Ch.7 Mekong Delta, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
coser on 12.02.03 @ 06:43 AM PST
As I originally wrote this I was sitting on a nice veranda with desk and chairs just outside out hotel room. We arrived last night (Saturday) here in Phnom Phen, Cambodia. We took essentially three days making our way from Saigon, Vietnam, by boat and bus up the Mekong to Phnom Phen.
The first day of the three day trip was a 3 hour bus ride from Saigon down to meet a boat on the Mekong Delta. We visited several sites that day including a visit to one othe Viet-Kong headquarters in the delta. This was real jungle, with the rainy season having just ended so tat most of teh ground was still under a layer of murky\muddy water. In fact to visit this military camp we used small canoes to travel a very narrow canal (2.5-3ft wide) out throught the jungle to the camp. The U.S. had bombed this area for several years as well as attempted numerous ground asaults in the effort to take this area. None of these efforts were successful and the Viet-Kong military camp remains active even to this day. I personally can not imagine attempting to invade this region; mud that is waste deep, dense jungle and vegation allowing maybe 10ft of visibility in any one direction; plants that would shred skin if you attempted to move through them. One of the U.S. base camps in the region was less that 1km away from this headquarters, and I can tell you that if you were lost here in this jungle that US base camp might as well have been 100km away. I left with a feeling of respect for the endurance and tenacity of the Viet-kong that lived there (66'-75') and the deepest sympathy for any U.S. soldier that was ordered to attempt a mission here.
We continued up the Mekong that day, and it was fantastic to hear all of the "Hello!" being shouted from shore with smiles from everyone. All the children would get so excited and start jumping into the water and splashing all the while screaming Hello, Hello, Hello.
At the end of the first day on the Mekong we arrived by boat a town called Can Tho. This was a small to mid-size town along the water. Our accomodations were sparse, but clean. It was Thanksgiving back at home that night. We went to dinner with the folks in our group (~12 of us from China, Germany, Holland, and Austrailia), and I tried Cobra Snake for my meal. It was cooked with noodles and had a light curry flavor. The consistency of the meat was similar to (guess?) chicken. Overall, I would recommend it as a must try for the local flavor, but wouldnt run home to open a cobra snake restaraunt.
Our second day we were out the door by 6:30am and headed out on th river to the Cai Rang floating market. This was literally about 100 boats in a close-quarter area. The boats ranged in size from 10ft to 40ft and traded anything from coffee with breakfast, to fruits, vegatables, meats, and even gasoline. Interesting was that the fact that the boats would errect a long bamboo pole up on the boat, and would run up the pole all of the goods and products that the particular boat was selling. In this way, if shopping, you could take your boat up along side to the appropriate boat tahat had what you needed to buy. The rest of the day included a visit to a families house that was making "rice paper" noodles. It was interesting to see how a single family could be so industrious to produce a product manually each day to provide both income and food. Next, we went off to a fruit plantation. This was not so interesting, and I managed to find a hammock next to the family's house, between two trees, where I grabbed a half-hour knap. Jennifer, mean while found a coffee and went off wandering with a girl from Frankfurt,Germany, in in attempt to find the local village. The day proceeded on with a few other stops and ended with a long 2.5 hour bus ride to the town of Chau Duc.
Chau Duc is the last town in the Vietnam in the south as you approach the Cambodian border. The next morning we headed out for a short boat ride, via row boat, over to a floating village. There are literally 10,000 Vietnames living out on this village of boats. The boats being anywhere from 15ft with nothing to actual house boats. After this, we headed out on a larger boat for the Cambodian border.
We motored for a little over 3 hours up the Mekong. There was a nice head wind that kept us cool as we rode along. At around mid-day we arrived at the boarder, and stopped for a quick lunch. We then proceeded to complete our paper work for immigrations and departed Vietnam. We had to get back in the boat for about another 10 minutes ride further up the river, and then stopped again to go through the Cambodian immigration office. It took a little whiel to through the process and protocols, but after about a half-hour were back on the boat headed up the river again. I should mention that we actually switched boats at this time, and were now on a 'high-speed' boat. Now, by high-speed, this meant the boat was traveling at about 15 knots, versus the previous boat at around 7 or so knots. This leg of the venture would be a little over two hours as we traveled further up the Mekong into Cambodia.
The final leg we transfered to a small mini-bus, at a completely non-descript location on the river. The boat just all of a sudden slowed down, turned for the shore, and gently rammed the front of the vessel up the bank of the shore. The guy piloting the boat, got up, grabbed a wooden plank from the top deck, and just placed it across from the deck to the shore. Goes to show your really do not need much along the Mekong for a dock.
Now the bus ride was about 1.5 hours, and lets just say the road we were on was a dirt road, litered with pot wholes or maybe I should say ditched, and made for a very very very bumpy ride. The upside was that the air-con on the bus was great and it was just a matter of holding on till we arrived in Phnom Penh.
Upon arrival in the city, we teamed up with another couple (Inge & Koen from Holland) to find some accomodations. We had read our guide books thoroughly, and settled on a place near the river, called the 'River View". We jumped off the bus, and without much hassle hopped a cab to find the hotel. Actually finding the hotel would be a little more challenging. The cabby was doing the normal "let me take you to a nice places that not to expensive" and likely run by his cousin or sister. We stuck to our guns, and continues to insist on the "River View" hotel. Well, we ulimately arrived at the intersection where as best as we could tell by the address and map that the hotel should be, but no hotel. Of course we figured we had simply missed it, or it was just a block over, or that maybe the cabby was still pushing for us to go to one of his friends\families guest house. So we make him drive us around a bit more. We stopped at another intersection trying to get our bairings, and then out of the blue, on a moped, are these two guys that had tried to help\push us towards a hotel when first had gotten off of the bus. So your mind wanders for a second, thinking are these guys really here to help us find the "River View" or are they also just looking to get us to a friend\families guest house? We opt to ignore the guys on the moped , and we make the cabby drive us around a little more. We make it back to the intersection where we believed the "River View" should be. This time we focused harder and on the corner was in fact a building that 'could' have been a hotel. However, the building was definetly closed, dark inside, and looked like it was being renovated... Now What? No River View? We quickly break out the guide books. By this point the cabby is ready for us to get out. We were not getting out just yet though, and we urged him to drive on a little more. We ended up passing another place called the "Indochine" hotel, which is where these three Austrailian girls were staying that we had met on our boat up the Mekong. I vote for this place, and the group agrees. The cabby is also very happy to finally get rid of us as well. I the cabby $4USD, which I knew had to be high, but the guy had been patient in driving us all over the place.
We step out of the cab on to the side walk across the street from the Indochine hotel. Then again out of the blue, the two guys on the moped, from all the way back at the bus, show up in front us. They had been following us along the way behind the cab the entire time. They approach us smiling and telling us that the Indochine and the neighboring Sunshine Hotel are both very nice and cheap, and went to help us cross the street to the hotel. Koen had read that drivers were often given a commision for bringing travelers to hotels, and that the commissions were simply rolled into the price of the room. As we didnt want to pay more each night for our rooms, and these guys really hadnt taken us there, we decided to try walking down the road away from the hotel in hopes the two of them would leave. They were smart though, snd the guys just sat there watching us walk away as we would occasionally turn around t check if they were still there. So we keep walking...
Ultimately, we walk several blocks back to where we think the River View Hotel should be, but to know avail and only to find the same dark building. Across the street on the opposite corner though was another hotel, Bright Lotus Guest House, that looked nice enough. We went across to check on availability, price, and condition. The place turned out to be nice, and was $16USD per night. With that we decided to take two rooms and were happy to have finally settled into a place.
Now, for those of you still reading...a bit of additional personal notes on my part.
Remeber, way back a bunch of paragraphs about the Vietnam \ Cambodian border and the quick lunch we had? Well... I had opted for the fried noodles while Jennifer, Inge, and Koen went for the noodle soup. I always went for something fried in a wok when in doubt of the sanitary conditions of a place we were eating, and this place was a food inspectors nightmare. I figured I have choosed wisely, and as the food tasted good happily cleared my plate. Well... about half and hour later at the Cambodian immigration office I started to feel like I might faint, but shrugged it off to the heat and humidity. Then on the 2 hour boat ride I started to feel bad again, but climbed up to a door on the deck with fresh air, and again shrugged it off thinking diesel fumes, heat, and what not. Then on the 1.5 hour bus ride I thought I was going to lose my cookies, but again I figured it was just the extremly bumpy ride and my inability to get comfortable bouncing along. Then in the taxi cab Im feeling dizzy and not so good, no excuses for this other than the stress of finding a place. By the time we walk, decide the River View is no more, Im definetly not well. We head into the Bright Lotus Guest House, and while Jennifer and Koen go up to check out the rooms, I bolt for a WC and explode. Im still thinking that maybe Ive had some bad water along the way, and no big deal. We head up the stairs to the room, I take a great shower, and rest for a few hours, still expecting to be able to go out for the evening for a few beers. Three hours later Im still lying on the bed. Everything thing feels like pins and needles, I cant feel my hands, and the room is moving to a rather uncomfortable rythym. At this point I know Im in trouble and starting to worry about my detioriating condition. Jennifer is there with fresh water, but really nothing she can do. Finally, I decide its time to clear the system, or rather my body finally won out over my stuborn mind and took matters into its own hands. An hour later Im out of the bathroom and already feeling much better. In the end my body came through and knew what needed to be done.
Its now the next day, Jennifer is out wandering the city, and Im sticking close to the hotel room for the day. Feeling much better already, and ready to get out and see Phnom Penh. The city is an amazing blend of 3rd world poverty and newly immerging 1st world prosperity. The people are all very friendly and welcoming. You can see in there faces they are happy with the current peace, but the lines on there faces also show the hardships they have and continue to endure. Were looking forward to wandering around, and then moving on to Siam Reap and the temples and ruins of Angkor.