To get from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, we booked a bus with The Sinh Tourist for ₫189,000 ($8.50) each. Turns out they don’t have buses driving to Cambodia (or at least not at the hour we booked), but work together with Long Phuong Cambodia. If we had known this, we would have booked the trip directly with Long Phuong Cambodia, or possibly another bus company. This was the first time we were crossing a border by bus (all the other crossings were by plane) and we read about some horror stories online, so we were a little bit nervous.
Departure was planned at 8h30 and as requested, we checked in 30 minutes beforehand in the office. We got a small bottle of water and a wet wipe upon entering the bus, just like every other time we took a bus to travel from north to south in Vietnam (happy customers of The Sinh Tourist). The first thing we noticed was the abundance of leg space. Nice! This was going to be a comfortable ride.
The “bus attendant” (you know, like flight attendant) collected all the passports together with $35 per person. He gave no information whatsoever about what was going to happen or what we should do when we arrived at the border. When we got to the border around 11h00, he rushed inside the building with our passports. Unsure what to do and looking questioningly at one another, we all got out of the bus. Women swarmed all around us with big bundles of cash, asking if they should arrange our border crossing. The driver pointed at the building, trying to make clear we should go inside as well. We found the desks of the border control and were glad to see our bus attendant with a stack of passports. Still not sure what was expected of us, we waited. Turns out we had to wait for our name to be called, pick up our passport and get back in the bus. Would have been nice if they told us though.
Our research indicated that a visa for Cambodia only costs $30, but you basically pay $5 extra for the bus company to arrange it for you. If you refuse to pay that $5, you have to make your own way through the chaos, as some girls on our bus did. The bus didn’t wait for them and it depends on the mood of the guy at the border control how fast they will stamp your passport, as there were piles of passports sitting on their desk (all bus companies). We are convinced it’s not worth the $5. We sweated enough as it is by just waiting and not knowing what was going to happen, but at least our passports were with the border control without having to worry about where to be and what papers to fill in.
Everyone (except for the girls who refused to pay that $5) was back on the bus at around 12h30, so we wasted an hour and a half at the border control on the Vietnamese side. A few hundred meter further we reached the Cambodian border control. We were ushered out of the bus, handed our passports over to some guy with a blue shirt and tie, walked through the building and got back on the bus. It took all in all about 10 minutes for everyone on our bus to run through the process. We didn’t have our passports yet and the bus attendant wasn’t with us anymore, but the bus departed. A bit strange, but no one else had their passport, so we weren’t worrying too much. Luckily we stopped at a lunch place after a few minutes, where we could get some food while our passports were being checked.
Those that didn’t pay the $5 had to manage the Cambodian side (which we literally just walked through) theirselves and the bus was long gone when they finally had everything sorted. They were able to hitchhike to the lunch place and join the group again, but it’s definitely not worth the trouble in our opinion. When our bus attendant returned (maybe half an hour later?) we took off again and arrived in Phnom Penh at 16h30, with a delay of an hour and a half. A tuk tuk driver from our guesthouse was waiting to take us to Eighty8 Guesthouse.
In the middle of all this chaos, one guy on our bus (traveling alone) slipped in a pool of water and fell his chin open. He had quite a thick beard so he couldn’t really see the damage, but he was bleeding, that much was sure. He was trembling and clearly shaken by this unfortunate timing of bad luck. At the lunch stop he got a good look at the wound and decided to take a taxi directly to the hospital in Phnom Penh, expecting to need stitches. That night in Phnom Penh, when looking for a place to eat, we crossed him on the street. What a coincidence! Turns out he paid $50 for the taxi and got three stitches. He was still a bit shaken from the events and in search for food as well, so we had dinner together in a small Italian restaurant. We felt bad for him and figured he needed some good luck as well on a day like this, so were glad to pay his dinner, against his will. Too bad we forgot to ask his full name and contact information to keep in touch.
Although the drive was comfortable with an abundance of leg space, it was a bit scary to not know what is going to happen or what is expected of you. The bus attendant barely spoke English, so it was no use asking him either. We definitely prefer crossing borders by plane, but I guess we can call it an adventure.