The Vinh Xuong border crossing must be one of the most beautiful, located in an old single storey colonial building under swaying palm trees with the mighty Mekong sliding past – a huge band of glistening silver in the midday sun.
The formalities on the Vietnamese side passed smoothly – we may even feature in the Vietnamese immigration training manual as we stood posing for photos of our bags going through their new x-ray machine! However, we hit a glitch in no mans land at the Cambodian border post.
“Ah the man with the visas has gone to Phnom Penh so you cannot cross here.” Riggght.
“But don ‘t worry we will put you in a boat to the other side of the river. There is another visa man there.”
So we wheeled the bikes down the bank heaved them into a boat with outboard engine – exactly the same as a coaching boat – and now fully loaded, sitting very low in the water. The old man refused to take us across so we did a wobbly transfer into an adjacent boat with a younger more carefree skipper and zoomed across a thankfully glassy Mekong river. It is huge!
On the other side I had to tinker with my derailer that had become bent in transit before a very nice gentleman issued us our visas having first packed us off to wash hands and faces! We left the border at 4, changed money in a road side shop and headed up into Cambodia along the Mekong’s left bank. The change between countries immediately apparent. Fewer people and more rural. As evening drew in, large white cows were tethered below houses on stilts, kids on the way back from school yelled hello every two seconds, cooking fires filled the air with wood smoke and clutches of buffalo were passed being given their evening scrub down in the river.
We stopped to buy water, i’m in constant need while Lucy survives perfectly well on about a litre all day, and as I was buying it and a few biscuits Lucy got chatting to the lady next door who, concerned it was getting dark, invited us to stay with her family for the night. We had a great night with Sarem and her husband Sopheak in their house on stilts a hundred meters from the river. They shared their home with Sarem’s sister and brother and her three year old nephew. Mats were laid on the floor for us to sleep on under our mozzie net and we gratefully had a refreshing bucket bath watched by the fattest frog ever.
Sarem told us she’d been working for a chinese family in Malaysia for three years, where she’d improved her spoken english and learnt chinese, sending money home so her brother could build the family house. Yes, her job was hard work but the worst bit seemed to be having to eat noodles three times a day! We spent the evening learning some Khmer phrases and looking through family wedding photos, chatting about bananas at weddings and personal details such as how much we both weighed – Sarem finding it amusing how a person could weigh over 60kgs but quicky backtracking and justifying it with “but you are very tall lady!”
We were up nice and early the next day to get to Phnom Penh – everyone had been up since about 430 by the time we wiggled out from under our net at 530. Washed, fed on sticky banana rice wrapped in a banana leaf, we exchanged numbers and said goodbye.
The road up to Phnom Penh was relatively uneventful broken up by a stop for ice coffee south east asian style – couple of shots of coffee, an inch of condensed milk and a glass full of ice mixed, not stirred, with a straw. Incredible when hot and tired. We were however chased along the road (both of us were blistfully unaware of anyone trying to get our attention despite the horn!) by a guy on a long distance cycling trip with his wife – they are eventually heading to spain but currently cycling through south east asia. We enjoyed an hour of chat and top tips for places to stay and go see. Of course they have a blog so anyone interested check it out on:
Since this first ride into Phnom Penh we’ve discovered all roads into the city are hideous, congested, under construction, dust filled and a barrage on all your senses. After an hour of it we bailed into the first coffee shop we found with wifi to locate a hostel for the night. It turned out to be very upmarket and we felt decidedly out of place covered in dust and feeling frazzled, a few odd looks being thrown our way.
Using the amazing agoda site we found a dorm in Base Villa hostel complete with pool. We wended our way over, had a swim, went for a walk past the royal palace to the Tonle Sap river and picked up some street food (in my case my boiled egg turned out to have a half formed chick inside-eyes closed down it went) and packed ourselves off to bed ready for another 5am start the next day to cycle 45k out to the wildlife rescue centre in Phnom Tamao where we were meeting up with the people involved in the Siamese crocodile breeding program and Wildlife Alliance who help run the centre – see our separate web page for the full report…..
X Tash and Lucy