Crossing the border from Cambodia to Vietnam

We picked up our visas from the Lucky Lucky Motorcycle Company (I love that name) with no worries at all. Which was important because we had already booked our bus to Vietnam for the next morning. We had chosen to go with the Giant Ibis bus company (“affordable luxury”) because I had read good things and hoped that might translate to a better driver and smoother border crossing experience.

This totally turned out to be the case. The ‘luxury’ part was getting water and a pastry. They also checked our passports for visas when we boarded. The bus trip passed quickly thanks to multiple podcasts.

Leaving Cambodia was super quick. The bus stopped, we got out and waited in a short queue, then got back on. We were asked to give our passports to the bus conductor which is always sort of worrying but I had read that this is how it works.

Next up we drove through no-man’s land (probably still part of Cambodia) and got dropped at a restaurant/duty free shop. I was pretty dubious about the restaurant but it was actually not bad food and the prices were fine. Still in US dollars, no dong required as yet.

Duty free shop

Duty free shop at the border

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Khmer kick boxing in Phnom Penh

From Mondulkiri we caught a minivan to Phnom Penh. It was booked through the Nature Lodge and was with Virak Buntham – the van was super fancy, it even had (patchy) wifi.

We ended up staying in Phnom Penh for three days. This was mainly because we had to get a visa for Vietnam. We had arrived on a Saturday afternoon and the embassy is closed on the weekend. However we dropped our passports at the Lucky Lucky Motorcycle Shop (it was highly recommended despite the dubious name) who offered a one day service, promising to have our visas ready by 5:30pm on Monday. This cost us US$45 each. We also had to pay an extra US$1 each so she could scan photos from our passports – we had forgotten to bring our passport photos with us. Idiots.

In Phnom Penh we wandered around the city, ate delicious food, went to the night markets. Andy visited the killing fields and Tuol Sleng prison but I had already been and didn’t want to repeat the experience.

Dinner at the night market

Andy eating dinner at the night market

However the best thing we did while in Phnom Penh was go to an evening of Cambodian kick boxing.

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Making friends with elephants

After a pretty good sleep at the sanctuary headquarters, it was time to go meet the elephants!

We got picked up in a minivan which had about five other tourists – two German, two French and one Danish I believe. These guys were only doing a one day tour. Our guide for the day was Yanna who is Khmer.

After a very brief ride in the van, we started walking along a path. We passed through another Bunong farm to see more cassava, then the spirit forest which is protected by spirits according to Bunong legend. After about an hour we came out on an open grassy hill. Yanna started calling out to the elephant mahouts and we followed him over the hill. Down below us were the elephants! Just hanging out.

Elephants

Elephants!!

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Trekking in Mondulkiri

After a much too short overnight bus (only about six hours), a stopover in Phnom Penh from 4am to 7am, and a slightly dodgy minivan ride we arrived in Sen Monoram in Mondulkiri Province. We actually ended up on the same minivan as two of the German girls but we had met in Siem Reap, however we had booked into different hostels so after lunch we split up again.

We spent a day recovering from the lack of sleep on the bus and climbing up to a lookout point in Sen Monoram.

Sen Monoram

View from the lookout over Sen Monoram

Our accommodation was at the Nature Lodge where all the rooms are bungalows spread out with grass and free-range cows and horses in between. We had a number of animal visitors, including a frog that appeared on our floor out of nowhere with a huge splat. But I digress. The real reason we were in Mondulkiri was to visit elephants.

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New Year’s Eve in Siem Reap

In Siem Reap we were staying at The Living Quarters Hostel 543 which is owned by a British expat named Chris. Chris seems to have a great life, he spends a lot of time hanging out at the hostel bar chatting with tourists and other expats.

The common area at the hostel is part-bar, part-restaurant, part-swimming pool (no pool fencing laws in Cambodia!) On our first night we had made friends and formed a loose group with a Canadian, Italian, Israeli and three German girls.

After visiting the Angkor Temples on New Year’s Eve we headed back to the hostel to meet up with the others and have a few Cambodia beers. At about 10pm we saw fireworks in the distance, I’m not sure why they were so early but these were the only fireworks we saw all night. At about 11pm we realised we had better head into town so we aimed for Pub Street which is exactly as the name describes. It was packed with people. Most of them actually seemed to be Cambodian which I hadn’t expected. The entire street was full of happy groups of people who would wish you “happy New Year” as you walked past. The atmosphere was awesome. We made our way down the street and managed to buy more drinks from people with chilly bins on the side of the road.

fireworks

I didn’t take my camera out, so you’ll just have to imagine fireworks like these

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Angkor Wat up?

Our first day in Cambodia was the last day of 2016. It started with a croque monsieur from the French Bakery down the road from our hostel. This is actually how all three of my days in Siem Reap started, they were delicious.

French Bakery in Siem Reap

My favourite place to eat in Siem Reap

After hiring some decent-ish looking mountain bikes for $4 each we set out at the crack of 10am for the Angkor Temples. Unfortunately they have a new ticket office which requires a 6km detour from the main road. However there were no queues to buy tickets unlike last time I was here.

It was at this point in the day that Andy realised he had lost his wallet, hopefully left in our room at the hostel.

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Crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia

Initially we had planned to cross into Cambodia using a Thai train to the border and then a bus, which is what I had done in reverse in the past. After a bit of research online, we discovered that there is now a Thai Government bus direct from Bangkok to Siem Reap which seemed perfect.

This was actually one of easiest border crossings and travel days. I have prepared a blow-by-blow account so that you can follow along.

6:45am Wake up in Bangkok

7:15am Catch a (metered) taxi to Mo Chit Bus Station – only 150 baht and 10 minutes on the toll highway

7:30am Arrive Mo Chit, exchange our printed out tickets (we booked online) for new pieces of paper

7:45am Eat noodle soup after some kind Thai girls helped us order from the roadside stall with no menu

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