It was time for our first ever border crossing by land. Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (Cambodia to Vietnam). We had little idea what to expect, we had a rough idea that it would take 6 hours and we knew we would be travelling by mini bus that was leaving at 7:45am.
We were picked up at 7:15, as promised, and taken to the bus terminal to get our minibus. It started so well, of course we should know by now that things usually are too good to be true.
One hour later we were still waiting, now sitting on our bags looking sorry for ourselves, we watched 7:45 come and go and still no sign of our bus.
Before we both gave up, Fran asked someone in uniform for the final time if he knew anything about our bus. He said nothing but pointed us in the direction of a white minibus. We heaved our bags over to the bus and asked his destination – Ho Chi Minh!! We showed our tickets and we were on!! Wrong time but right direction – we’ll take that!
It was pretty smooth running after that debacle and we arrived at the border after about 4 hours of driving including all the breaks that these bus drivers love to take!!
Time for immigration checks – First we had to check out of Cambodia which included walking through passport control, getting all our finger prints and photograph taken and then heading back to the bus to drive through ‘no mans land’ to the Vietnamese border offices.
At the Vietnamese border we jumped back off the bus with all of our belongings and headed inside to see what the deal was. Lots of people queued up and waited for their names to be called so we followed suit. Eventually our names were called, well they tried especially with ‘Francesca’ they have a real problem pronouncing that, and we were stamped in and officially allowed to enter Vietnam!! I wanted to skip.. It wasn’t appropriate!
Another two and a half hours of driving followed which really dragged as by this time we just wanted to be there and explore. So near, yet so so far! Ho Chi Minh city is a long old way from the border.
Anywho we made it in one piece and it wasn’t nearly as complicated as I thought it could be. For $20 what more could you ask for. However one piece of advice I would give to someone doing this journey would be to take a coach rather than a minibus as apparently you get more leg room and the seats are more comfy. You live and learn.
Driving through Vietnam the first thing I thought was how organised the traffic was, there was even traffic lights! A novelty for South East Asia. It’s also much more developed than Cambodia as there are shops like garden centres and car dealerships along streets that are far away from any city. In Cambodia there is nothing but corrugated houses and make shift fruit stalls outside any main city or town.
Ho Chi Minh reminds Fran and I a little of Bangkok. The roads are a constant hum of traffic and there are high rise buildings everywhere you look. But dotted around are beautiful parks for people to play badminton, exercise or spend time with families. We actually witnessed an aerobics class (from the ninth floor of our hostel) going on in the park the first night we were here. It looked like a lot of fun and we had a good old laugh at the women flapping their arms around and wiggling their hips!! More fool us for not joining in I say!!
Our first full day here and we booked ourselves up for a cooking class! We’ve both really missed cooking, or maybe it’s a home cooked meal were missing? Anyway we were really looking forward to this so we were up early to head out to the markets to buy the ingredients. We booked the class at our hostel; Vietnam Inn Saigon, so we were taken to the markets with a couple that worked here. It was seriously cool to watch locals bargaining and making there way through the mountains of fresh produce.
We learnt that only women buy from the markets as the men are rubbish at haggling and always spend to much money on food! Pah – suckers!
The range of food on offer for a small local market was intense, ranging from live fish, frogs and shrimp to fruit and veg that’s never even entered my vocabulary. I can now say I’ve seen legs being pulled off live frogs and live fish being battered to death with a plank of wood! It was an experience and I was too blown away to take any photographs – we will head back tomorrow to get some photographic evidence.
Back at the hostel we cooked up a storm. For starters we made deep fried spring rolls, main was braised chicken in ginger and a sour fish soup and for dessert sweet taro soup. We then attempted to eat the whole damn thing, oh my gosh, so much food – doggy bag for Fran and Joules please? All this and a glass of wine for $9.. Say no more!
After letting our food digest we went for a walk around the town and found an ATM. It’s going to take me a long time to get my head around this exchange rate. £1 is 34,929.6845 Vietnamese Dong – what even is that number?
When you buy two tours at our hostel you get a free massage. Well, because of that a trip to Mekong Delta is booked for tomorrow and the massage booked for today!! Hello, calm and serenity. Oh how wrong was I! I endured half an hour of back breaking pushing and shoving and walked out of there kinda crocked! I tried to imagine it as a sports massage and thought getting the knots out of my back would do me the world of good! The only time I closed my eyes the whole time was because I was grimacing rather than loving life. Ah well, it was free and I’m loosey goosey now – I just won’t be doing it again!!
Were off now to explore this crazy city at night – wish us luck and we will check back in from our new location Dalat.