Well we made it up the Mekong to Phnom Penh and I am writing this sitting in the Elephant Bar of The Raffles Hotel there.
What an hotel, superlatives hardly cover just how good the service is. A personal butler, hot and cold running staff everywhere and almost before you think of it someone is offering you that very it. The Singapore Slings are about to arrive. 50% off during a happy hour that stretches out from 4 p.m. till 9 p.m.. Bliss. Okay Singapore Slings aren’t very Phnom Penh but their local Raffles cocktail is La Femme Fatale which celebrates Jackie Kennedy’s visit here in 1967 and is champagne based which perhaps surprisingly I really don’t enjoy.
But what of the trip up. Well in a word lengthy. According to their own timetable the trip was due to take 5 hours including a stop of one hour at the border to get visas . In fact the border stop was two hours and somehow they managed to add another hour to the travel time . So 7 hours either on the boat or hanging around at rather neglected riverside border control points.
Getting up at 5.30 a.m. probably didn’t improve our humour to endure the voyage but leaving the Victoria Nui Sam Lodge should have done. Give it a miss is my only advice on Tripadvisor . Like the Victoria at Con Tho it lacks management but the difference at the Lodge is it also lacks a chef of any type of ability. I think my children at 7 years old could have thrown together better dishes and the problem with the Lodge is that they have you cornered with no escape. You are miles from anywhere . Which seems to be The Victoria group’s way of doing things. Why waste a chef when the client is captive clearly to them happily sits alongside fleece the customer if he can’t drink the tap water. ( By the way The Raffles which also cannot provide drinking water supplies free bottles at all times. You just ask and they arrive complementary. Now that is an hotel)
Anyway the trip. This was our mount for the trot as opposed to the scheduled gallop to Phnom Penh
24 passengers inside and 10 on the stern on a wooden bench. Strangely our boat was full of claustrophobics and so with no seat allocation the Ryanair/Southwest Airline rugby scrum to get on board and get a place was to sit on the wooden seats . We sauntered on board and sat downstairs.
I think one of our problems was that the boat was completely full. Some 10 minutes after we left the pier in Chau Doc we pulled alongside an old junk and took on board a group of Polish and a group of Irish passengers. I guess the Brits on board could have had a field day with Irish jokes and the Americans with the Poles but the only American on board was a very serious fellow who nearly didn’t make it through the boarder ( nor did I ).
Still it could have been worse we might have been on the above for the trip. mind you at times it felt as if we were.
There was plenty of traffic on the river some small most large.
and our boat driver took great delight in showing us his prowess at overtaking them by nipping around them at speed.
After an hour we arrived at the Vietnam border post and sat around for an hour while they managed to stamp 34 exit stamps into 34 passports. Given there were only 8 border guys I guess one can understand the delay !
Onwards then to the Cambodian post 500 metres up river
After about 30 mins I and the American I mentioned earlier were delighted when our guide came back with our passports first. However it seemed neither of us had the supposedly necessary 3 blank pages in our passports to allow us entry into Cambodia. The guide who does the trip twice a day 6 days a week said he had never hear this rule before but we must pay a fine and select a page already taken with stamps for them to place the Cambodian full page visa. This we duly did and paid our “fine” of US$10 each. Forty minutes later we were all in possession of our passport with visas and then all had to go through Immigration to get back on the boat. While waiting in line I looked through the pages of my passport again and found 5 empty pages. This I mentioned to our guide and in an instant he had taken off with my passport. To be honest this wasn’t my intention . I stood there thinking he’s going to make a fuss, they are going to get nasty and I am not going to Phnom Penh today . But instead a beaming guide returned with my passport and my US$10 bribe in his hand.
For four hours we then rattled along the Mekong River looking at ? Well looking at river banks one on either side just like ? Well just like other rivers though because this one was so wide it was hard to see them sometimes.
There were of course some Des. Res. as an estate agent would say with lawns running down to the river
Almost Henley on Thames don’t you think.
But in the main there was a great deal of water and those river banks.There was an audible sigh of relief as we rounded a bend and saw the small city of Phnom Penh in front of us .
But we had done it. We had been up the Mekong rather than just going to an airport and flying. We had spent 3 hours driving to Con Tho, then 4 hours driving to Chau Doc and seven hours on a boat. We had stayed in two mediocre hotels en route and eaten two terrible meals in Chau Doc. But on the plus side we had seen a great deal of Vietnam and the lifestyle on the river and as Greg Anderson the author said
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” or Mark Twain
“Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Our own reward is the fabulous Raffles Hotel and the glories of the Elephant Bar.
On Wednesday we fly back to Saigon for Tet and the flight time is ? Well it is actually 40 minutes but hey what an adventure it’s been.