Giant Ibis Bus: the l o n g ride to Saigon

Now, it really wasn’t that bad…

We had booked seats with the Giant Ibis bus to take us from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. Our hotel was close to the bus terminal but the bus company offered free pickup from our hotel so we made arrangements to do so when we booked our tickets. The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:00 am and we were supposed to be ready and waiting by 7 am. Breakfast at the hotel was mostly Asian food (fried rice, noodles, deep fried chicken, soup, etc.) with a tray of scrambled eggs thrown in to appease the westerners staying there. Being the early birds that we are, we were out in the front of the hotel by 6:45 to await pickup.

When we hadn’t been picked up by 7:25 we started to get a little nervous. Clayton had the front desk call the bus company to make sure they were still coming for us but no one answered the phone. We decided to take matters into our own hands and have a tuk-tuk take us to the terminal. Though the bus wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8 am, you were supposed to be there by 7:35. We arrived just before 7:35 and were able to get our suitcases loaded and load up just before the driver moved the bus down the street. I am not sure exactly why…after the bus moved we saw for another 25 minutes.

In order to take the bus to Vietnam, you had to have pre-arranged your visa. No one can board the bus without one! can arrange your visa for you. Whichever way you arrive in Vietnam, it is so much easier to have your visa taken care of. There are all manner of scams related to procuring a visa; why risk the hassle?

After showing our visas to the steward, our passports were collected. A different person came through to check our tickets. A few people realized they had boarded the wrong bus, fortunately before we got too far! The drive out of Phnom Penh took awhile; it is a large city and it was rush hour. We passed several pairs of monks out begging for money. Traditionally, monks carry begging bowls and collect rice and other food from people in the morning (this food will be their lunch). However, in today’s society, most people donate money instead. The monks we saw in Siem Reap still carried bowls but the ones here in Phnom Penh carried money pouches instead.

We were provided with plenty of water and also given cooling cloths. The bus seats were very narrow; I assume we westerners are a bit “larger” than many of the locals. My husband is a large man with broad shoulders; he spilled over quite a bit into my seat. It wasn’t too comfortable but what are you going to do? At least I was in the aisle seat so I could lean over a bit in that direction. Wi-fi was available (and actually worked most of the time) which was nice. We were also given a pastry.

The road to the Cambodian border was much the same as the road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh; we saw the same types of scenery along the way. I didn’t bother trying to take any pictures. Even if I had wanted to, it would’ve been impossible. The bus driver had the same style of driving as our van driver had the previous day. I mistakenly thought that since we were in a larger vehicle that the driving might be more sedate. Wrong. The road seemed rougher as well so it was a bit of a bumpy ride.

We were given one rest stop 2 hours into the drive. The place we stopped had plenty of toilets; they were western-style toilets (sort of). They did have toilet seats but did not flush, nor was toilet paper provided. Fortunately, I have learned to always bring a supply. To flush the toiled you were provided with a dipper; there was a pool of water right next to the toilet. There also was no soap to wash your hands with so bring some hand sanitizer if you decide to take this journey. There was a store attached to the rest stop so some people picked up snacks for the rest of the trip.

We arrived at the Cambodia-Vietnam border around noon. I was surprised to see multiple huge casinos on the Cambodian side. Our passports were returned to us prior to arriving. We filed off the bus and went through immigration with the Cambodians. This involved having your passport stamped and your exit card collected. Then, we got back on the bus and our passports were collected again. We were driven across the border and then got off the bus yet again at a duty-free shop/restaurant. We were given a half-hour to eat while our passports were inspected by the Vietnamese officials. The food was inexpensive (and you get what you pay for) and the service was pretty fast. They obviously get bus-loads of people that have to be fed quickly so are quite efficient.

We climbed on the bus again and were driven to the customs building. Our luggage was off-loaded; Clayton’s and my suitcases were literally the last two removed. When we entered the building our steward returned our passports to us. We fed our suitcases and personal belongings through a scanner and collected them on the other side. Back to the bus to load up one final time!

We were on the final stretch. When we entered Vietnam we gained lanes so were now on a 4-lane divided highway as opposed to a two-lane road. The roads seemed smoother as well. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the shops we passed seemed a little nicer than the ones on the Cambodian side. They were the same style but seemed a little different. Again, I can’t quantify it, but I did notice it. Another thing I noticed immediately was that the signs were easier to read! They were all in Vietnamese but at least they use the same alphabet we do. I can’t pronounce the words, but at least they were readable.