Cycling in Vietnam & Cambodia: Ha Tien to Kampot, crossing the Cambodian border
The lights glistened on the estuary outside my hotel balcony in Ha Tien as I woke before dawn.
My plan for the day was to ride north from Ha Tien, leave Vietnam behind, and cross the border at Prek Chak over into Cambodia for the remainder of my trip.
I began the day with a ride along the water’s edge where people were preparing for a busy day on the market stalls, sorting fish and bargaining hard.
I began the day with an egg roll and Vietnamese tea from a stall, then got on my way north to the Cambodian border.
It was a simple and enjoyable final few miles to the border. I’d now been cycling through Vietnam for six days and had loved every minute. I’d met so many amazing people, received so many smiles, and the scenery had been outstanding. I was genuinely sad to leave, but ready to start in a new country.
At the border I took some sneaky snaps and video of arriving at the gates.
I was ushered into an air-conditioned building where I filled out one form, handed over $30 and a passport photo, then was asked for another $5. I’ve lost count of the number of land border crossing I’ve made in my life, but for some reason, I didn’t question this extra $5, even though I knew the visa should cost $30. I handed it over to the uniformed man behind the counter, then filled out another form at another desk.
I was then asked to enter a side room, where I filled in another room about my “health”, a picture (at least I thought it was a picture) was taken of me, then I was relieved of another $1 for the experience.
I’m almost certain that the border crossing cost me $6 more than it should have, and if I had stood my ground a little, I’m sure I needn’t have paid these supplements. I had read however that bringing a bike over borders in South-East Asia can incur “import” fees (it doesn’t really matter what these fees are called, corruption and bent border officials are commonplace in this part of the world), so I put this down to experience and got through with my new visa in very little time at all.
I was in Cambodia! There was definitely a different feel to the countryside and buildings. For one, there were bumps along the horizon, the dirt seemed to change colour to a deep ochre red, and the buildings I past were far more like farm buildings on stilts than the ones I’d seen in Vietnam.
The road was good however, with very little traffic. I cycled for another hour or so before deciding to take a short diversion to my first real town in Cambodia, Kep. As the sign suggested, these were the most beautiful bays in the world…
As I wheeled along the coastal road, it was clear that this town was firmly on the tourist trail, with nik-nak shops, a few bakeries, plenty of restaurants, many guest houses and even a huge crab in the sea.
It was a delightful little place, with a sandy beach and crystal clear water. I stopped in at a French bakery for an outstanding coffee, some pastries and a baguette that could have been bought in Paris.
I took a dip in the sea before getting back on the road towards the crab market just north of the town. This was bustling, with fresh crab, squid and other strange-looking sea delights on offer.
I stopped a little further on to watch a group of men playing petanque beside the road. They were using what looked like old cannon balls and their jack was a coconut. I would have asked if I could join in (love a good game of boule!), but they were extremely good, and I would have made a fool of myself.
A short while later I arrived at the sleepy town of Kampot and had lunch overlooking the river. This was obviously another tourist hub, with plenty of bars, restaurants and tour companies all along the waterfront.
I checked into my accommodation for the evening, the Kampot Cabana. I was greeted by Simon and Max, two friends from France who ran the hostel. It was an incredible location, with seven wooden huts set back from the river, with a bar and restaurant hanging over the edge of the water.
I asked Simon, who owned the lodge, whether I could wash my bike and he suggested I do this down by the water’s edge.
Later that evening, I popped back into town for a few beers and something to eat. I was approached by Luc, a French guy who was touring with his wife who was away in Sihanoukville on a yoga retreat. He looked exhausted and I think he’d been unwell. They had made their way from China, through Vietnam and now to Kampot, and had a good few stories to tell about their journey so far, including a nasty crash where his wife had collided with him on a fast descent. They were travelling for over three years and were headed for the French Polynesian islands near New Zealand to work for a couple of years once their bike ride had ended.
We went for some food on the river, then I headed back to my lodge for my first night in Cambodia.