Having heard some boarder crossing horror stories, we'd prepared ourselves for a protracted and difficult exit from Vietnam and entry into Cambodia. We were pleasantly surprised! After chugging our way upstream following a morning spent visiting floating villages and fish farms, we transferred to a different boat to take us further up the Mekong to the border. The boat was full of travellers who'd been visiting the Mekong Delta on various tours, so we spent an enjoyable few hours swapping stories and sharing our various experiences of Vietnam.
One of the advantages of crossing the border by boat - other than the opportunity to take in the stunning scenery - is that it reduces your chances of being charged various 'additional' fees when purchasing your visa for Cambodia. The official visa fee is $20 USD but we'd heard of additional 'charges' ranging from $1 to $20, depending on who is processing the paperwork!! Crossing by boat, we all simply handed over $22 USD, our Vietnam visa, our Cambodian form, and our passport to a member of the crew, who scuttled off to sort everything out in one go. Keen to capitalise on foreigners hanging around for an hour or so whilst the paperwork was dealt with, an eager entrepreneur had set up a restaurant (read: a couple of plastic stalls) up on the Vietnamese side of the border and ushered everyone off the boat and in to sit down, eat and spend the last of their Vietnamese Dong. No sooner had we scoffed our last mouthful, we were ushered from our seats and back out into the sun; the next boat was obviously due to arrive!
Half an hour later we filed though Vietnamese Immigration (a break in the barb wire) and got back on the boat. Five minutes up river, it was all off the boat again, as we had our visas and passports checked at Cambodian Immigration. No sooner had the last flip-flop left the deck of the boat, it did a u-turn and headed back towards Vietnam. Yet another boat appeared from somewhere (by this time we'd completely lost count of how many we'd been on in the last 24 hours!) to take us further up river towards Phnom Penh.
We'd had the option of taking the "fast boat" at extra cost, but decided that the slower option would provide more opportunity for soaking up the scenery of the Mekong River. The trip was beautiful - all small villages, waving children running down to the riverbank to shout 'hello', fishing boats and rice paddies. Our bottoms and ears would have appreciated it being a couple of hours shorter than the six it eventually took though: the engine was loud despite the earplugs we were both wearing (a great look!) and the wooden benches meant that it was numb bottoms all round after only 20 minutes.
Docking, everyone on our boat piled into one very full minivan for the hour transfer to Phnom Penh. Doing our best impression of a sardine can, we didn't see a huge amount but our first impressions of Cambodia (in no particular order) are: lots more cars than in Vietnam, people have darker skin and look more 'Indian', there's something a tiny bit 'Wild West' about the general atmosphere, and that the monuments and pagodas are more glitzy. Our first experience of Cambodian hotels and restaurants wasn't the most favourable... Our evening meal was more expensive and less tasty than we'd got used to in Vietnam, and our hotel room could only be described as a grim hole. Still, food in our bellies and a (mouldy) roof over our head - we'd go explore tomorrow.