Friday, 4 December 2015

From Cambodia to Vietnam: Cat Mekong Express

Travelling from Cambodia to Vietnam via Phnom Penh to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) was quite easy and not very tiring for me. I had some concerns regarding border crossing from some place that is not my home country but it turned out to be quite simple. Although, I must admit that I was extra vigilant and observant during the whole journey.

I chose Cat Mekong Express and was happy with their service.

whitelambchops on the bus
Instagram @whitelambchops got cozy for the long journey

You can get your tickets online here.
As I wanted to ask them some questions, I decided to go to the office and get my tickets from the counter. 

Ticket price- US$15 per adult (US$14 online purchase)

Cat Mekong Express Orussey branch was a small contena-like office. Staff spoke fair English and addressed all my questions. I even got her to arrange a free pick-up from my hotel. I chose the 7 am bus, paid for the tickets in cash and was given a receipt with seat numbers.

Next day, after early check-out at 6 am a van arrived at around 6.25 am. There were a few other passengers already in the van and we were taken to the Orussey Market branch where a couple of busses were waiting.

Cat Mekong Express

I gave my passport to the staff for checking while my luggage was taken for storage under the bus. I am not sure what's the procedure like if you need Visa to enter Vietnam. Pretty sure that this bus company is able to assist if required though.

After getting back your passport, you should be given tickets and bag tag (if you have luggage stored under the bus). Keep the tag with you because staff will check the tags before handing out luggage(s) at the Vietnam immigration and upon arrival in Saigon. After a short wait, we were asked to get on the bus. A staff verified the tickets with our seat numbers.

Cat Mekong Express

The journey started just a little after 7 am. A briefing was given by a staff on the bus and then mineral water bottles and boxes of pastries were handed to passengers. I did not eat the food so I do not know what puff was that.

Cat Mekong Express
Halal status: unsure

Cat Mekong Express

The bus stopped at a restaurant just before entering Cambodia immigration. Passengers can get down here for a smoke, light lunch, toilet break and even some shopping. After about 15 minutes, everyone got back on the bus.

First stop, Cambodia immigration. Passports were returned to passengers (staff called out names one by one) who should get the passport stamped at one of the windows. Then, I walked back to the waiting bus, handed the stamped passport to Cat Mekong Express staff and bus took us to Vietnam immigration building.

At Vietnam immigration, we were instructed to take ALL of our luggage(s) with us and head into the building in picture above. Here was when things got a bit inconvenient and inefficient (in my opinion). A little weird too.

All of our (bus passengers) passports were taken to a counter for stamping. Instead of queuing, we stood around with out luggages and waited for our names to be called. So you can imagine how long we had to wait for a whole bus-worth of passengers to be processed by ONE counter. 

I am not sure why but my passport (and another Malaysian passport) was taken to another counter for processing. 
Luckily, I spotted the immigration officer taking my passport and kept my eyes glued on him. I saw he put aside my passport after stamping (anyone could've grab it) and some other guy (didn't look like immigration staff) took the passport from his window and passed it to Cat Mekong staff. 

If he was trying to speed up the process, why only take Malaysian passports? (only 2 Malaysian passports. The rest were mostly Cambodians, some Indonesians, some angmohs and one UAE guy). But thank God things turned out fine.

After getting my passport back, I walked past the counters to get my bags scanned. Just before exiting the building, another immigration officer checked my passport. Then, I deposited my luggage back under the bus and once everyone are back on the bus we continued our journey to Saigon.

Just before arriving, the Cat Mekong staff gave another briefing and after braving the crazy Saigon traffic, our bus stopped at Pham Ngu Lao. I don't remember the exact time we arrived but it was definitely past 2 pm. Journey including rest stop and border-crossing procedure normally take between 7 to 8 hours.

Before travelling, check your hotel location from Pham Ngu Lao and decide if you'll need transport to get to your hotel. Have the map in your phone or print for easy reference. 

I was staying in Ono Saigon and it was only 500m walk from Pham Ngu Lao so I collected my luggage, thanked the staff, made excuses to the many "taxi" drivers offering their service, put on mask and shades, and dragged my trolley bag to the hotel. 

Finding the hotel was quite tricky but I got help from the friendly locals. I've always thought that Vietnamese are rough and gruff bunch and I was SO WRONG! But that's story for another day.

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