Meandering down the Mekong
On our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia we moved between the two countries by boat along the Mekong River. This river has always had rather romantic, exotic images, a bit like Constantinople, Casablanca , the Yangtze River and Other places that just sound so exciting that you must go and see.
We stayed the night in Chau Doc in Vietnam in a lovely hotel right on the river. We had had a great day exploring this part of Vietnam, watching a family make rice wrappers for spring rolls, we had eaten some rather strange food local to the area, satay frog legs and an ell dish; neither of which I asked the recipe for to emulate at home but it was interesting none the less.
We boarded the boat and took our rather hard seats for the journey. The boat was a river launch a bit like a hovercraft so all closed in and it went very fast along the river creating a huge wash behind it.
After about forty five minutes we reached the border. We all had to get out with our luggage and go through border formalities. We then got back in and stopped a few minutes further down the river to enter Cambodia and once again we all got out and so did our luggage. It was sent through a very primitive scanner in a hut with a grass roof that was open on all sides. We sat on wooden benches under a grass roofed hut and waited for our turn at the passport and visa window. Around us were several scraggy looking dogs with some little children and a few hens scratting around for food.
Once you had your turn at the window the passport was stamped and visa sorted then once everyone had been through the system we got back on the boat again. The luggage was also loaded back on and off we went.
We stupidly had no realised quite what a long journey this was and after a few hours the scenery alongside hadn’t changed. Lots of trees and a few huts and cows grazing but nothing really much changed hour after hour.
The journey was five hours in total and that sitting on a hard wooden seat in a stuffy boat racing along a river with scenery much the same. I am really glad we did the journey but I wouldn’t rush to do it again.
When we arrived at Phnom Penn we had to climb out of the boat along a very narrow ledge and also get our case off the boat too. This required so pretty athletic manoeuvring and quite considerable strengthen and having watched some young back packers really struggle with their ruck sacks we opted for the paying a nice tip to the young local boat men as neither of us fancied a dip in the river.
I had envisaged us chugging up river on a nice open boat and being able to watch local people getting on with their day to day activities but instead we were inside a stuffy boat with steamed up windows. There was no option of outside as all there was outside was the ledge around the edge that we had to balance on to disembark and a small front part in front of the driver.
It was an experience but not one that I am in a hurry to repeat. We had another boat trip to come three days later as we went from Phnom Penn to Siem Reap on a boat too. This was a similar experience and not one I would recommend for scenery and a nice boat ride.
This was another few hours and a lot of this was crossing a huge lake so that all you could see was muddy brown water for hours.
On arrival at Siem Reap the boat just pushed into the mud at the front and then they let down a ladder that you had to climb down. Even the young back packers were looking slightly concerned as the boat was moving and the mud bank was wet and slippery. To cap it all we had to get our luggage off too and walk across the mud carrying it to the transport, car, bike, truck, bus or whatever.
Once again I am afraid we took the cowards option and paid a nice young local chap a good tip to bring ours down. He made it look very easy but having watched the other Europeans attempting the task I am glad that we didn’t bother as one poor girl ended up on her bottom.
You can choose to take a bus from Phnom Penn to Siem Reap which is cheaper and equally luxurious or you can fly. I think I would suggest flying if you have the money and this is coming from someone who would always prefer to travel on land as you see more of the country that way but in this case I would fly!
So what did I think of my mighty Mekong experience? Well, I am glad I have done it and it gave us some interesting memories but it isn’t something I would rush to do again. I tried not to think about what might have happened if the boat had had a problem in the middle of the huge lake as I am sure health and safety was not paramount.