Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Boats, Books and Border Crossings

Today was the earliest start for a long time - up at 6, we had breakfast by 7 and were on a bus or the short journey to the pier in Chau Doc.

At the pier we left our packs and went in pairs into small rowing boats. We were then taken a short distance up the river to the floating villages. Similar to the floating bars and houses in Halong Bay, these villages are completely free floating at the side of the Mekong River. We stopped at one of the houses and watched a feeding at a fish farm that are set underneath the majority of the large houses. The fish swarmed for the food splashing water all over the platform outside the house, as they clearly struggled to get to the top of the packed cages to get their food.

After the fish farm we continued another 30mins or so up the Mekong to a small island, inhabited by the Cham people. Our guide showed us exactly why the houses in this region are built on stilts; on one stilt there were marks to show previous flood water levels; in 2000 they rose to around 3meters higher than the river level was today! That is some serious rain!

At the village our group split in two; those heading for Phnom Penh, and those heading back to Saigon. The Cambodia group boarded a larger boat and we started heading up the river towards the next country.
It took about 2hours to get to the Vietnam side border station. En-route we enjoyed the sights of trading and life on the Mekong. By coincidence we all finished our books on this stretch of the journey. Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' was a fantastic read, making me eager to extend my travelling in future and experience new methods and ways to travel. I'm now reading Rosie's copy of 'The Killing Fields' - having seen the film I'm looking forward to recalling the history of Cambodia in the late 1970s under the Khmer Rouge, as we travel through.

We arrived at the first border station and were handed our passports, complete with Visas ready to be stamped. We waited about an hour at the first border check; before boarding another, smaller boat than the first, with even more people than were on the first! - only that kind of logic occurs in SE Asia!
That boat took us over the border to the Cambodian station, where we all had our visas stamped - all ready to proceed to Phnom Penh. Then it was back on the small noisy boat to do the next stage; 3hours by boat, before a final 1hour bus journey to Phnom Penh.

The boat made Wightlink look like a luxury liner! But we endured it and made the most of the cheering children shouting and waving from the river bank and the amazing golden pagodas as we sat and played cards with the Greek and some German girls.

The boat arrived in the small town of Neak Luong; which was a strange coincidence as it is the town that features in 'The Killing Fields' at the beginning: the town that is a accidentaly bombed by American B52s. So I was reading about the place that we were passing through!

We are on the minibus now for the last hour of the journey. Hopefully we will meet up with Andy when we get there, as he arrives sometime today. Then go out for a meal later on.

A long day of travelling today, but excited to be in a new country and to meet the others for the chairty work.

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