Vietnam

Today we are travelling to Vietnam. We set our alarm and Simon set off in search of some hot water so we could make coffee. There are no ATM machines here and we get some dollars over the counter at the bank to see us through when we first arrive in Vietnam.

Our guide book advises we don’t use this particular border as the roads to it are bad and it is very quiet with hardly any international travellers using it. However if we don’t go through here we will have to return to Phnom Penh and then catch a boat down The Mekong. Although this sounds good we want to maximise our time in Asia and spend as little time as possible back tracking. So decide to go for it after chatting to Cheang. He can’t take us as he has a prior booking through the hotel which is a pity but has sorted it out with his friend.

After breakfast we return to The Bokor Hotel. Cheang is sat in reception apparently his job today fell through and we ask him if he can take us but he explains he has promised his friend he can take us so its not possible. It�s a shame as he speaks great English and we have got friendly over the past few days. We set off with his friend and before long can see why this border crossing isn’t recommended. The roads are almost deserted and not surfaced and the journey takes around 2 and a half hours of serious sweating.

The aircon doesn’t really work and sat on the leather seats bouncing around at over 35 degrees is pretty tough. The roads are also very dusty and when we finally arrive after getting lost once in the middle of nowhere our gear is absolutely covered in a thick layer of red grime. I have spent the last 20 minutes worrying about accidentally straying across the border as an illegal and getting captured and shot by the Vietnamese but Simon assures me this is not possible across a road even if it is only a track.

By the time we arrive I am slightly nervous especially as the Cambodian border guards seem to think its funny to poke Ali’s arm muscles and rag him around a bit. We leave Cambodia and walk across the bridge to Vietnam and sit anxiously at the SARS detention area. The stern looking Vietnamese border guard touches Maisie’s hair (I guess they don’t see too many blond kids here) and gives us some Rambutan fruit. We are all thirsty and hot and they are very good.

We ask the border guards to ring a taxi for us to take us to the town of Chau Doc. We picked up a card telling us it costs 20 US dollars. But when the taxi arrives on the other side of the border barrier the motorbike fellas all crowd around him and he tells Simon it will cost 80 US dollars. They are clearly trying to intimidate the driver into charging more but Simon sticks his ground and refuses to pay up. We ask the border guards for help and they let the taxi driver up to us where we all pile in. As soon as we are through the barrier they surround the car but we just ask the driver to keep going and make it quite clear we aren’t paying any more.

We get to Chau Doc around 3pm. It seems to be a busy small town and is so noisy. We have rang ahead and made a reservation at The Vinh Phouc Hotel. The owner speaks excellent English and they make us feel so welcome. After our slightly scary morning it’s good to be somewhere that feels safe and friendly.

We get some food, steamed rice, chicken with lemongrass, Lok Lak beef and beef with green peppers. The beer in Vietnam is the cheapest in the world at around 35pence for a largish bottle- hurray there is a beer god! We guzzle down a couple which will I’m sure be the first of many here.

The Guesthouse owner tells Ali that he has a friend who also plays the guitar, he introduces us to an Australian fella called Ray and they spend a bit of time playing together. It must have been a bit intimidating for Ali. The whole family appeared and pulled up chairs the instant we had finished eating and sat there looking at him expectantly!

We head off to bed around 11.30 and have already decided we are going nowhere and doing nothing tomorrow. Looking forward to a seriously long lie in.