NOTE: Travelers planning on traveling via the Chau Doc border crossing in Cambodia/Vietnam should visit Tales of Asia for a comprehensive list of travel reports.
April mornings in Cambodia get hot really fast. We were standing on a dusty road in Cambodia waiting for our hired car to arrive and take us from Sihanoukville to the Chau Doc border crossing at Kaam Samnor, Cambodia/Ving Xuong, Vietnam on the Mekong River. Our driver was late as to be expected. Everything works on its own time in South East Asia.
We were thankful to have booked early with this exact thought in mind. When our driver finally arrived, we were already an hour behind schedule. We piled into the car and settled in for the seven hour journey to the border. Unfortunately, we were only on the road for a short time when our driver pulled over in Kampot and explained his ‘buddy’ would be taking us the rest of the way. We looked bleakly at the tiny, dirty car as the drivers transferred our bags. We found out once we were back on the road there was no air-conditioning and the windows opened just enough to stick your nose out. It looked like it was going to be a shitty day of traveling.
Our new driver didn’t speak any English at all, and we were somewhat alarmed when we got off the main roads and started bumping down dusty dirt roads that seemed to lead nowhere. We passed dried up rice paddies. Water buffalo sprawled on the roadside while small children chased our car and lobbed bags of water at us as we passed.
When the engine started to overheat, we knew we were in trouble. The driver made a pit stop at a small shack in the middle of nowhere. After a frantic conversation with an old man lying in a hammock, he was able to procure some water. John helped pour water into the radiator and we grew more miserable by the minute as the noon day sun loomed high over our heads. At one point, it occurred to me that we were completely at their mercy. We had no idea where we were. No one knew where we were. It was a scary thought that was quickly pushed away when a young girl approached us with cold bottles of water and a reassuring smile.
About an hour later, we were back on the road and traveling at a manic pace to make up for lost time. Just before we reached the border, our driver stopped, hauled our things out of the trunk and waited for us to get out, pointing at the barely visible border crossing in the distance. Apparently, we would be leaving the same way we entered Cambodia. On foot. It was two o’clock in the afternoon as we trudged up to the first check point two kilometers away.
I had plenty of time to notice that the land border between Vietnam and Cambodia is easily distinguishable by eye. Cambodia’s dry yellow terrain suddenly gives way to lush, green paddies and mountains in the distance. The two countries are worlds apart, with one exception. The guards on both sides still bore scowls.
It took us about an hour to get our passports processed and stamped. We walked from one small hut to another to visit each official and we ended up paying for a bogus health form. There was no way were were going to get around it. It was hard to believe, but our journey up to this point was actually the easiest part of the day, considering what we had in store on the other side of the border in Vietnam. Never the less, travel is adventure and Cambodia gave us plenty of adventures and tales to tell. Good-bye Cambodia and Hello Vietnam!
John and Moira.