Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh

After some extensive research, I decided to get from Saigon, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia  by bus. This seemed to be one f the easiest and safest land crossings in SE Asia, and the bus ride was only 7 hours. I booked my tickets on the Mekong Express through Sinh Tourist in District 1.

I had to arrive at 6:30 in the morning for check in, and was told the bus would come at 7:00 to pick me up. Sinh Tourist is a popular travel agency, and there were buses coming to drop off and pick up people every few minutes. Soon, the small sidewalk outside the shop became chaotic.

Boarding the bus in Saigon
The Mekong Express bus I rode was a themed bus, and the theme was Mariah Carey. The entire bus was decorated like an 8-year-old girl’s bedroom, complete with a television covered in glittery stickers, which played a Mariah Carey music video complication lasting over an hour.

By the tme Mariah Carey finished singing, it was time to cross the border. The bus attendant collected our passports and $35 USD from each passenger and we all got out of the bus. This border crossing is a bit weird. Instead of waiting in line with your documents, everyone stands in a massive group in front of an immigration officer, who processes each passport, then calls the name on the passport. When your name is called, you go to the window and pick up your passport and visa, then hand it back to the bus attendant. We did this twice, once to get the exit stamp from Vietnam, and once to get the entry stamp from Cambodia. It was weird, but easy and brainless. It looked like a total clusterfuck but somehow worked out. After everyone had their visas we were on the Cambodian side of the border, which is full of sad-looking Chinese casinos, and people selling jackfruits.

A decorated bus

The first half of the journey was brutal. I finally experienced the horribly bumpy and unpaved roads that bloggers all over Asia have been writing about.  It was probably the worst bus ride I have had on this trip, with the exception of our epic delay from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.  The AC barely worked, our seats were cramped, arms and shoulders all over each other. We sat in the front row and had no leg room. But worst of all were the unpaved roads and the way the bus creeped and crawled over them.  I can still hear the wheels grinding against the rocks, like teeth gnawing on sand. I thought it was impossible to be going over such a road without shredding our tires. Mostly the roads made the bus jiggle and vibrate, but occasionally we would sway from side to side and one or twice we flew over a bump that made me leap from the seat. Our seats were on the south-facing side of the bus, which meant that sunlight beat against the window for the entire ride, making it hot as a frying pan. I kept the curtains closed the entire time, and wasn’t sorry one bit.

My view for seven hours

After the rest stop, the remainder of the roads seemed to be paved, and the ride passed enjoyably by watching The Interview. I remember thinking this was especially funny, because the North Korean government had recently asked the Cambodian government not to sell or distribute the movie, a request the Cambodian government shrugged off. They have no way of enforcing it. So we watched the movie on the bus. 7.5 hours later, we arrived at the bus station in Phnom Penh.

Tuktuk from Mekong Express station into the city

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