Thursday, August 2, 2018

Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 D3: From Phnom Penh To Ho Chin Minh

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Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 3: From Phnom Penh To Ho Chin Minh - Goodbye Cambodia, Hello Vietnam
Cambodia & Vietnam Tour
Day 3: 12th July 2018 - Phnom Penh To Ho Chin Minh
This is part of cycling tour from Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ) in Cambodia to Ho Chin Minh & the Mekong Delta (VietnameseĐồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, "Nine Dragon River Delta") in Vietnam:
Travel Distance: 241 km.     |     Level: N.A.
Time : 8:30am to 3:30pm
Time Taken : 7 hrs. (including lunch, immigration and customs clearance).

This is page 3 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D2 Areyksat            |         Go to Other Days          |         Go to D4 My Tho >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
    For both countries traffic is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from! Also do watch our for motor-cyclists who ride contra-traffic

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    At Ho Chin Minh and the major towns traffic is super-heavy with many motor-cycles. For the uninitiated, crossing junctions can be a nightmare with vehicles coming in from all sides. Rule of thumb is: JUST GO WITH THE FLOW! Move along with the traffic at an easy pace, giving way to other traffic when need be, AND avoid making any sudden swerving. At the rural areas traffic is very much lighter.

3. Navigation
    Unless he or she is very familiar with the locals routes, the tour leader should carry a GPS units. It will also be good if another member of the team carry another GPS unit should the leader's one go faulty. Sin together with Robert brought these along and had pre-loaded the Vietnam Maps together with GPS coordinates of our destinations, and tracks between our destinations.
    Alternatively, download the MAPS.ME app together with the relevant country maps. This app can be used offline.  
    We also used Google Maps in Walking Mode for navigation but there is a lag when starting off, so one would have to cycle a bit to get the orientation right. We used this for cycling in and around Phnom Penh and also as a alternative to our GPS units in Vietnam, as Google Maps have more up-to-date roads. Do note that what are shown as roads on the map may turn out to be rough gravel roads or wet, muddy tracks.

4. Weather
At Ho Chin Minh, morning to noon temperatures ranged from 26°C to 30°C with slighlty overcast skies. A useful weather forecast sites is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

5. Places of Interest
- Prestige Duty Free Mall (GPS: 11.0735, 106.17401) at the Bavet/Moc Bai border crossing.
- Backpackers Street (Phạm Ngũ Lão(GPS: 10.76876, 106.69351) in Hồ Chí Minh.

6. Food
1. Breakfast: inclusive at hotel.
2. Lunch: Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup (Pho Bo, Vietnamese: Phở bò)at the restaurant in the Prestige Duty Free Mall (GPS: 11.0735, 106.17401) at Bavet (ក្រុងបាវិត).
    Dinner: Assorted Vietnamese Food at the Asiana Food Town (GPS: 10.76945, 106.6937) in 
Ho Chin Minh.

7. Accommodations
At Ho Chin Minh, we stayed at Saigon 237 Hotel (GPS: 10.76831, 106.69255), two 3-pax room at USD19 dongs per room per night:
Address: 237 Phạm Ngũ Lão, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Tp HCM, Hồ Chí Minh 700000.
Phone: +84 28 3837 2361

8. Bringing Bikes Onto Buses
    For the Giant Ibis Bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chin Minh, we were charged USD5/= for each of our bikes on top of the USD18 passenger fare; no receipts were given. This was suppose to be for "handling charges" at the border customs. Although there was no necessity, we did bag our bikes. We bought our tickets at their Phnom Penh Station (GPS: 11.57715, 104.91951) and had to sit separately away from each other as the bus was full; to avoid this, it would be better to purchase tickets on line from their website. An alternative express bus service is the Mekong Express.

9. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost from the rest.
In Cambodia:
    SMART 4G Pre-paid Traveller's sim cards can be bought for USD5/= at Phnom Penh International Airport. This has a validity of seven days comes with 
2GB data, and unlimited data for Facebook, LINE, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp; and international calls from 3 cents/min. Get the vendor to set up the sim card for your phone to ensure proper connections.
In Vietnam:
    We were offered 4G prepaid sim cards for USD5/= each at the Cambodia-Vietnam immigration crossing at Bavet/Moc Bai; but we declined as we were uncertain of the reliability of the walk-by vendor. At Ho Chin Minh, they are many shops selling 3G & 4G sim cards; but to ensure reliability we got our hotel operator to buy 3G Vietnamobile sim cards for us, there was no need to set up the phone to operate this sim card, it was automatic. The sim card cost 60k dongs (about USD2-60, MYR 10-70) for a validity of two weeks with 2 Gigs of data per day.

10. Communicating with Locals
    The official language in Cambodia is Khmer (ភាសាខ្មែរ, phiəsaa khmae); whilst in Vietnam it is Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt). The Khmer and Vietnamese languages are not pronounced the way they are written, click on the words within these blogs for their correct vocal pronunciations.
    Most locals do not speak English. Hotels receptionist do speak some rudimentary English. The staff at Tourists information counters do speak pretty good English. Google Translate is a good app to use for basic conversation with the locals, it also have an audio feature to play the respective words/phrases. Click on some of the Vietnamese words for their pronunciations.
11. Curency
      The official currency used in Cambodia is the Riels (KHR), but most locals do use the US Dollar for daily transactions. At tourist spots like the Central Market (Khmerផ្សារធំថ្មី, "Psar Thom Thmey", "New Grand Market") and the Russian Market (Psar Toul Tompoung) do bargain down prices by at least fifty percent.
      In Vietnam, the currency used is the Dong (VND, Vietnamese: ˀɗɜwŋ͡m˨˩). At tourist spots in the larger cities, there is a notoriety of tourists being fleeced, so do be careful. We were fortunate that our tour took us to the smaller towns where the locals were warm, helpful and honest. We were fleeced only once while in Ho Chin Minh (read about that later).
12. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools. As many of the roads we muddy or dusty tracks, lubricant oil will come in handy; we also brought along a couple of spare tires.

The previous day, via bridges and ferries, we had a gone island hopping at the Mekong to Areyksat (អរិយក្សត្រ) and had found the rural soul of Cambodia. Today we, with a tinge of sadness we say goodbye to Cambodia and head for Vietnam. But we will be seeing the Mekong soon again.


Travel Route: Angkur International Hotel (Phnom Penh)>Giant Ibis Bus Station>Neak Loeung Bridge>Cambodia Bavet Border Post>Vietnam Mộc Bài Border Post>Saigon 237 Hotel (Hồ Chí Minh).
Travel route map showing destinations enroute the bus journey from Phnom Penh to Ho Chin Minh.
Travel Distance: 241 km.          |          Level: N.A.

(That's "aroun​ suostei", "Good morning" in Khmer)
Here we are after a hotel breakfast, all eager to start the day. Eager for the next stage of our cycling tour - to head for Ho Chin Minh. It won't be a cycling day as we will be taking a 8:00am Giant Ibis Bus over. Sin had initially thought of cycling over, but we had a time constrain, so it's by bus then.

But we had to be a patient a little bit more, Giant Ibis have vans to pick up passengers to sent them over to their bus terminal. We were told to be ready at 7:00am but after more than half an hour's wait, the van was not in sight. Worried we got the hotel reception to call them, and got news that the van does several pick-ups and we were one of the last ones.
We arrived at the terminal ten minutes before departure time and by then most other passengers were already on board AND the bus's hold was almost full, seeming incapable of holding our bagged bikes! A bit of panic here.... will we have to take another bus? But not to worry, with deft manipulation by the bus driver and attendants, we some how managed to get our bikes in..... Phew!
But then they noticed that our luggage consisted of bicycles and charged us USD5/- per bike to "facilitate custom clearance" later on. No receipts were issued.

8:15am - After ensuring that all have boarded, we start our journey and it's GOODBYE PHNOM PENH!
On commencement of the journey, the lead attendant collected all our passports to ensure that all are in order. We were then issued with Vietnamese disembarkation forms and had them stamped with the company's name and bus registration number. All this were done to ensure that immigration clearance at the Cambodia-Vietnamese border goes smoothly.
We were also each given a bun from Blue Pumpkin and a small bottle of mineral water. The bus have four seats of per row, the seats were not as wide as those with three seats per row, but it was comfortable enough. Overhead luggage compartment are just good for small back packs, so we put our Brompton C and P bags below our seats. For every two seats, a power socket is provided with two points, and one of them is an international point!
The trip will take about seven hours, including border clearance. And just as we left Phnom Penh, crossing Preah Monivong New Bridge (ស្ពានព្រះមុនីវង្សថ្មី), I fell asleep and slept almost all the way and missed seeing the Neak Loeung Bridge (ស្ពានអ្នកលឿង). It's a new bridge and the longest in Cambodia that makes travelling along Cambodia's National Highway 1 much smoother. Click here for photos of the bridge.

We stopped four times along the way, the first was a pee stop at a large R&R at the Prey Veng Province. The second was at the Cambodia Bavet Border Post where immigration went smoothly. We did not even have to disembark, our passports were collected for stamping and an office came aboard for checking.
Just before the Cambodian border post were many casinos, with licences to operate and attract foreign gamblers. The third was at the Prestige Duty Free Mall that sits on "no-man's land at the border in between the two border post.

Our lunch was at the duty-free mall where we had pho bo, chicken rice and got addicted to Vietnamese Iced Coffee (cà phê sữa đá). It's an addiction that would grip us through our tour, at times we would drink it up to three times a day!
Our fourth stop was at the Vietnam's Moc Bai Border Post (locally know as Cửa khẩu Quốc tế Mộc Bài). It's a longer stop as we had to disembark and carry personally our heavy luggage through immigration and customs checks. Somewhere here, we were also offered Vietnamese 4G pre-paid sim cards at USD5/- each by a pedlar. Worried about scams and the reliability of his cards (after all we would not be seeing him again), we did not take up his offer.

I woke up at the outskirts of Ho Chin Minh, to a serene view of a tree-lined canal. This illusion of tranquility lasted just for a short while; as we got nearer the city's centre the racket of business came in - honking cars and beeping motorcycles seems to be all over the place.

3:30pm - The bus stopped not at a station but just at the roadside on busy Backpackers Street (Phạm Ngũ Lão) and the driver hailed us to quickly unload our luggage. To a corner outside Liberty Hotel, we unpacked our bikes.

Entrance to our hotel via this short stairs.
We had not pre-booked any hotels here; hotels are aplenty here - along the main roads and also at the many, narrow side-lanes. We settled for Saigon 237 Hotel along the main road itself, not far from where we stopped. Foon, the lady host-cum-receptionist was friendly and helpful, and more importantly there was a lift (an important criteria in our hotel hunting so that we could bring our bikes into our room for safety).
We also got 3G Vietnamobile sim-cards from her at 60k dongs (about USD2-60, MYR 10-70) each. They were valid of two weeks with 2 Gigs of data per day.

6:00pm - After settling in and a good rest, we were out again - it's food hunting time!
Ended up at Asiana Food Town, a basement complex just opposite the hotel. Me, the straight forward guy, went for Pho again with another side order of sliced pig trotters and pig ears.

The girls were more adventurous, going for Rice With Prawns (Cơm tôm), so tempting looking that they had me salivating. The Vietnamese like to eat broken rice (Cơm tấm), as it is much cheaper and often we were served the same. Except for being broken, it's as good as normal rice.
And of course we had our cà phê sữa đá. 😝😋.

We tried our had at doing some Bì cuốn (pork spring rolls), the girls doing it better than us guys.

The area around Backpackers' Street is always busy, and at night it's even better as the neon light kicks in brightening up the place with a glitzy atmosphere.

Vietnamese and foreign tourists alike throng to this place, well known for it's cheap accommodations, many foodie place and drinking holes. Often many will eat just at the road side.

An archway with an altar, the entrance to one of the many side lanes at Backpackers' Street.
We venture away from the main roads and into the side lanes and back alleys. It's here that, away from the glitziness that one will see more of the local life.....

Some were very narrow, filled with grafitti and parked motorcycles.....

..... and dotted with local grocery shops .....

..... and also massage parlours.... Ooops! That's Fenn hahaha...

(That's "Good Night" in Vietnamese)
Tomorrow we start our ride into the Mekong Delta ...

(For more photos of the dayClick Here)
This is page 3 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D2 Areyksat            |         Go to Other Days          |         Go to D4 My Tho >

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You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker / Cambodia-Vietnam / Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 / D3: From Phnom Penh To Ho Chin Minh    |     Go To: D1/D2/D4/D5/D6/D7/D8/D9/D10/D11
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