‘Snuggled against the west bank of the Hau Giang River, next to the Cambodian border, is Chau Doc.
Chau Doc was under Cambodian rule until mid-eighteen century and still sustains a large Khmer community. Today is a bustling, friendly port town that’s well worth a visit.’
For Miguelito, as for many travellers, it was just the last stop before crossing into Cambodia.
Got on the minibus in the same afternoon of the floating markets for a 3 hours journey where I met 4 Belgians. It’s rare to even find one Belgian around here and they were 4. It’s even more difficult to find any Portuguese... :(
Arriving at Chau Doc late in the evening all the hostels where pretty busy as it was the weekend and Vietnamese weekenders flock to town.
Met Hun, a Xe Om driver who took me around to a few hotels ‘Full, full, full, i am sorry, full!’ until we finally find a vacancy, but he didn’t charge the ride.
Of course Hun had a purpose. Soon after he was suggesting me to do one of his guided trips on his moto, to see a few temples and rivers, bla,bla,bla. At that stage I had seen enough temples for one’s lifetime and it was no longer a priority for me. Once you have seen a few temples around here, you have seen them all. If you travel in a Catholic country you don’t get into every single church you come across.
Also, I wanted to cross into Cambodia the next day, or the sooner possible and Hun’s tours would take a full day which means I had to stay an extra night in Chau Doc. ‘No thank you very much! Not today...’
But there was one thing that caught my attention: Unlike most Xe Om drivers, Hun was not desperate to get me on his bike. He wouldn't smiled much, stayed cool all the time, never pressured me, as he-had-seen-it-all-in-his-life attitude. He also spoke good English and knew his stuff.
And there was something I wanted to check around Chau Doc before heading off to the border: to go up on Sam Mountain, a hill a few Kms away from town where one can have a 360º view, including Cambodia’s land at the far distance.
I quite like bird eye views. It gives you the sense of space and orientation.
The best way to cross the border from Chau Doc to Cambodia is by Boat, but they all depart very early in the morning which wouldn’t allow me to explore Sam Mountain.
So Hun came up with a suggestion: He would wait for me in the early morning by the hotel, we would drive to Sam Mountain to spend some time there and from there he would drive for over 1 hour to the Cambodia’s border from where I could get the 1pm boat into Cambodia.
A secondary road along delta’s several canals and villages known only to the locals.
It sounded good to me: I could still see what I wanted without wasting one more night in Chau Doc but... we were going to be on the road for 2 hours total and I was worried: ‘What about my 2 rucksacks?? They are not going to fit on that?’ I pointed at his small Honda.
But in SE Asia everything is possible on a Xe Om and Miguelito’s bags are just an appetiser...
Not only a place for privileged views, Sam Mountain is also a place for pray.
Sam Mountain raises dramatically from an ocean of paddy-fields 5km southwest of Chau Doc and Vietnamese tourists flock here to worship at its pagodas and shrines.
From town a road runs straight to the foot of the mountain.
If you make it to the top there are spectacular 360º views. A good way to start the day: overlook Cambodia from above before crossing into the country.
Plane landscape and Cambodia at the far distance.
Hammocks to watch the sunset...
Encircle one bottle and it’s yours. 3 shots for 10.000 Dong (about 0,60 euro).
Won a lemon juice 1,5L bottle!!! Great! And where do I put it now?
Sam Mountain mission accomplished and over 1 hour drive ahead to the border now.
Hopping on the local ferry
We were now running late... In fact, rather late...
Hun has played the chilled dude the whole way so far, but I noticed a change on his face expression. After driving for almost one hour on cracked roads, through villages, the road was getting narrower dirtier and less signs of human life. And we were still not any closer...
we got lost...
Since I had first met Hun, I never feared for my safety nor doubted that we would make it... but my idea was now swiftly changing...
A dirt road, a smileless local guy I met less than 24hours, 2 backpacks full of clothes and goods, nobody but nobody around, lost somewhere close to the border between Vietnam and Cambodia...
‘I don’t think this is right way’ he said. I tried to keep cool, after all, things had been favourable to me so far... but deep inside I just wanted to make it to the border! Even now forcing myself to believe he was one of the good guys, I still didn’t want to miss this boat to Cambodia. ‘I don’t care if you gonna kill me, just take me to the f**kn border mate!, I can’t afford to go all the way back and stay one more night!!‘I
So he drove back till we find someone to ask for the right way...
Eventually we reached a more populated area, he asked a few more people, we got on another canal crossing and I was a little more relieved. But still running against time. The border boat wouldn’t wait for a smelly portuguese, right?
Should have left my laundry here...
Petrol and air station.
After 1h30m on Hun’s bike, we made it to the Vietnamese border and the boat had not arrived yet.
Miguelito was rather delighted indeed... Pressure’s off!
Time to say goodbye to good old Hun. Hun didn’t smile most of the way, but despite the adversities he delivered!
Cheers Hun! I knew we'd make it, man...
So now we were at the Vietnamese side of the border where the word Stress does not seem to be part of their dictionary...
VISA for Cambodia, lunch and hop on the boat to stop at the Cambodian’s side of the border for passport check!
Not feeling satisfied with your Immigration Police behaviour..? Please drop your suggestions here. Accepting any currency...
First contact with the locals
A storm fell upon us.
Leaving the boat we were crammed on a minibus for an hour drive to the capital, Phnom Phen.
It was our first contact with the country and to be honest my first impact was rather negative...
I’d seen poor people along the way so far, living only with the basics but conserving their human dignity. Not here. The first hour in a van crossing part of the country was enough to understand that it was only going to get worst: Large dirty slams accumulating on the outskirts of the cities, dirty markets with heavy waste lying about, the stench, 3 bad motorbike accidents (I had not seen one so far in 6 weeks), 2 dead bodies lying by the side of the road with heads blown off, naked skinny children wandering about, skinny hungry adults begging, very old women sleeping on the streets and most people not wearing helmet on their motorcycles...
Welcome to Cambodia!