Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 12: An interesting bus ride, entering Vietnam and meeting someone

Similar to the bus journey from Thailand to Cambodia, the trip from out of Cambodia was also an early venture. 10 minutes to 8 am the pick-up service arrived to bring me to the bus station. This time my seat was not in the front rows, but almost at the end. Since it was nearly the Khmer New Year, many people were taking opportunity to travel out of the city. I noticed that there were also many Vietnamese who seem to be working in Cambodia were on the bus as well (surely they are in “balik kampong” mode).

Shortly before I board the bus, the bus company representative requested for our passport and was busy asking for our names and nationalities. I thought that the passports were collected to ease the procedure at the border later - I was wrong.

I was seated next to a tall and dark haired European gentleman. I saw him on the same pick-up van earlier. He had a small bag, which made me wonder, “Gee…how can this guy travel this light?”

Apparently he has some sense of humour. A brief exchange of greetings led to a very interesting conversation, almost all the way of the journey. I hope to be able to meet him again when I reach Hanoi. It was good to have company while on this trip. It has been quite a lonesome journey ever since I reach Cambodia. Somehow we had something in common, which made it more interesting - we have mixed blood running in our body =.=”

Anyway, the journey from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City was really an interesting experience. Cambodia and Vietnam are known for the extensive river channels which are part of the longest river in South East Asia, Mekong River. Infrastructure is perhaps still a challenge for Cambodian. There is no bridge connecting two towns nearby the country border. I had the opportunity to be on a ferry bringing our bus crossing the Mekong River. After almost 4 hours on the road, the bus reached the city of the border. However, before crossing the border the bus made a stop at a restaurant. I had something to eat and took the opportunity to get myself refreshed. I have to admit that the Cambodian immigration check was very easy and quick, except for the method where the immigration officer was calling name of the passengers before all of us could get into the bus again. Entering Vietnam however was an hour queue before my name was finally called by the immigration officer. The immigration building is a big and seems to have many modern facilities, but the entry systems they have are surely full of areas for improvement. You will need strong legs to withstand the long queue.

The distance between border and Ho Chi Minh City is less than 100 km but since the road was not as good as our highway, the journey was about 2 hours. The moment the bus entered HCMC, it was something new for me. The city had definitely changed tremendously for the last 9 years. I was here back in 2002 and the scene of the city is nothing compared to my first visit. The bus stop nearby a park in District 1, which is actually where the hotel I was to stay, is located. I (and Mr Gentleman) had a drink before saying goodbye. The coffee shop had wireless internet connection, so I took the chance to google the direction to the hotel. I decided to walk from the coffee shop to the hotel after finding out that it was only 800 meters away.

Again, upon check-in, I was amazed by the room provided by the hotel. Minus the window, everything else is far better than Seri Malaysia hotel chain, and the rate is only $18 per night (including breakfast). I took the chance to get myself refreshed and wanted to go to the railway station. Unfortunately due to the language problem, it was almost impossible for me to safely go to the said destination by taxi. Slightly tired and frustrated, I started walking the same route as I came from the bus stop. After about 15 minutes walking I reached at the area. The area is full with travel and tour arrangement service businesses. Greeted by a kind man, I decided to check out the service of the travel service. He was very helpful at getting my train ticket arranged and purchased. The prices however had slightly increased compared to the charges I saw from the internet. For the trip from HCMC to Danang, it cost me 950,000 Vietnamese Dong and for the trip from Danang to Hanoi, the cost was 870,000 Vietnamese Dong. Due to the nature of travel, which will take about 16 hours each trip, I had purchased the soft sleeper coach.

While trying to find a place for dinner, someone had passed me a flyer. Surprisingly it was an Indian and Pakistani restaurant, serving Halal food. Too tired of walking further, I ended up eating at the restaurant – Taj Mahal Restaurant. I had garlic naan with Chicken Tandoori Masala and mango lassi.

I had booked a half day tour from the reception desk that requires me to wake up early. Pick-up from hotel was at 7.30am – lucky the hotel have wake-up call service.

See some interesting pictures snapped for the day here (or click here Day 12 Web Album)

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