Phu Quoc island – Vietnam

14 02 2010

Yesterday we made it to Long Beach on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam.  We took a bus from Sihanoukville through the Vietnamese border at Xa Xia.  We had gotten our Vietnamese visas back in Bangkok so we had an easy time getting through the border control.  One tip for future travelers, we noticed that getting the Vietnamese visa in Cambodia was about $15 cheaper than in Thailand ($60 vs. $43 I think) so if you want to save a bit of money wait until you are in Cambodia. 

On the border we changed from our VIP bus into a mini bus and drove on to Ha Tien where we changed into a small boat that took us out to the island.  The trip was supposed to take five and half hour but ended up taking over eight hours without any stops to eat so we were pretty hungry when we got here as you can imagine.  You can find the updated route map on the right hand side of the website or just here.

The first impression of Vietnam is that everything seems more professional than in Cambodia, the restaurants seem very nice and our bungalow is nice as well so we have no complaints so far.  The money is funny since 16,000 Dong equal $1 US so we are pretty rich down here, just went to the ATM to take our 2,000,000 Dong :)  The actual notes look nice, they are made of plastic and are washable so they are very clean, which was not the case in Cambodia where you could hardly read some of the lower dominated notes.

We were very happy to see that the internet seemed to work perfectly, we could access WordPress, Facebook and any website that we tried.  I will therefore not be forced to blog through email until we enter China :)

We have been a bit under the weather the last two days so we haven’t been up to too much adventure lately.  It is nothing serious, just a minor inconvenience – it could be something we ate or something that is going around but we should be back on our feet tomorrow.


12 02 2010

We are now in Sihanoukville, a port city that connects Cambodia to the Gulf of Thailand.  It is a nice town with a few beaches, nice restaurants and a lively nightlife.  The town seems to be in some sort of a transition, I think it is about to become popular but hasn’t quite gotten there.

Last night we met four Icelanders: Halla Marín, Jóna Dagmar, Ingvar Björn and Ármann Örn – all from Húsavík.  We knew that they were in Siem Reap at the same time as us but weren’t able to meet.  This time we were just walking on the beach and they recognized us right away.  It was nice meeting some Icelanders, sharing travel stories and plans for the next steps.  They had been in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore before they came to Cambodia so they have had quite a different route from us.

Tomorrow we will head to Vietnam, to Phu Quoc island to be exact.  We hope that the Chinese New Year won’t give us too much trouble.  New Year’s day is on the 14th, when year 4707 begins according to the Chinese calendar, the year of the tiger.  We have read that the whole country stops to function during and after the new year, the trains for instance stop for 9 days but we hope for the best.  The new year is also big here in Cambodia and I was informed that the rate for our hotel room would double, the first three days of the new year so they are expecting a lot of visitors.

I have heard that some websites are restricted in Vietnam but I hope that I’ll be able to continue blogging and posting pictures.  I know it is possible through email so that is one option.  Bear with me if the posts will look somehow funny.

It would be great to hear from those reading the blog.  I have heard from some of you but I have no idea who are actually reading this blog.  I can see that there just over 200 visitors per week (excluding Facebook readers) but I don’t know who they are.  So lets make a deal, you commend and then I’ll post some more pictures ;)  My birthday is coming up on the 18th so that is a perfect opportunity to post a comment :)

Crossing the Thai-Cambodian border

3 02 2010

After all the stories we had read about the scams people get them selves involved in our border crossing into Cambodia and the ride to Siem Reap was quite unimpressive.  We just walked through, negotiated on a price for the taxi to Siem Reap and off we went.  Maybe it went so well because we were well prepared and knew what to do.  For those that want to make the same trip I’ll start from the beginning in Bangkok.  Other might want to skip this section.

The scams that we had read about before hand were:

  • Visa scam – offering to speed up take care of the visa application for you at ridicules prices
  • Consulate scam – same as above
  • Visa border control scam – border police asking for bribes or they will not process your application anytime soon
  • Money changing scam – say that you need to change into Cambodian Real and giving you horrible rates
  • Guesthouse commission scam – taxis delivering you to a guesthouse for a commission.  The owners getting angry if you don’t stay

Before we came to Bangkok we had already applied for a visa to Cambodia online.  It did cost $25 instead of the regular $20 but the process was smooth and would save us some hassle later on.  Since we had to wait for our visa into Vietnam until 15:00 we decided to take the 16:30 bus from Bangkok to the Thai border town Aranyaprathet since the hotel would be a lot less there than in Bangkok (300 Baht instead of 800 Baht).  We got the skytrain from the Vietnamese embassy to Mohchit station (40 Baht), moto taxi from the sky train station to the close by northern bus station (40 Baht) and a ticket to to Aranyaprathet first class (207 Baht) at booth 30 inside the station.  The bus ride to Aranyaprathet was about four hours and we arrived about 20:30 at the Aranyaprathet bus station.  We took a tuktuk to a hotel we had selected (80 Baht) but that was full so the tuktuk driver suggested The Market Hotel and we agreed.  The Market Hotel was very nice, clean and quite cozy.

We had arranged for our tuktuk driver to pick us up at 08:00 in the morning and take us to the border.  The lady that drove us the night before picked us up but after a 5 minute drive she jumped off and a colleague jumped on.  We weren’t too happy since we kind of trusted the lady but what the heck, I guess there was nothing we could do…  After about 5 minutes of driving the drive wanted to turn left when the sign for the border said straight.  I suspected that he wanted to try the consulate scam where they try to sell you a Cambodian visa for up to twice the price.  I told him I already had a visa and we wanted to go straight to the border.  He complied and drove us as far as he could go and we had to walk the rest.

We saw the signs where to go and followed the Thais that were also crossing.  First we had to fill out health check forms to see if we were healthy enough to enter Cambodia.  None of the Thais had to fill those out so it was a slight annoyance but again, what the heck.  We filled out the forms and were allowed to continue.  After that it became a bit unclear where to go as we skipped the visa application process.  We were soon picked up by a guy that seemed very helpful but we knew right away that he wanted to get us into the “free” bus to the bus/taxi terminal in the middle of nowhere.  He guided us along the long road towards the visa check point.  Along this road were several casinos where the Thais try their luck.  According to our self proclaimed guide, the Cambodians would never gamble – they are too poor.

At the visa check point we filled out another form with more or less the same question we had already answered, both in the health check and on the online visa application.  As we arrived we met some African guys that were having problems getting through but the place was not busy and we were through in 5 minutes.  After the check point our “guide” reappeared and told us that we had to get into the bus that would take us to the bus/taxi terminal.  When he saw that we were resisting a bit he raised his voice and said that the bus was leaving and we had to get in now!  As we were the only foreigners around I told him quietly that we could do what ever we liked, we would just come back later as there were lines of busses there and I was sure that we were not missing out.

Then we walked a bit and were offered a non-union taxi for $35 and we went to check it out.  There were a lot of police men and tourist police men around and some of the seemed annoyed that this guy had us on his hook but we followed anyway.  We negotiated a price of $30 for a taxi for just the two of us the whole way to Siem Reap and all the way to our guest house, paid on arrival.

So off we went and the ride to Siem Reap was un-eventful.  The road was wide and smooth, a really enjoyable ride.  We stopped once to fill the metan-gas tank of the Toyota Camry we were driving, once the driver stopped to pee and once he stopped in front of a sales booth and said he had to use the toilette.  A woman came out and said they wanted to clean the car so we had to go out.  She had all sorts of cool drinks for sale but we had water so we were fine.  Of course no one cleaned the car and the driver came as soon as he saw that we weren’t buying anything  …they have to try, don’t they?  In Siem Reap we had picked out a guesthouse from the Lonely Planet book and told the driver to head there.  He made some phone calls and then stopped at another guesthouse where we were told that our guesthouse was out of business and we should check out theirs.  We told them we weren’t interested and named another one and the drive took us there immediately.  We paid our driver a little tip plus the $30 agreed upon.

We walked around town and with the help of a tuktuk driver we found a likable guesthouse that had a double fan room for the right price ($7 per night).  Tomorrow we plan to start exploring the magnificent temples here including Angkor Wat, the biggest religious building in the world.

We really like the Cambodians so far, even if they are trying to trick us they are polite, soft and gentle.  When they see that we have had enough they leave us alone or do as we wish so it is all good, they are just like the rest of us – just trying to make a living :)

Next post will be less practical and more fun, I promise!