight home.
So … that’s it! Thanks for joining me on my first blogging experience, hopefully there were some interesting nuggets of info. One last tip from me if you are planning an adventure to this part of the world (we’re about to get real here guys) – take Imodium. Lots and lots of Imodium. Both my husband and I are pretty savvy travellers (we’ve spent a lot of time holidaying in Thailand and Malaysia) but we both got epic-ly sick. The normal tips of ‘avoid rice and ice’ are much harder in Vietnam and Cambodia (everything seems to be rice-based), and although we did our best, we got sick anyway. You might be fine (I’ve spoken to a few people who have been out there and it seems to be 50/50 whether people get ill) but, as the Boy Scouts say, its best to be prepared.
In summary – Vietnam and Cambodia are AWESOME. There’s so much to see, and we learnt so much. What struck us most was the attitude of the people – they just seem so happy. Happy and content to finally be at peace. And I think we could probably all take a leaf out of their book.
Guest-blogger signing off…
Read other posts in Michelle’s guest blogger series on Cambodia and Vientam: