Thursday 7 September, fine 32°
We got up at 6am and then grabbed breakfast at 6:30am, back to the room for the familiar routine of packing. We checked out at 7:15am and walked for 15 minutes to the offices of the Mekong Express bus company, where our bus to Phnom Penh was due to leave at 8:30am. We exchanged our vouchers for tickets ( NZ$40 for the 2 of us on the bus, which included them dealing with our visa/passports, but not the fee for the visa into Cambodia ). The bus arrived and we jumped on and left at 8:30am. The bus was only half full and was reasonably spacious, and we were promised wifi once we got to the Cambodia border.
We headed north through HCMC, passed the airport and finally out of the suburbs at 10am, and then through farmlands and a couple of towns to the Cambodian border at 11am. We had handed our passports to the helper on the bus as we travelled out of HCMC, so at the Vietnam side of the border we waited a few minutes in the 'departures' hall for him to arrive and hand us our passports again, then file through and get stamped out of Vietnam.
We then got back on the bus at the other end of the building and drove the 50m to the Cambodian inwards immigration building. This time there was a longer wait while the helper went and got the Visas on Arrival for us all at a seperate building, then joined us in the waiting room, handed out our passports and we went in through the immigration desks ( with the usual photos and fingerprints taken ). We were back on the bus in Cambodia at 11:30am. Short and sweet 1/2 hour process.
We drove a short distance and stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch ( I think the bus drivers were the only ones who ate anything ( which we assume was their payment by the restaurant for bringing us to them ), the rest of us just got drinks and stood around using the free wifi ).
We got back on the road at 12:00pm and drove through the flat plains of Cambodia. As far as we could see in any direction was flat land, with large areas water, except for the occasional single hill or rock poking up from the plain. The road and houses either side of it seemed to have been raised up on platforms of earth to keep them above the water level, which was high due to it being wet season.
About half way between the border and Phnom Penh we crossed the Mekong River on a new bridge. This is the first time we have seen the Mekong since Vientiane, and now puts us back on the western side of Mekong for the first time since we left Thailand. The river at this point is about 500m wide, although at this time of year it is hard to tell where the edges are.
We carried on across the plains and into Phnom Penh at 2:30pm. We drove through the busy traffic to O'Russey Market ( I am not sure why they chose this as the drop off place as it took about 10 minutes to manoeuvre our way into the carpark, which is not really designed for buses).
We got off the bus at about 3pm and grabbed a tuk tuk ( which have a different design in Cambodia to what we have seen previously: they are a motorbike with a trailer attached, photos to come ), agreed a price of US$4 to take us to our hotel ( "Home Chic Hotel" ) on 282nd St and off we went. We arrived about 10 minutes later and checked in. This room was very nice and we looked down on the pool at the front of the hotel.
In Cambodia they use a combination of US$ and Riel, with US$ being the main currency ( even the ATM's give out US$ ), but for anything less than US$1 then Riel is used. So when buying something at a shop often the change would be in US$ and Riel.
We dropped our bags in our room and went for a walk around the area. There is quite a lot of construction going on nearby with new hotels and apartment buildings being built, but the area felt very modern and, apart from the lack of footpaths, could have been in London or SydneyWe walked to acoffee shop in the next block and grabbed a drink. We walked back to the hotel and had a planning meeting for the rest of our trip.
We were trying to book a bus to Siem Reap in a couple of days time, but we were having trouble getting our credit card to authorise properly ( even though it was the same card and website we had used previously, www.12goasia.com ) so we booked our hotel in Siem Reap ( "Bopha Siem Reap Boutique Hotel" ) and a flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok for the day before our flight out of Bangkok to Singapore. We will have 3 full days in Siem Reap to see as much of the Angkor Wat temple complex as possible, so we decided to fly back to Bangkok to avoid spending the day on another bus. We would try to book the Phnom Penh / Siem Reap bus later to see if our card would go through. So apart from that bus trip we are now fully booked for the rest of our SE Asia loop back to Bangkok.
We left the hotel at 5:30pm and walked to the Independence Monument near the hotel to take some photos and then carried on walking down Preah Suramarit Boulevard to the Nagaworld Casino ( gambling is permitted in Cambodia, unlike most other SE Asian countries ), and made a small donation to the Cambodian tax coffers.
We grabbed a tuk tuk back to the hotel ( US$4 ) at 7pm and grabbed dinner in the hotel restaurant.