I left Phnom Penh on the morning of July 2. I thought I was going to be going down the river to Vietnam, leaving from the capital city. The tour company picked me up and a few minutes later picked up another couple. Like me, they too were surprised at how far we rode in the bus before getting to a boat. The van followed the Mekong to the border at Koom Sum Nor, an “outpost” border crossing if there ever was one. The last bit of the trip was on dirt roads. Yet, even here, on the Cambodian side, was a small casino! My travel partners for this trip were Emma and Josh. Emma is from Indiana and has just finished a Fulbright year in Vietnam. Josh is an Australian who’d spent a year doing his country’s equivalent of a Fulbright, working with sustainable agiculture practices in Vietnam. The two of them were completing a several week trip throughout SE Asia and were on their last week before heading to their respective homes. Josh and Emma made the perfect travel partners. From Josh, I learned about farming practices in Vietnam and with Emma, we discussed the Mormon Church and its beliefs, with Josh asking the questions. Emma’s Master’s Degree thesis dealt with Mormon women in secular universities (although not Mormon, as an undergraduate she had a Mormon dorm roommate who struggled with her faith).
As the tour guide took our passports to be processed, the group of us stood around a dining room in no man’s land, having lunch and trying to figure out what’s next. As there were no currency exchange places along the border, I swapped my Cambodian money for Vietnamese dong with some of the tourists. In Cambodia, they take American dollars (and knowing this, I’d brought along a bundle of dollar bills). The only Cambodian money I had was that for which I’d exchanged Thai Bahts, or money that was given to me as change for dollars. One doesn’t need much Cambodian money, if one has dollars and I would have taken a beating on if I had to exchange it from a regular currency dealer.
|Approaaching Chau Doc|
|View from hotel room in Chau Doc|
Our boat started on the main channel of the Mekong, but soon turned into a smaller stream that looked as if it might have been used as a scene in Apocalypse Now. Bamboo bridges crossed the water and people used boats to ferry themselves around as well as to haul everything: hardware, produce, grain and even sand. Some people lived on boats, others were for fishing. Water buffaloes rested in the water, only their noses sticking out in order to breathe. Kids played in the water. Fishermen mended nets and filets were out to dry in the sun. Three older boys were struggling to get a pump out of the water. Today, the banks are high, but at the end of the rainy season, the water will flow over the banks and most travel will have to be done by boats.
Our trip ended up in the town of Chau Doc. We checked in at the Vinh Phcoc Guesthouse, located only a short walk from the river and from the town’s market. I spent the afternoon walking around the market and had asked the hotel about a xe-om (a motor scooter taxi) to take me to Sam Mountain for the sunset. Getting back to the hotel, I was surprised to learn that my xe-om driver was Dung, a woman who worked at the hotel. We headed off to the mountain that rises some 250 meters above the delta and spent a hour or so on top, enjoying the hammocks as we watched the sun sink lower behind the Cambodian horizon. We spent the time talking about our families and work and life in Vietnam and America. Afterwards, we stopped at a pagoda on the flanks of Sam Mountain and a temple that was near its base.
|Ferry on the Mekong|