We went to Phnom Penh to get more pages added to my passport. Unfortunately, the US consulate did not have an open appointment for four weeks. Big problem. We talked to a visa agency and they assured me that there was a way for the Vietnam embassy to add a visa to my passport even though I didn’t have any more visa pages for an extra $20. Like most things visa agents say, this was only half true. They just ended up sticking the visa on one of the amendment pages where it is not supposed to go. No, I didn’t pay the extra $20. I just crossed my fingers and hoped that this would not cause a problem later.
Tired of buses, we decided to take the Hang Chau speed boat from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc, Vietnam. We paid $24 each for just passage to Chau Doc. The boat leaves Phnom Penh at noon and takes around 5 hours to arrive in Chau Doc. Other passengers on the boat with us had paid more for a package that also included accomodation at the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel but I was pretty sure that we would be able to find something once we arrived and just wrote down a few hotel names.
The first few hours are pretty boring. You will pass a few fishing boats but the villages on the shore are far in the distance and there is not much you can see from the boat. There are soft drinks and beer for sale but the only snacks were the free crackers and an overripe banana that were provided with the ticket.
The boat will first stop at the Cambodian border to put an exit stamp in your passport, which took less than 15 minutes for our group of 12, and then goes on to the Vietnam border which takes quite a bit longer. There is no visa on arrival for Vietnam so you will need to have already arranged a visa in Phnom Penh.
As you get closer to Chau Doc, the scenery becomes much more interesting. That branch of the river narrows and you get a good view of the villages along the riverfront. People are bathing in the river or washing clothing. Small children are always sure to wave at the passing boat.
The floating house in the photo above is quite near the shore, but we saw clusters of floating houses much farther out. Basically, they are built on a wooden raft platform and there are usually fishing nets strung beneath them.
The boat dumps you out on a dock somewhere in Chau Doc and there are bicycle rickshaws waiting to take you to your hotel. Make sure that you have the names of a few hotels written down to show the driver because you will have no idea where you are.
The baby and I were pushed onto the first of the waiting rickshaws and most of the time I had no idea if Micheal was still behind us. I was far too busy trying to keep myself (with the baby in the sling) and my suitcase balanced on the back of this shallow little cart. Vietnam hits you all at once: the clothing people are wearing, the colours of the buildings, the smell of cooking food. Everything is so distinct and different from either Thailand or Cambodia.
We got to the hotel about 5 minutes before we saw Micheal, helping the rickshaw driver to push the cart along the gravel road. We stayed at the Vy Khanh Guesthouse, which was cheap and comfortable but about 2 km from the covered market. Since we were only staying overnight, my only goal was to get to that market and sample some of the Vietnamese food I had been dreaming about. Unfortunately, during our walk to the market, it started pouring down rain and we were forced to duck into the restaurant at Victoria Hotel instead.
Our wallets feeling lighter and our palates yet unsatisfied, we grudgingly took a taxi back to the hotel in order to keep the baby out of the rain.
The next morning, the hotel arranged for a minivan to pick us up and take us to the bus station so that we could continue on to Can Tho. I went out early to pick up something for breakfast and snacks for the journey. I ended up walking farther than I expected and flagged down a rickshaw driver to take me back to the hotel. My driver had to have been at least 150 years old and I felt terrible making an old man pedal me but I had no choice unless I wanted to miss our bus. He had no idea where the hotel was (I probably pronounced the name wrong) and he set off in the wrong direction. He also did not speak a single word of English. In desperation, I tried French not really expecting him to speak it. To my happy surprise, he understood my directions perfectly and got me back to the hotel. I tipped him way more than I should have because I still felt guilty for having such an old man pedal my lazy, slow walking self on such a hot morning.
We took a taxi to Xuan Mai 2 Hotel and wanted nothing more than to check in and take a nap. The hotel owner had other plans for us. Instead of giving us the keys and letting us go to our room, he kept insisting that we sit down in the lobby and discuss a tour to the floating market. We had planned on going to the floating market the next day but all we wanted at the moment was to go upstairs to shower and rest for a bit. Finally he let us go to our rooms after extracting promises that we would come back downstairs later to hear about the floating market tour.
After a rest, it was time find something to eat. We were happy to see that the owner was not in the lobby so we just headed out to explore the city a bit. We didn’t get 2 blocks away before we saw the hotel owner running towards us. He tried to sell us a floating market tour again but now we were irritated and said that we would probably be leaving the next day and would not have time for a tour. He kept insisting and we had to fob him off again with a promise to speak to him later that night.
Everyone that we have met in Vietnam so far (except for that hotel owner), have all been friendly and helpful with big smiles for the baby. I have heard other travellers complain about getting ripped off or short changed in Vietnam but this is not something we have experienced yet.
The food has been delicious here. I kept meaning to try the Bun Rieu Cua (crab soup) but never got a chance. It will have to wait until we get to Ho Chi Minh. I can’t figure out how to order a large iced coffee. I keep getting a tiny shot of espresso with condensed milk in a glass that is overfilled with ice. I must be doing something wrong because I see Vietnamese people walking around with a full glass of iced coffee.
Later in the evening, we saw the hotel owner yet again! This time pedaling his way over to us on a bicycle. By now, Micheal and I were getting really tired of his sales pitch and told him in no uncertain terms that there was zero chance that we would book a tour to the floating market and that we would be leaving early the next day. We had to walk away while the owner was still talking. You think he would give up at this point but it wasn’t over yet. When we got back to the hotel, the receptionist stopped us and said that the owner had told him to call as soon as we got to the hotel. He called the owner who tried to get him to keep us in the lobby until he could get there. We refused and just went upstairs.
We left Can Tho without seeing the floating market and took a bus to Ho Chi Minh City.