Midday of April 17th, after a heartbreaking trip to the Killing Fields and S-21, it’s about time to leave the humble city of Phnom Penh. At 11:30 we made our way to look for a place to eat. We decided to eat just near Hometown Hotel because time is of the essence. With 30 minutes cooking time, Cambodians I think didn’t get that memo.
We were joined by the others -Tikoy, Edge, Golden, Dan, Ms. Lyn, Vhik, and Froi. I ordered my comfort food–spaghetti and garlic bread. When the waiter started serving the food, he handed “my garlic bread” to Froilan. I didn’t even know it was mine (False Alarm #1) because the waiter didn’t say so and it was a small-sized french bread. I thought it would be just like the usual garlic breads here in the Philippines. We all thought it was free so they munched it, it was far from me to get some so I just passed. And Froi was having fun eating it so I didn’t bother taking some. Vhik and Froi were really enjoying the “i-didn’t-know-garlic-bread-of-mine”. Until Shiela asked “Umorder ka diba ng garlic bread?”. Froi laughed, I think he realized that he was eating my garlic bread. Hahaha. I myself was clueless that it was mine so I just said it was fine. At least I got to taste some. And whew I thank Vhik and Froi for eating half of it, the moment I tasted it, I asked “ano to tinapay na garlic flavor o bawang na tinapay flavor?”. Chunks of garlic were literally inside the bread. Haha. Anyway, my pasta was exceptional, as always.
It was 12:15 and the bus was already at the front of the hotel. We thought it was the bus going to Ho Chi Minh, but it was just a service that will bring us to the Mekong Express terminus. (False Alarm #2)
We arrived at the Mekong Express terminus minutes later, It was air-conditioned, comfortable, and clean. They collected our passports and gave us our boarding passes. We were waiting for almost an hour. I was talking to Kat, when everyone started standing up. We followed them, puzzled, and then boom, false alarm. Hahaha. May iihi lang pala. (False Alarm #3) We laughed hard and after a while, we were back to normal. Parang walang nangyari. Then it was time to leave for Ho Chi Minh.
It was a particularly comfortable bus if you will be sitting for long hours. The bus company provided free water, free snacks, and WiFi. We left the terminus at 2:30 in the afternoon. I was seating beside Golden. During the first hours, everyone was busy because there was WiFi but when the signal became weak, we didn’t have any choice but to just sleep. In the middle of the trip, while the bus was silent, Golden was awaken by the water dripping from the bus’ air-conditioner. At first it was just few but as the road gets bumpy, oh boy the amount of water was no joke. Ang lakas ng tulo. There was even a time when the amount of water was almost one pitcher.
When stopped for a while, I thought it was a stop over but no (False Alarm #4), we were waiting for our bus to enter a boat that would take us to the other side of the Mekong River. At around 4:30PM, the bus took a boat (Yes you read that one right, the bus took the boat). Cool! After fifteen minutes of crossing the river, we carried on with our journey. What I noticed from Cambodia is that the life in the city and in the province is not really different. I could not say that it is a poor country because there are really good looking houses but there is quite a gap between the rich and the poor.
Around 6:00 in the evening, we stopped by a local eatery for snacks and bathroom break. I’ve read a lot of reviews about the food in Cambodia and they were generally good. But trying new food is not my cup of tea, I wasn’t really hungry by then. After half an hour, we went inside the bus and continued on with the journey.
While the sun was setting, the water from the air-conditioner was still dripping, the bus conductor collected our passports and told us the instruction when we arrive at the Cambodian border. He said we can leave our luggages when clearing Cambodian border. It was pretty fast, once your name was called, you just stand in one of the counters then they’ll stamp your passports and then go back to the bus. A guy was giving a paper, it was dark so I was not sure what he was handing to everyone, and just to make sure, I ticked the competitive button in me and asked the guy to give me as well. I thought it was the arrival card for Vietnam. But to everyone’s surprise, it was a discount card for a casino (False Alarm #5). I laughed so hard in the bus. Then the bus conductor said that in order to clear the Vietnam border, we needed to carry our luggages inside the immigration for security check.
While inside, the conductor was asking for a dollar each person so that we’ll go straight to VIP lane. Tikoy said NO! It was illegal, besides, we’re going to be cleared anyway, and if we bought his offer, we were still going to wait for the Chinese people to get into the bus. We all agreed that we’ll just wait for our turn to be called by the Immigration Officer individually but to our surprise, the conductor called Tikoy’s attention and said we go straight to VIP lane for half the price. I was thinking maybe our passports already have stamps, but we didn’t buy his offer so he had no choice but to offer other things, in short, para-paraan lang si manong para kumita. Naholdap kami ng harap-harapan (Si Tikoy lang pala).
We went straight to luggage check without going through the immigration. We went to the bus and collected our passports. We were called one by one by the conductor, he didn’t know how to pronounce some of the names so sometimes he will just say “filipin” or “chinese”. He was trying so hard to say our name, he called “Carlos”, then Vhik collected her passport (we didn’t notice it that time, Tikoy just explained why Edge was calling Vhik “Carlos”). When we all got our passports, it was time to carry on with our journey. Ho Chi Minh was three hours from the border, I had a conversation with Golden that lasted for three hours. Haha. Feeling ko nga minsan inaantok na si Golden. We talked about careers and such, it was a “professional talk”. The streets slowly became lively. LED lights and bright advertisements everywhere. It was like Hong Kong actually, only hotter. While I was talking to Golden, we didn’t realize that we were near the hotel. When everyone started to move, we just followed.
Upon arriving at Ho Chi Minh, I felt a certain relief. At least we were in civilization again. We were knee deep in rustic things in Cambodia. It was about time to hit the city. Tikoy went to the hotel, we were busy collecting our luggages so we didn’t know where she went. Edge told us that if we got our bags, we can cross the street. The hotels were pretty amazing in that district, I was thinking maybe we were staying in one of those (False Alarm #6). Hahaha. After a while we all walked to Golden Wind Hotel where we spent the night (just the three of us because we decided to leave early morning of April 19th). I was honestly expecting a luxury hotel that time, considering the looks of the hotels in that street. I was surprised we made a turn. Uh-oh! Sabi ko, saan tayo pupunta? Bakit nasa eskinita tayo?
We entered a hotel with a not-so-good-looking facade. Tikoy assigned the rooms and collected a passport from a participant for each room. We were assigned at room 203, me and Kat went upstairs because Shiela waited for her passport (which was not given back until check-out! Hahaha. False Alarm #7). We couldn’t open the door, we didn’t know how. Hahaha. A woman came out of room 202 and opened the room for us. The moment we opened the door, we were in awe. You really cannot judge a book by its cover. It was beautiful–small but fine. The room was complete–fridge with free water, air-con, light control panel, cable TV, WiFi, shower, and blowdryer.
Shiela didn’t come up until 30 minutes. As soon as she opened our room, she was wowed. She was so excited to come up she forgotten her luggage. Hahaha. So we went downstairs to help her carry her luggage to the room, good thing there was a lift. As soon as we were settled, we decided to go out. We haven’t had dinner and it was 9:00 in the evening. We didn’t have any Dongs with us so we changed 100USD. It was more than enough for a day actually. We had 2,100,000dong after we changed our USD.
We went into the nearest Burger King and grabbed some burger and fries. After that, we decided to walk around to look for pasalubong. The stores were closed by that time. We saw Golden crossed the street with whites, we thought “aba si Golden may friends na agad na mga puti” but it was another false alaram. Kasabay lang pala nya tumawid (False Alarm #8). When we saw that most of the shops were closed, we decided to just call it a day.