To get to Vietnam we organised the “Kep Tours and Transport” bus from Kampot in Cambodia to Can Tho in Vietnam which would cross through the Ha Tien land border. The bus journey itself was an eventful trip.
We got picked up from our accommodation in Kampot at 09.30am. The bus was strangely padded inside so we pondered that maybe it’s usually used to transport the mentally insane or that it would be a bumpy ride. Or, considering we voluntarily chose to do this journey, maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive…hell, at least we had comfy leather seats.
Little did we know at this stage that this would be bus 1 of 4, with each bus getting progressively worse to the point where if the last bus was an 80s pop star it would be “the mode of transport formally known as a bus”.
The first bus took us to Kampot town where we waited for the next bus to the border. We got chatting to some other people waiting and met two Swiss chaps who were also heading to Can Tho – always a relief to know there are other Wasterners going your way in case of any unforseen circumstances. Although as they looked a like Napoleon Dynamite and a chubby version of McLovin from Superbad I wasn’t convinced how helpful they would be.
The second bus which took us to the border was pretty uneventful and short. We managed to exit Cambodia without any issues and went on to the Vietnam side. Here we were asked to fill out a health assessment form. No big deal and fairly normal…except that for some reason the official stamping the form wasn’t able to complete his job without a one dollar bill. Once this was provide the stamp was provided; and the one dollar bill went straight into the small front pocket of his leather satchel. After that it was a short wait for our official passport stamps and we crossed the boarder. Woohoo!
This is where we met our third bus and bus driver. We must have been really lucky to have got this bus driver as he seemed to have such exceptional command of the local traffic that he didn’t need to stop at junctions or cross roads like us normal folk would. Instead all he needed to do was accelerate and honk his horn loudly.
Thankfully it was only a short ride to Ha Tien town. Here we got dropped off at a travel agents/cafe/money exchange and told our next bus would be along in 3 hours. We killed time by having a walk around the uninspiring town of Ha Tien and watching Netflix.
“The mode of transport formally known as a bus” turned up a little late so we eagerly got on board. We, along with the loveable characters of Napoleon Dynamite and chubby McLovin, chose our seats on the empty bus and waited to depart. Unfortunately the bus driver didn’t agree with our seating arrangement and we were “suggestively” rearranged.
As the bus departed we did wonder if our nickname for the bus was a little harsh as we soon found out that it did have a functional and loud horn. By Vietnamese standards this means it’s a roadworthy vehicle – a working engine and tyres are simply a nice to have.
Whilst we never got to ask and confirm, our new driver must have spent a lot of his time driving in England as, much to the frustration of oncoming traffic, he seemed to prefer driving on the left hand side of the road.
The bus conductor was also something special. Whilst he did help people on the bus and arrange tickets, his main job seemed to be that of trying to conduct the traffic around the bus. He would frequently lean out the window and shout at motos, cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians what we could only assume was “Get out the f-ing way!”. I’m not sure it really helped, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.
On one of the roads we traveled there were no junctions, it was just a straight line for over two hours. And over the whole stretch of the road entrepreneurial locals had shack after shack selling some sort of goods. It was like a whole town that consisted of just two single rows of non-stop houses/shops along a 100+ mile freeway.
For the whole journey we sat watching the road in euphoric wonderment. The traffic was intense, the overtaking was ludicrous, life around us was in chaos but all so beautiful. If this was a glimpse as to what life in Vietnam is like then I can tell this is going to be a place we will enjoy (and probably be glad to leave after a month!).
When we got to our destination we got on the back of two motorbikes to get to our hotel. From there, and after the day we had, we needed food and more importantly a beer. So we found a nice place and, to be healthy, I ordered off the vegetarian menu – beef noodles. Yes, Vietnam seems our kind of place.
Kampot to Can Tho Bus: The bus can be arranged at many travel agents in the town or at most hotels. We booked tickets at our hotel the day before and it cost $15 each. It says 6 hours, but we left our hotel at 9.30 and didn’t get to Can Tho until around 19.30. Don’t expect luxury and expect a lot of mad driving.
Vietnam Visa: Make sure you have the required visa! I thought this was obvious but 33% of our original group messed this up. We got the Vietnam e-visa which just launched this year for some nationalities. It cost $25 + card fee and was sorted in 3 working days. All you need to do is upload photos of your passport and a passport photo and fill out a short form. On the form you put in your expected arrival date and the 30 days will commence from this date. You are permitted to enter after your planned arrival date but you will still only have up to the original visa expiry date to stay in the country. You also need to input your entry port. One girl had put in a different land border than the one we used and this wasn’t an issue (not sure if this is always the case).
Money: In Cambodia you could use Dollars, less so in Vietnam. The travel agent in Ha Tien were you wait for the bus can exchange your money to local currency for you but the rate was shocking. We walked down the road to a hotel who offered us a satisfactory rate (11% better).
Can Tho Bus Station to your Hotel: We arrived late and as soon as we got off the bus we were set upon by guys wanting to give us a lift on their bikes. Be prepared to haggle hard with these guys. We agreed 50,000 dong each for a lift which is too high (they also tried to double the price when we got to our hotel). If there are two or more of you I think your best bet is to leave the station and try to flag down a taxi. A taxi to the main part of the city should be about 60-80k dong.