Prek Chak (Ha Tien) border crossing – Cambodia to Vietnam

The day starts at 7am with the annoyingly persistent ring of the alarm clock. Miss Fab and I sneak out for a quick breakfast at Epic Arts Cafe and we enjoy delicious fluffy pancakes with bananas smothered in a generous pour of honey on top. We manage to avoid the mandatory soaking from the rain that comes in buckets every once in awhile, only to be replaced by short bursts of sunlight. I savor my coffee, delivered in my own little percolator and enough that I can fill my big mug a couple of times. A dose of caffeine I am sure I will need later.

Kampot has long awoken, as much as Kampot awakes, which doesnt seem to be a lot. On the way back to the guesthouse, holding the umbrella as a “dog hooker” and laughing with the childer next to me about all the ways we can protect ourselves from unwanted attention from the various dogs roaming the streets, I know this town will not be sleepy for long, as the loud thumps of tourism are surely around the corner.

Bags, bags, bags, a few whiny kids and we are on our way, although not just yet. Our minivan had miraculously turned into a rickety car in which all five of us were supposed to fit on the back seat of. And if that was not cramped enough, at least two of our bags had to join us for the fun ride.

After some lively dialog with the guys running this show and letting them know that there is no way they are making sardines out of us, they finally abandoned their plan of adding the extra passenger and her enormous suitcase in the car and we were off to the border.

Cambodian roads are adventurous at best, but this one couldnt even master some good ole fashioned pot-holes. For that you need the ground underneath to be sealed. The ride is uncomfortable, which is an expected result of the dirt road being tackled by our racing wanna-be driver. Unperturbed, he takes various phone calls, as he swerves around carts, overloaded bikes and “road work” areas. The windows are splattering with mud, but are unable to hide the beautiful scenery – rock formations, rice paddy fields and thatched farm buildings as far as the eye can see.

 

After awhile the real fun begins – mud sliding. With one hand on the wheel and the other holding the always singing mobile phone, our driver skillfully revs up and down our loaded car, the wheels turning on empty from time to time and the back swinging left to right, trying to catch some grip.

You would never guess we are on our way to an “International border crossing”. Fun for the day – check.

A crumbling white and red gate hints we may be getting close and before long, Mr.Blab is wading through the red earth towards the little shack on the left, where we are supposed to check out of Cambodia. The rest of us apparently not even required for the process. Our driver went somewhere and I left the kids in the car to enjoy the slight air-conditioning and went out to snap some shots.

Nothing about this place even hints its a border. People on bikes, loaded with who knows what move left and right in either direction without anyone even asking them a question. I gaze into Vietnam and it looks like any other road around here. See, there is Vietnam.

After leaving Cambodia we drive a little bit and finally see something grand and “borderish”.

First we are greeted by a cheerful fella in an uniform, who hands us entry forms to fill in. Quick and painless and he waves off a few of the questions. Plays with my camera, gingerly. We are the only ones in the building, the bikes, bicycles and trucks, loaded with who knows what, continue to pass by with no questions asked outside.

I dont know for what, but he asks $1 for each of us, still smiling. We have exactly $1 and 3000 riel (75c) – a combination of a stingy ATM in Kampot and Mr.Blab’s poor planning skills – so we offer AU$5 and he takes it with a laugh thankfully then ushers us to the next opening in the wall where the real immigration work is done.

Another smiling young chap, takes us over and even knows a bit of English, which makes things a bit easier. A bit of small talk and a thorough check of our passports and visas follows.

We wait.

After what seems like an eternity, we are out of the big building and I am guessing into Vietnam, although not before another happy man, checks the passports at yet another crumbling checkpoint. All other people pass as though they are invisible.

Ha Tien, the town we are staying in first, is just another 15 min drive and the hotel feels nice. From Kampot to HaTien its less than 80km, but it has taken us about 3 hours.

It feels good to be out of the car.

The view from our hotel with the river at the end of the street.

We decide to walk down to the market nearby and I find gold. Avocados! Beautiful, slightly soft, wonderful avocados. My heart skips a beat and I quickly become the proud owner of a kilo of the green gold for less than $1.

The market is similar to any other we have been – huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, wide selection of leafy greens and smiles, the only difference is the leisurely setup for the vendors.

Vietnam must be the hammock capital of the world. Every space has a few adorning it.

Women are gathering around us, hand gestures and laughter gets us tomatoes, apples, coriander, onion, lime, rambutans and of course, baguettes which poke out of everywhere. About $5.

I dont know what Ha Tien has to offer to visitors, but so far I am loving the people and the cheap fresh food.

Maybe I am not that crazy about the live tied birds for sale by the women on the side of the road, but hey, you cant have everything, right?

Hello, Vietnam.