Airport: Tan Son Naht Airport

Vietnam has been like a third, fourth, fifth home ever since my sister’s family relocated here. I’ve been in and out that the frequency caused its automatic drop from my priority to-go list.

But a perfect combo of Cebu Pacific irresistible promo fare and gastos-magnet friends can make you forget you have a list in the first place. After a message thread, a mini Southeast Asian tour was in order that shall commence in Saigon.

Cambodia has been escalated to my hit list since its proximity to the Philippines held it a constant loser to the where-to-go battle–that mentality that it’s just there, it’s easy to go anytime. I want it off my list so bad that the first chance I get, even if we had to pass by Saigon again (against state-of-the-pocket advice), I grabbed.

Before I detail what I loved about Cambodia, let me show you a few new things I saw in Saigon this time around.

The Batcave:
Lofi Inn Saigon
Pham Ngu Lao- The Backpackers’ District

Full moon in Lofi Inn Saigon Roofdeck

Since I have family to stay in while in the Asia’s Hidden Charm, I’ve never tried the backpackers district until this trip. 
Pham Ngu Lao is a mecca for all tourists budget tourists of the world. We checked in at night and we roamed around to a totally different street come morning. From an ordinary, dark, and quiet đường, it morphed into a long branching stretch of culture, food, inns, bars, street novelties, and walking united nations, among so many others! It was full of life and energy, we hardly recognized it was the same place.

(*Odd alert! Chilling people with drinks are lined up in the sidewalks at the store front facing the streets like there’s a parade or show to watch! So imagine people watching each other from both sides of the road! I don’t know why! :p)

It was kind of Winnie from Lofi Inn to effortfully roll down her cab windows just to warn me of pickpockets that multiply at night– the downside of co-inhabiting with supposedly dollar-rich, gullible, careless and free-spirited tourists.

Places Only in Ho Chi Minh City

I have checked quite a number of touristy sites during my initial trips in the city but I haven’t been to the famous Cu Chi Tunnel. So I booked a tour for 450,000 Dong (March 2012) and a bus picked us up in front of Lofi Inn full of one interesting mix of travelers, some really high at that!

Cu Chi Tunnel

Now imagine staying in that claustrophobia-inducing space and survive a war!

The beach boys while waiting for some who went for the full tunnel experience; that should be their exit.

Ho Chi Minh’s sandals made from tires in varying sizes

The many different forms of human ingenuity during wars aka traps
Saigon Opera House

Saigon Opera House along Dong Khoi

And then we had to proceed to the part where my tour really began–Cambodia.

We reached the Ho Chi Minh- Phnom Penh border where we were required to pass by the immigration for stamps. In truth, the bus conductor does this for all the passengers. Our names were just called off one by one after stamps for passport retrieval– a welcomed butt rest as well. :]

Mekong Express Limousine is the prime choice but we reserved too late, we took Kumho instead.
I made a summary of the most recommendable bus lines from Pham Ngu Lao Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia collated from different travelers’ reviews across the internet.
Mekong Express Limousine Bus ($12) 
– bus conductor speaks English & explains procedure, on-board toilet, punctual, polite staff, nonstop trip
– From Pham Ngu Lao Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to O’ Russey Market Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Sapaco Tourist ($12) 
– on-board toilet, punctual, non-stop trip
– from Pham Ngu Lao Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Mailinh Express ($9-10)
– punctual, polite staff, with stop over
– from Pham Ngu Lao Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Kumho Samco ($11)
– no English-speaking conductor to explain, on-board toilet, polite staff, more leg room
– from Pham Ngu Lao Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to somewhere in Phnom Penh

(Decide according to preference)

Peddler of Lotus

By this time, our bus has rolled over a barge to cross the Mekong River. There were a lot of vendors of local food just like how bus peddlers are in the Philippines. It was a short boat ride, a few more valleys and idle blank stares and we found ourselves meeting with our tuktuk driver in Phnom Penh.

What we saw in Phnom Penh, the tragedies and the big smiles, next.