After our unpleasant journey on the bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I made sure to dig in a little bit more this time and find a reputable bus company to take us from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It was more important for this bus ride to go smoothly because it involved crossing a border.
My goal used to be “travel as cheaply as possible”, but I take that back. Comfort and service are worth paying a few extra dollars for. Plus $13 USD for a cross border, 230 km bus ride wasn’t exactly breaking the bank.
All hotels/guesthouses in Phnom Penh seem to double as travel agents as well. We asked our guesthouse about a bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City and were quoted $13 USD, but it wasn’t with Mekong. According to the interwebs, Mekong is one of the few companies that does not pay a commission for referrals, so guesthouses would much rather promote other bus companies for kickbacks. You could insist on getting a Mekong ticket, but you could fall victim to the guesthouse pulling a switch on you.
“Oh sorry they were sold out, so we got you this bus company. Same same!”
We tried to go to a Mekong office directly (here’s a link to their branches), but somehow couldn’t find it, so we ended up at a travel agency instead. There were loads of them along the Tonle Sap River. Here’s the one we went to:
Lucky Internet & Travel
#277 HEo, St. Sisowath Quay
Phsar Kandal I, Khan Daun Penh.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tel: (855-23) 220 346-7
No complaints there, nothing special either. They can also get your Vietnam visa for you (as do all travel agencies and hotels/guesthouses). The price of a one month Vietnam visa was $57 USD, which is actually cheaper than getting it yourself! Unfortunately we had already paid our guesthouse $60 USD to do the same thing. Doh 😦
We chose the 8:30 am bus, and waited at our guesthouse for the shuttle to pick us up. As usual, we were a little concerned when the shuttle was late, but no problem in the end.
The shuttle came, the driver and assistant were very polite and put our luggage onto the minivan for us. We proceeded to pick up several other passengers, and were then taken to the bus station at the ORussy Market.
Here, the nicely uniformed attendants checked our bus tickets, made sure we had our Vietnam visa, and tagged our luggage. I was quite happy with how organized they were. It is important for them to make sure that you have your Vietnam visa ready, because there is no visa-on-arrival at the border. Some bus companies have been known to leave travellers at the border if they were unprepared.
The bus departed at 8:45 am.
Once on board, the attendant gave us an overview of what to expect for the duration of the trip in Cambodian and English. Unfortunately the sound system wasn’t the greatest, so we couldn’t really hear what she was saying. We got the gist of it though. Something about:
- We will break for lunch
- We will travel a distance of just over 200 km
- We will take about 6 hours
- We’ll be going through [these] provinces
- At [this] point we will take a ferry boat to cross a river
- We will drop you off on Pham Ngu Lao street in Ho Chi Minh City (the backpacker street, great location that’s at the centre of all touristy things)
I think she also told us about the border crossing process, and maybe even the weather! But it got more and more difficult to hear as the Khmer passengers behind us began to have a conversation very loudly.
Wet towels were passed out, followed by a snack and a bottle of water.
You know what blew my mind though?? There was free wifi on the bus!! It’s not very fast, but it was there and it worked! That was a pleasant surprise for those who are incapable of disconnecting themselves from the grid (aka me :P). The wifi only works while you are in Cambodia however, not that I’m complaining!
Once all the snacks were distributed, the attendant came around to collect everyone’s passports. (I believe this was so they could get our Cambodian exit stamps for us all at once, because when we finally got our passports back at the border, the exit stamp had mysteriously appeared.)
Around 10:00 am, we came to the ferry crossing at Neak Loeang over the Mekong river.
At noon we arrived at a restaurant and were given 20 minutes to grab a quick lunch and to use the facilities. Although I must say, the toilet on the bus was quite clean. It didn’t have any water to wash your hands with, but it did have toilet paper.
Shortly after lunch, we arrived at the border. Our passports were returned to us (with our exit stamps) and we all got off to go through the border exit control. This is where they would take a picture of us and scan our finger prints. I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to take pictures here, but Adam snuck a few anyway 😉
Side note: You can see in the picture above that everyone lined up at one window, but you can also go to the window to the left, and to the next booth off in the distance. You cannot however, go beyond that second booth.
On our way back to the bus, the attendant collected all our passports once again. Another very short ride and we arrived at the Vietnamese customs and immigration building. At this point you were asked to take all your belongings and luggage with you.
When we got inside the immigration office, our bus attendant was already at the front of the line with all our passports. We all stood around until the attendant called out our names. Whatever it was that had to be done, she did it for us! So don’t worry about trying to get in line quickly or feel the need to push your way through.
One last immigration agent checked our passports again and off we went! But our bus was still being searched, so here’s a tiny bit of down time to contemplate life.
Make sure you don’t get too flustered and hop onto a different bus! Two passengers almost lost their luggage because they handed their backpacks to a bus staff loading a different bus. The bus staff took them without question because he does not know who belongs on the bus. Luckily Adam called out to them and said that our bus was still being searched, so they managed to get their luggage back before this other bus drove off!
It was a perfectly reasonable mistake to make, as it seems that a lot of these cross border busses tend to switch to another vehicle at the border, but Mekong was not one of them.
We were on our way again at 1:00 pm, and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam around 3:00 pm. Be prepared for a swarm of touts as soon as you step off. There’s no such thing as personal space with these guys.
The final part of our bus trip was to collect our luggage, and this was where Mekong impressed me the most. All the suitcases and such were being off loaded by a bus staff. When I went to grab mine and made to get the hell out of the tout-zone, one of the bus attendants nearly ran over to me and asked for my luggage tag. She was perfectly polite about it! But I loved that they were keeping an eye on everything to make sure some random person didn’t run off with your luggage.
For $13 USD, our journey from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was a fantastic experience.