01.09.2015 - 01.09.2015
First apologies for this being late and cobbled together - I'm just not having time to write these!,
Cruising down the Meakong Delta across the boarder into Cambodia is definitely the way to make the transfer but via an organised trip is definitely not. Well not for me anyway. I had read a few stories on line about how difficult it can be at the boarder. I was planning on obtaining a visa on arrival at the boarder and so felt even more unsure about how it would go. I had planned on making my own way to the little boarder town of Chan Doc over two or three days then crossing myself. I came across a organised trip that started in HCMC/Siagon did some sightseeing and ended in Phnom Penn in Cambodia - perfect I thought. In fairness the trip did deliver what it promised, allthough a somewhat diluted version to the glossy leaflet. The issue was, I discovered, that I don't like organised trips particularly. The hanging around, the forced toilet stops and calls for..... on the bus, you have 15 minutes, lunch now etc. etc. All too controlling for me.
Everything was well organised and I think I probably saw more things than I would have on my own but I never felt like I experienced it in the way that I do when travelling independently. Highlights of the trip for me were not as I'd anticipated either. I enjoyed visiting some of the workshops which I'd assumed would be the usual boring tour trap to get us to part with our money. This may have been the case but they were really enjoyable. We went to a noodle making factory and had a go at making rice noodles. A coconut candy factory with delicious sweets and coated nuts as well as somewhere that produced honey and royal jelly. We got to see the bees and one nutty Aussie took them up on the offer to stick her finger into the centre of the bees and try the fresh honey. She was much braver than the rest of us who stuck with taking photos.
The billed highlight of the trip was the Floating Markets and I was really looking forward to seeing them. Perhaps my expectations were set too high, because I was a little dissapointned. Yes they were hectic and happening but I'd expected a riot of colours and nice smells etc. They were clearly working markets, as you'd expect but nothing like the brochure pictures. The other thing that was a little disappointing on the trip was the food. Keeping in mind how amazingly delicious the food across VIetnam has been the food at the places we were taken to, whilst edible could be no means be called delicious.
On the plus side of being on a trip I met some really nice people. I particularly liked a couple from Ireland and in fact gate crashed one of their evenings and joined them for pizza (my first since starting my trip)
I nearly forgot to tell you about my first nights accommodation. I stayed in a Homestay, which was a traditional stilt house over the Mekong Delta. It was very picturesque and I was charmed on arrival. We had a cooking lesson in the main house, making deep fried spring rolls which was fun and delicious and then sat down to dinner together, there were about ten of us and the hosts. The teenage son of the host appeared after dinner and organised us into drinking games centred around the local rice wine 48% and like paint stripper. I probably had more than was a good idea with a 6 a.m. Start but I've discovered I like drinking games! Feeling very relaxed I set off to my stilt house to be met with lots of evening crawlies (Sha, you wouldn't have got over the front door) hen I put the light on. There were even some droppings on one of the beds in my room. I choose the other and settled down accompanied by all sorts of scratchings and pitter pattering around and above me, hopefully outside! When I woke up, I felt like a mossie had bit me so looked in the mirror. Just below my lip I had three little bites, clearly not mossies so something else must have been on my face in the night - so glad I'm a heavy sleeper. Antibiotic cream (thanks Jo) for a few days in case and it went.
The boarder itself also didn't go as swimmingly as I'd hoped. The trip down on the 'fast boat' which took about five hours was uneventful and we were even provided free of charge with a packed lunch. Definitely the way to get to the boarder. At the boarder the fun starts..... Picture the scene..... We all get off the boat, (about 20 of us) our passports having been collected earlier and are told to wait in a room. About 15 minutes later we get back on the boat having cleared the first boarder out of Vietnam. onto the next into Cambodia. same process but this time we wait outside in the heat. There are lots more officious, uniformed men and a tentative smile isn't reciprocated. One by one everyone's name is called and they are handed their passports and told to go through a passport/customs booth and their passports are stamped and the departure certificates temporarily stapled inside their passports. I was starting to feel a little edgy because my name hadn't been called But of course someone has to be last and turns out it was me. eventually I get through and with my passport in hand make my way to the boat. Last of course.
Just as I'm boarding, I'm also looking at my latest visa when to my horror I discover that somehow, according to the departure documents,officially stamped I am now Edward Smyth! Who on earth is Edward Smyth? It's clearly not me as I wasn't a man last time I looked. I get the attention of the boat driver and attempt to explain what's happened so I can sort it out. He's clearly not happy as there is a schedule that has to be stuck to come what may. Regardless of tourists and their requirements. Anyway,mhe eventually agrees to come with me to the custom s post and explain. phew, but not quite. The guy simply says it will be fine and waves me away, this may satisfy the boat driver but I'm still concerned. I explain I need mine to say my name etc. but the official isn't having it. After some heated conversation and some more guards turning up he eventually takes my passport again does something and gives it back. Great I think. But no, hes simply crossed out Edward Smyth and written my name. All other details, like date of birth etc, still belong to Edward Smyth When I try to explain that still isn't ok they just say it's fine and try to dismiss me. Now I'm not fussed on being dismissed...... So, seeing red, I refuse to go and ask for the name and number of the chief guy in readiness for when it goes wrong at the next boarder. After quite a animated, loud exchange they realise I mean business, write out a new slip, stamp it then literally chuck my passport back at me. I don't run back to the boat, but almost. As we enter the Cambodian harbour I discover it looks really modern and inviting. What's more, on the harbour side there is a coffee shop advertising cappuccinos! Yes! Things are looking up. couple of hours later, I've checked in and am getting ready for my first night in Phnom Penn Which I'll tell you about when I next write x