Liveblog: Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City by bus

As a special treat, I’m going to attempt to liveblog my trip via bus from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. Let’s go!

Pre-Departure
We decided to save some money and take the bus from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I had done some research online and it seemed like the CAT Mekong Express bus was the best, with reliable service and a good safety record. It was also one of the only offering a connection to Ho Chi Minh City instead of having to figure out our own connection in Phnom Penh. We booked this through our hotel (specifically asking for Mekong Express). We were booked with no problems and told to be ready to be picked up at our hotel at 6:30 am for our 7:30 departure. However, it ended up being closer to 7:00 before the shuttle arrived to take us to the bus station. At the bus station, we got organized and tagged our bags for the trip. Since our bus has WiFi, I’m going to attempt to live blog the trip (as long as my laptop is charged anyway).

Departure
We loaded the bus and departed from Siem Reap at promptly 7:30 to head to Phnom Penh. We were greeted and informed of the program for the day in both Khmer and English. We also received a bottle of water, a couple of pastries, and a towelette. The air conditioning was on and working. So far we’re off to a great start. To Phnom Penh Leaving Siem Reap, the road began to get a bit bumpy. The scenery out the window reminds me of Zambia: small shops and houses dot the roadside with open fields and forests along the way. After about an hour, we inexplicably stopped along the side of the road. The driver got out but came back a few minutes later (bathroom break? Who knows). Back on the road. Most people on the bus are asleep…which seems like a solid plan to me. Well, the WiFi that had been working so well is not really working now. This is really frustrating as I was almost finished with my first blog post about Bangkok. I really hope it gets better again. Maybe it is because we’re in the middle of the Cambodian countryside so the signal isn’t as strong? I have no idea.

Roadside stop somewhere in Cambodia
Roadside stop somewhere in Cambodia

We stopped for a 20-minute break in Kampong Thom. We do have a toilet on board the bus, but it is kinda like on an airplane: don’t use it unless you have to. After a quick bathroom break, we wandered around the market for a bit and I bought a mango. Back on the bus, the announcement was made that we’ll arrive in Phnom Penh about 1:40. And I think she said we’ll be departing on a different bus to HCMC at 2:00. I hope I heard that correctly.  The attendant also came around and checked our passports to make sure we had the proper travel documents. We passed inspection – yay!

Back on the bus, I read for a while and then decided to try to take a nap. Luckily, the bus was less than half full, so there was plenty of room to spread out. I slept for about an hour or so before waking up on the bumpy road. At one point, we were on a dirt road so thick with red dust it was hard to see.

Phnom Penh
We arrived in Phnom Penh right on schedule. Amazing! We were well informed of what we needed to do: grab our bags and re-check them for the next bus, have our passports checked again and be ready to board at 2 pm. This was just the Mekong Express station, so it wasn’t the bustling market area that I imagined. It was very nice, with a little snack bar but not many other options for food or drink. At the last minute, I remembered that I had ended up putting my second bag inside the bus instead of underneath and had totally forgotten it. Luckily, the driver had found it and turned it into the station. Phew!

We boarded the bus a little before 2 pm and departed the station about 2:15. When we departed we were given another round of water and pastries and gave our passports to our attendant. We crawled through traffic in Phnom Penh, picking up a few people as we went. So far, the A/C on this bus is not impressive and I am sweating. Also, the WiFi is still not working great. I think it’s time for another nap.

I finished my book and took a nap for the better part of two hours. We made our first stop of the trip about 5:30 at some random restaurant/bus stop that appears to be on the Cambodian side of the border, but only just. The prices were offered in Riels, Dollars, and Vietnamese Dong. I had a couple of fresh spring rolls that were pretty good. A few minutes later we were at the border.

Border Crossing
The border-crossing process was surprisingly hassle-free. We all got our passports back and headed to the Cambodia border to exit. We then got back on the bus and drove a minute to the Vietnam entry post. Here, we had to take all of our bags off the bus and take them with us. We gave our passports to the attendant and then received them all approved for entry. After a quick pass through the x-ray machine, we were officially in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

To Ho Chi Minh City
Nothing much of interest during the last two and a half hours of the journey after we crossed the border. It was mostly dark, so it was hard to see much of the countryside. And of course, the WiFi stopped working right when it would have been most helpful – to plan the route to our hotel. At least I was able to book the hotel during an intermittent burst of connectivity. The hotel is close to where the bus drops (or so it says on their website) but I have no idea in which direction. Guess we’ll have to stop at a cafe or somewhere with WiFi and connect (or try and ask someone). By far the most frustrating part of this journey has been the WiFi connection (or rather the lack thereof).

Driving through HCMC at night is a riot of colors and neon signs. While most are in Vietnamese, there are few familiar sights, including a Popeye’s and a Pizza Hut. Similar to Thailand and Cambodia, motorbikes, bicycles, cars, and buses share the road with no little or no regard for traffic laws.

Arrival
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at our final destination at 9:00 pm, for a total journey of 13.5 hours. Of course, since the internet wasn’t working, I could get the directions to the hotel. Luckily, we ducked into a nicer hotel and asked to use their WiFi and found the name and directions to the hotel. We found it after only one misstep – we were looking for the Mai Guesthouse and stopped in at the Mai Vy Guesthouse a few doors down. Upon arrival, we needed to have our booking number, which of course, was locked in my phone. After about 5 minutes of trying to use the lobby computer, we gave up and the woman just gave us our room. Strangely exhausted after a long day of sitting on a bus, it was time for bed.

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