Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Mekong Delta adventures. Not only was getting into Vietnam a doddle with the Blue Cruiser boat crew but getting out and back into Cambodia was just as easy with the Ha Tien Tourism operation. One of the reasons for coming to the far northwest corner of the Delta, was to use the Vietnamese overland border crossing at Xa Xia, some 7kms north of Ha Tien. After we met Marie-Rose, the charismatic owner of Ha Tien Tourism, we decided to make a beeline back to Phnom Penh rather than spend a couple of days on the south coast, so we let her handle all the arrangements. She started up the cross-border bus service to Phnom Penh or to Kampot, Kep and Sihanoukville about a year ago and she hopes to open an office in the Cambodian capital very soon. The aim is to offer the trip to Phu Quoc Island, just off the coast of both countries, in less than a day from Phnom Penh by way of a combination of bus and speedboat. With a couple of other passengers for company, we took a minibus to the border at 12 noon and with their man on-hand to guide us through the border formalities, at both crossings, including arrival at Prek Chak on the Khmer side, we were on Cambodian soil just 45 minutes later. The sight of three large casino buildings in no-man's land between the two border posts was a little incongruous, surrounded by green paddy fields and serviced by locals wearing typical Vietnamese pointed hats. Casino gambling is illegal in Vietnam, so the casinos do a roaring trade for the rich Vietnamese gamblers who are prepared to part with their cash on a quick trip into no-man's land. There was a dramatic difference in the style of the immigration buildings with Vietnam boasting a state of the art, recently-constructed imposing gateway, while Cambodia had a few wooden huts, some border officials lounging around playing cards and a red and white painted pole stretched across the muddy road. A guy in a white coat took our temperature and tried to charge us for a medical certificate but that was covered in the price we'd paid to Rose-Marie and we were on our way. 20 minutes later, passing gorgeously green ricefields en route, we were dropped off on National Highway 31 to wait half an hour for one of the buses heading for Phnom Penh and a couple of hours later we were back home. Another doddle. It cost us a few extra dollars more than if we'd arranged it ourselves, but it was easy and painless and that's worth a few bucks in my book.