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Sunday, March 11, 2012

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REVIEW: Mekong Express - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Phnom Penh

We were trying to get from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Phnom Penh overland.  One resource we came across was the seat61 site that mentioned three companies (Mekong Express, Sapeco and Kumho Samco) that did this route.

Based on a number of based forum posts on Sapeco we decided against it and we chose to book our travels with the Mekong Express.  The hotel we were staying at booked it for us for $12 without a hitch for the 7am bus.

The fares includes a free hotel pick-up about 15 minutes prior which was a bit late but overall not a big deal.  The  bus offers assigned seats and gives you a baggage tag.  We were impressed that they staff was delicately handling our baggage.  It is approximately a 50 person bus with two seats on either side of an aisle.  The bus does have a bathroom though we did not see how clean it was but people (even foreigners) were using it.

The drive was smooth on the bus with AC services and sometimes showing a movie.  They provide a water bottle and a sandwich lunch which is a nice touch.  We did not find the sandwich appetizing so we gave it to the begging kids on the streets.

Border crossing
The border crossing is one place that the Mekong Express company is not completely honest.  They ask for your passports to exit Vietnam and enter Cambodia.  They also ask for a $25 visa fee to enter Cambodia.  Well, the actual fee is $20.  We were warned of this $5 additional fee from other travelers so we asked the staff what the $5 additional charge was and they said it was for paying the officials to process the visas fast.

When we said we would just stand in line ourselves the representative threatened us saying that if it takes too long then they would leave us at the border.    We called the staff out on the threat and she immediately backtracked and said it was okay if we tried to process it ourselves and we told her that if the line was long we would pay their "processing fee."

We got to the border the staff was not helpful in pointing us to where we needed to get the visa which was expected.  So, we learned that there are two processes one needs to do to enter Cambodia - (1) get the visa sticker  (pay US$20 and have a visa form filled out with a passport pict) and (2) get the arrival stamp with finger scanning.  The first is done at the booths and the second is done at the office to the left of the booths.  In the end we lost 5 minutes in the confusion but we were still out of the border crossing before many people who had given their passports to the Meekong Express.  So, we were not left at the border.

We arrived in the center in Phnom Penh and were immediately bombarded with tuk tuk drivers offering to take us to our hotel or get us a hotel.  We had a hotel booked but were not sure how much the tuk tuk should cost.  If you go into the Mekong Express office where you are dropped off it shows a map of city and how much a tuk tuk should cost based on where you are going.  Generally, its US$3 to get to the river area where a number of the hotels are.

Overall, except for the Cambodian visa issues we had a good experience with Meekong Express.  I would rate them 3 out of 5 stars for their service.


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