Crossing into Cambodia

So how do you get from Vietnam to Cambodia? More importantly, how do you get from a remote island in the South of Vietnam to the Capital City of Cambodia? Google of course!

This led to Trip Advisor and a strong recommendation to stop at the Oasis bar in Ha Tien, Vietnam. What? Wait? What does a bar have to do with getting to Cambodia? Aside from some good food – the best guacamole in Vietnam, a BLT sandwich and a Sausage and Onion Sandwich.

The answer is

Andy, the owner of the Oasis Bar in Ha Tien, Vietnam, is an ex-pat Australian who helps assist travellers getting from Vietnam to Cambodia. It seems complicated, and it really isn’t but when you think about crossing a border, producing a new visa, and securing transport it can be a little daunting.

We (i.e. Colleen) arranged for a ferry ride from the island of Phu Quoc to the port of Ha Tien which is on the Cambodian border.  Andy introduced us, via e-mail, to Mr Tay.

The Super Dong is a hydrofoil passenger ferry and took about 1 hour and twenty minutes to cross the Gulf of Thailand.  Mainly locals including several military were onboard.  Colleen decided to hang out upstairs on the upper deck and enjoy the breeze while I stayed with the kids in the main deck.  Hannah tried to tell an older Vietnamese lady that Colleen was sitting in the seat beside her but this woman pointed at an empty seat and spoke fast so she won the seat. Boxed in by some other locals on the other side of the boat I couldn’t help much.

Arrival in Ha Tien

First off the boat Emma and I made our way through the mass of people towards the taxi stand.  A wizened old man with sun glasses popped out of nowhere.  A cigarette dangled from his mouth.  A small piece of paper with, “Rob / Colleen – Oasis Bar” written in pink highlighter.  This was our contact – Mr Tay.  The paper disappeared and we waited for Colleen, Hannah and Ben to join us.  I told them we had contact and to follow me.  Colleen asked how I knew – I whispered – he had a paper with our names on it.

Mr Tay spoke quietly as he knifed his way through the crowds.  “Here is your taxi – I will meet you at the Oasis bar”, he said.  He disappeared as quickly as we had met him.  We got in the taxi – we were going to one of two places – the National News as a family abducted or to a bar for some food ….

The Oasis

Given our e-mail exchange with Andy we had visions of a restaurant like “Rick’s Cantina” in Casablanca.  Instead it was a very small restaurant with about five or six tables.  Andy shook our hands and asked if we wanted anything.   Andy treated us like we had been on the road for days and not the three hours that we had just travelled.  Ben had a BLT, Emma had a Sausage and Onion, and we all shared a plate of guacamole with veggies.  The food was awesome and deserves five stars!

Our work began. Andy gave us blank visa forms for Cambodia to fill out.  He also provided scissors and glue so we could affix the passport photos to the application.  The sweat rolled down my cheeks as we toiled over the paperwork.  Mr Tay was impatient to get across the border. His people had timings to meet.

Andy told Mr Tay to relax and amend the timings as time was needed to eat some food and get the visa forms done properly.  As we worked Andy walked us through the procedure.  The route to follow, what to expect, and how it was all going to work.  Payment is $100USD which includes pick-up from the ferry, transfer to the Oasis, movement to the border crossing (about 7km away), luggage transport across and a vehicle on the other side to take us to Phnom Penh (150km away).

The final taxi in Vietnam

We loaded our gear onto the same taxi that brought us from the ferry.  We said goodbye to Andy, who now seemed like an old friend.  Mr Tay went over the plan.  He would leave first on motorbike and we would follow in the taxi.  We would transfer our luggage or carry it across the border.  That part wasn’t clear yet!

We drove along the Mekong River, this part looked like scenes out of Apocalypse Now except with the sun shinning and no guns and we were in a taxi not a patrol boat.  All we needed was Mick Jagger belting out “I can’t get no satisfaction”

The Vietnamese Border

Mr Tay and his friend met us at the disembarkation point.  They took our luggage (5 backpacks) on two motor bikes and we carried our day packs.  Mr Tay pointed at the building we needed to go to for passport control.

Vietnamese Border Station – go left!

We greeted the Vietnamese immigration official with a “Xin Chao” (Hello) and after we finished we said “cảm ơn” (thank-you) and we were almost done.  

Hurry Up and Wait

There goes our luggage – Ben wasn’t sure if we were going to get it back!

We went to one more check point and then it was about a 200m walk to Cambodia. Mr Tay was anxious to get going so the clandestine movements were more overt.  Waving to us to make sure we went to the right building.  He then walked us into the Visa Payment desk.  The cost is $30USD but the officials add a $5USD fee which both Colleen and I were loathe to pay as it supports the corruption of the public officials.  A 2 to 3 hour delay wasn’t really an option  so we forked over the money and were told to sit down. Suddenly it dawned on me that we were in Cambodia and didn’t know how to say hello or thank-you or anything.  Mr Tay hovered like an old woman and provided us with some initial words of greeting.  He also got things moving after twenty minutes by speaking to the immigration officer.

Fingerprint and facial recognition database is a new addition to the entry requirements.  It was relatively easy except for those who are sweaty.  Apparently sweaty fingers do not read well on the scanner.  Two of the five in our family (who will remain nameless) held us up for an extra ten minutes.

We walked out the building and met our driver when the scanning was done. A relative of Mr Tay, his son-in-law or something, who spoke some English helped us with luggage. We crammed into a Toyota Highlander and were off to the Capital of Cambodia.

Independence Monument – Phnom Penh

3 Replies to “Crossing into Cambodia”

  1. Mr. Bond….I presume! Mr. Tay seems like a good fellow. Real cloak and dager stuff just to get into the country. That must have been a bit nerve racking and if I had been there you would have been held up for hours for I am sweating just thinking about it.

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