Cycng Cambodia. The ride, the road, the facts.
to Mr Pumpy's
Penh to Neak Leung: 61 km
Note: There are two crossings into Vietnam. For a brief rundown on the crossing into the Mekong Delta at Tinh Bien, see at left.
Food and accommodation: Plentiful. No worries!
The Ride in detail:
Phnom Penh to Neak Leung 61 km
An easy run down a sealed road, but there's a few bad sections and quite a few potholes. Stay alert.
If your keen you can make it all the way through to Svay Rieng for dinner, but you'll need to leave Phnom Penh early. Otherwise take it easy and spend the night in Neak Leung.
Exit Phnom Penh over the Vietnam Bridge, a couple of kilometres south of downtown. Once you're over the Tonle Sap River, you just keep right on all the way to Vietnam.
From the Vietnam Bridge you'll get a good view of Phnom Penh as it sweeps out in both directions along river.
The traffic thins out a few kilometres past the bridge, and there's a few good looking cafes/road houses 10 or 15 kilometres down the road, so if you're in need of a late breakfast, stop in.
Neak Leung sits on the east side of the Mekong so you'll need to catch the ferry across the river. It costs 500 Riel (including the bike) and runs back and forth every half hour. Not a problem.
At Neak Leung there's a good Chinese hotel near the big statue, about 100 metres on your left (north) past the ferry. It's clean and well run and the rooms cost $10 a/c, and $6 for a fan. There's a couple of other hotels in town, but the Chinese place looks about the best.
There's also some good cafes just to the left as you exit the ferry ramp.
Neak Leung to Svay Rieng: 65 km
The road is dead flat, paved some of the way, but mostly dirt. The road works (Jan 02) begin about 10 km out of Neak Leung, so expect to be eating dust for most of the day. A total mixed bag of conditions all the way to Svay Rieng, with some bad silt sections to get through.
There's three good Guest Houses in the centre of town. Riding into town straight past the market (on your right), the road branches to the left. About 200 metres further on you will see the Samaki, Sopheakmaongul and the Santepheap Guest Houses all on the one corner. They all look pretty much the same and are good value.
There's a good restaurant on a corner about 50 metres up the road from the Guest Houses, on your right. The breakfast is good.
There's also some tokolok stalls (fruit shakes) up beside the river. Continue along the main road about 200 metres past the Guest Houses and turn right at the first roundabout. It's pleasant at night.
the Vietnam Border,
There's road works in progress along this stretch (Jan 02), and the road climbs slightly over the first 20 or so kilometres out of Svay Rieng. The last 30 km into Bavat is mostly sealed but in a poor state and the towns along this stretch are very run down. The people, however, remain at their sweet best.
3 km past Bavat, on the south side of the road, is the International Market, selling food and goods. It's a good place to stop and have lunch before you head on into Vietnam. There's a small selection of things to buy.
Apparently there is a Guest House next to the International Market, but Mr Pumpy couldn't find it, although he didn't look too hard. He was more intent on having lunch and a siesta and getting his mind together before the 71 kilometre dash in to Saigon.
If you've left Svay Rieng late and get to the border after lunch, by the time you clear immigration, you are looking at arriving in Saigon around 5 or 6 in the evening. Peak traffic in Saigon is a mind blower, so you might think about staying at the border for the night if you can find the Guest House.
The Vietnam Border is a kilometre up the road from the International Market (4 km past Bavat).
If you overshoot your visa there's a $5 charge per excess day.
Mr Pumpy had indeed overshot his visa, and the immigration guy was at pains to explain that he wasn't ripping him off, just following procedure. "No worries, Mr Cambodian Immigration Man, I believe you!" said Mr Pumpy.
Entering Vietnam: Moc Bai
In contrast to the Cambodians, the stoney faced officials at Vietnamese Immigration couldn't care less about Western cyclists, so don't bother making any little jokes as you cough over your passport.
However, crossing into Vietnam is a easy as long as you have a visa. (You will need to get it in Phnom Penh.)
Just to add a little colour, there's a very sexy female official in a tight uniform who may check your panniers for contraband, but the search is usually pain free. "I always get turned on when women in uniform go through my panniers, Feely!" said Mr Pumpy, "It's kind of like being groped..." That's enough, Pumpy, thankyou.
You can change dollars and Riel into Vietnamese Dong with the change girls who mill about outside the Immigration building. Have no fear, they'll find you! Just make sure you know the current exchange rate.
Moc Bai is the Vietnamese town on the other side of the border. It's small and nondescript but has a good cafe just past the Immigration building. You might run into a bunch of backpackers at the cafe coming up from Saigon in charter buses.
Moc Bai to Saigon: 71 km
What a difference a border makes! Crossing into Vietnam at Moc Bai will plunge you into a world running on a higher gear and by the time you reach Saigon, things look stark raving mad.
It's a fast run. There's no hills to speak of, just a gradual upward sweep over the first 30 or so kilometres, and a downward sweep into Saigon. Except for some road works close to the border (Feb 02), the road is sealed and in good condition the whole way.
(The road works were in progress when Mr Pumpy first went through in Jan 01, and were still in progress 12 months later. This stretch of road is a low priority for the Viets, it seems.)
About 10 km past the border there is a toll bridge over the Vam Co Dong River, just before the large town of Go Dau Ha, but bikes go for free. Just ride straight through and give the guy in the booth a wave!
The first 40 km of road is a single lane highway, but it widens out quite nicely after that. Unfortunately the traffic also picks up and is very, very dense by the time you get into Saigon, especially around 5 or 6 PM.
There's plenty of cafes and takeaway food stops all along the route. Vietnamese food is a large cut above the Cambodian, and for a while it's pretty exciting. Real food! Roll on Saigon!
Saigon: The shock of the new! Saigon takes a couple of days to get used to after Cambodia, but when you first arrive, pumping along in a peak hour sea of motorbikes, noise and gasoline fumes you may be having existential doubts.
"Oh, why, oh why, did we leave Cambodia, Felix?" shouted Mr Pumpy, as we headed down Hoang Van Thu Boulevard into the heart of the city.
Was he weeping, or was that gasoline fumes in his eyes?
Despite the touts and the rip-offs, Vietnam has it's own unique way of doing things, and is quite a trip.