Vietnamese visas and a pitstop in Phnom Penh

When you’re travelling on as tight a schedule as we are, you’re continually being forced to think of the next place you’re going – how are you going to get there? How much does it cost? How many nights can I spend there? What’s there that I want to see? 

At this point in Siem Reap we were thinking about our next port of call, the capital Phnom Penh. Whilst we had planned to spend a couple of days there, some research and fellow traveller advice made us come to the decision that we’d rather get to Vietnam sooner and just use the capital as a stopover to break the journey between Siem Reap and Saigon. This meant we wouldn’t be hanging about in Cambodia for the sake of waiting until we could cross the border into Vietnam. Our orignal plan was to utilise the 15 day visa exemption for British nationals, but with a pretty tight schedule, even a couple more days in Vietnam would allow us slightly more breathing room. So we decided to pay the $45 (incidentally much cheaper than the £70 the Vietnamese embassy wanted back home!) and spend an extra day in Siem Reap until this was ready. And writing from Vietnam now, I’m glad we made this decision! 

Naturally we filled this extra day with a lazy breakfast, swimming in the pool and researching things to do in Phnom Penh and Vietnam.We booked our bus to The Cambodian capital through our hostel too so we would be all ready to go the next morning. 

This bus was a bit of an adventure as it was our first long distance bus journey of the trip and it turned out to be minibus rather then a full sized coach, and we’d been assigned specific seats – this wasn’t too bad for us but the two poor German guys who were over six foot and squashed in the back with the bags felt a bit hard done by – especially as the lady firmly refused to let them switch seats! It wasn’t too bad of a journey really, though it did take longer than the expected five hours because we stopped twice for a break. It was funny because everyone else seemed to get what was happening and how long the breaks were supposed to be, we just had to guess! 

So finally we made it to our destination, and bartered hard for a cheap tuk tuk for us and the two German guys who it turned out were staying near us. Fitting five people plus all our baggage in a tiny tuk tuk was a hilarious challenge, I wish someone took a photo as I was clinging to my bag for dear life! We arrived and checked in at our histel, Happy House Zone, dumped our bags and headed out to explore and find something to eat as we were ravenous. We ended up in a cafe having some delicious noodle soup and ice tea – Rhianna and Katie were determined to master their use of chopsticks so that was pretty amusing to watch 🙂 

We wanted to see the killing fields but in the end we didn’t have time as they were outside the city and would have been too difficult to get to under our own stream rather than as part of a tour. Instead we went to the just as significant S-21 for the afternoon: a school that was turned into a prison by the Khmer regime to house their enemies who wanted to revolt against them. The fact it was built as a school where children learnt and played really emphasised how harrowing it was. So many people were treated horrendously, tortured for information and killed. We got an audio tour which was really worth getting as it told you a lot of information as you walked round, including accounts from survivors. By all means it was a very heavy activity for the afternoon but really really interesting. Another thing that was lovely was a youth dance class going on in the grounds. It looked like contemporary to me but I could be wrong! It seemed fitting for the space to be used by the community again.

None of us were very hungry afterwards even though it was dinner time, and we’d had a late lunch, so we walked back across town to the hostel, showered, sorted ourselves out and booked our bus to Saigon for the next morning. We ended up going to a nearby restaurant and sharing a pizza between us and playing some pool in the hostel before hitting the hay ready for our 7 hour bus.