In August 2015, after spending a great few days in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, my friend and I decided that it was time to hit the road again and head to Cambodia for the next stop on our Asian adventure.
Whilst in Ho Chi Minh we’d managed to break both our Couch Surfing virginities and had been staying with an incredible girl named Van Cola who had not only been truly hospitable but she’d shown us a lot of what Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) has to offer and had also helped us with all the travel arrangements for the next leg of our journey to Phnom Penh.
We decided to travel by bus, partially to reduce our carbon footprint but also to save on costs and see some of the Vietnamese/Cambodian countryside as we travelled. We chose to travel with Mekong Express and the final price was roughly $10 per person.
Once our tickets were booked we were led by a guide from the bus depot in Saigon to where the bus was waiting for us. Concerned looks were waiting for me as I approached the entrance of the bus in my wheelchair. Emilija quickly bundled our bags into the luggage hold and proceeded to dismantle my chair for me as I made my way to our seats at the back of the bus – crawling through the mass of people already on board as I went.
Before departing on this journey I had read several accounts of how the bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh was a highly dangerous one, with thin single carriage roads and erratic bus drivers that will overtake just about anything that’s on the road, even if there’s traffic coming in the opposite direction. With huge embankments leading down into deep ditches at either side of the road, any margin for error was slim and could be catastrophic. Lucky I slept through most of it then, eh?
At the back of the bus we noticed that the seats behind us, which were situated above the buses engine, were vacant, so I moved myself into the empty space where I happily lay down for most of the journey – only breaking my snoozing to look out the window at the vast flatlands and numerous cows standing in pools of water. They were by far the skinniest looking cows I had ever seen with their bones protruding through their flesh.
There didn’t appear to be much in the way of towns or villages for the majority of the journey, just the occasional population of huts (and sometimes houses) at the side of the main road – a road which seemed to stretch on and on forever.
Eventually we stopped at the Cambodian border, where we were instructed to get off the bus twice, once on the Vietnamese side and the other once we had crossed over into Cambodia.
The visa process was painless and simple, with visa applications being filled out one by one by the bus attendee at a small desk inside the entrance of the Cambodian border control house. I believe the cost was around $45US each.
The passport checking desk was extremely high and in hindsight I should probably have asked for assistance, but me being me, I decided to hop up onto my wheelchair and rather precariously stand on the seat so that I was eye to eye with the immigration officer.
It wasn’t until another immigration officer, presumably off duty but still in uniform, started recording me on his mobile phone that I realised that what I was doing must have looked rather comical. Still, I stopped to give the man a disapproving glare – I don’t appreciate being treated like I’m some kind of circus freak, thanks.
Once through to Cambodia and after fighting off the swarms of women trying to sell currency to us on the street we filed back onto the bus and heading on the rest of our journey to Phnom Penh.
As we made our way through the capital we passed the area where we were meant to be staying that night and then the bus proceeded to drive further and further away from where needed to be. Eventually we came to a stop around two miles from our hotel and we then made the conscious decision to avoid the overly priced taxi’s and Tuk Tuk drivers and instead began walking in the baking heat back into the city.
With no pavements to speak of I began pushing my wheelchair into oncoming traffic as dozens of taxi’s tried to flag us down with the persuasive technique of telling us it was too dangerous to walk. Over and over they would stop and over and over I would politely decline their offers of a ride with a vigorous wave of the hand and a shake of the head. A simple “no thanks” didn’t always do the trick.
The streets were dusty, muddy and extremely uneven with potholes peppered in almost every direction that we turned. Motorbikes sped past us, sometimes even driving up the wrong side of the road and often cutting in front of where we were walking causing us to constantly be on high alert.
One thing that both my friend and I commented on when spending time in Phnom Penh is that the city is definitely an up and coming metropolis and also seems to be developing fast. Emilija raised an interesting point that it would be cool to return there in 5-10 years time and see how much the city has changed and how far their economy has progressed.
You can’t fault the beauty of some of the temples, monuments and buildings that have been constructed over time in Phnom Penh, but a more detailed account of our exploration of the Cambodian capital will follow in a separate post. For now, we were just glad to have made it in one piece.