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Getting Out Of ‘Nam

After HCMC I felt I was pretty much done with Vietnam. Three weeks traveling here felt like enough and I was ready for a new country and culture. Next stop Cambodia. I had planned on visiting the Mekong Delta and crossing the boarder to Cambodia on the Mekong river. The easiest way to do this was with a 2 day tour that left HCMC and took us on a boat ride down the Mekong to Chau Doc on the Vietnam/Cambodia border.

Mekong River
A village on the edge of the Mekong River.

Doug, my travel companion for essentially my whole time in Nam, had an early flight from Siem Reap and had to head straight to Cambodia so we said our goodbyes in HCMC. After losing one member of the troop, we gained another with German Kristina whom Owen and Chantel had met way back in Hanoi.

A lady and her bicycle.

To be honest the tour through the Mekong delta was quite disappointing. The photos in this post show some of the more interesting moments spent cruising along the Mekong river. Basically we floated along stopping off here and there to see a floating market, a fish farm, or some people making coconut candy (which was a tasty coconut caramel/hybrid). These parts were interesting, however they only added up to about 2 hours worth of “tour”, and the rest was travel on buses or larger boats through parts of the Mekong river with little in the way of interesting scenery. We spent around 8 hours being ferried around on the first day by the time we got to our “floating hotel” at Chau Doc. This hotel was quite a laugh as there was not much floating happening, it was just a hotel on stilts at the edge of the river. It would have been much more rewarding to travel independently and explore the delta over several days, but alas I didn’t have time for this.

Lunch Break
Some Mekong locals taking a lunch break from the floating markets.

I ended up spending most of the time reading. Before he left Doug had given me a copy of First They Killed My Father which I wanted to read before I arrived in Cambodia. This book was a harrowing read, and tells the story of a 5 year old middle class Cambodian girl who lived through the Khmer Rouge. For those who don’t know, this was the 3 year period where the Khmer Rouge communist party under the dictatorship of Pol Pot took over Cambodia and attempted to perform a radical social re-engineering of the entire Cambodian population. They kicked everyone out of the cities and forced them to work for 12-16 hours a day in labor camps with horrific conditions and almost no food. Anyone who couldn’t work was killed. Anyone who had ties to the previous government was killed. Anyone possessing a decent education or deemed an intellectual was killed. To top that off anyone killed generally had their entire family killed, including babies, so as to prevent children growing up and wanting revenge. It was one of the worst massacres in modern history, and I will describe it a bit more once I get to the blog post on Phnom Penh where the worst of these atrocities were committed. Anyway, I recommend that you read this book.

Bath Time
A Mekong local bathing in the river.

The actual crossing into Cambodia was not as pleasant an experience as the guide books would have me believe. I decided to spend an extra five dollars to upgrade to the fast boat which was supposed to get us to Phnom Penh in 4 hours instead of 10 for the slow. It lived up to it’s speedy moniker, however it was a smallish speedboat and had been oversold on tickets, so comfort didn’t come into the equation. I got stuck in the back seat wedged in between Kristina, Chantel and Owen with the engine roaring in our ears and rain dripping down on us from the open back. In the end the boat didn’t take us all the way to Phnom Penh, we had to get a small mini bus the last hour of the way.

She's on a boat!

When we got off the boat we stopped for lunch and our guide on the Cambodian side, a suspicious looking man Chantel named Rapey-eyes, made us eat at his friends place where we were given boiled rice with an egg and charged an exorbitant $2.50. He also offered to arrange any transfers for us, so some of us decided to head straight to Sihanoukville that night. Tickets were $7. As soon as rapey eyes put us on our mini bus to the transfer station we found out tickets were $4 and he just ripped us off. But that wasn’t the of rapey eyes. He rang our driver on the mini bus and tried to extort an extra $22 out of because one of us haft paid for the visa. This was bullshit as he personally collected the money from all of us when we got to the border. We hung up on him. His final act occurred once we got to Phnom Penh and were waiting for the next bus. Kristina rang him up and said you over charged us for the bus. He just ranted her saying “I have your money now, go away I don’t need to talk to you because I have your money” and hung up. Jerk.

A typical view of the Mekong Delta at a small village near Chau Doc