I’d been subconsciously dreading this part a little, knowing we needed to line up Vietnam visas before entering the country. Yes, you can buy e-visas online for countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, but when you’re travelling slowly and don’t have a set itinerary, it makes more sense to take things as they come, especially as Vietnamese visas are valid only for the dates you specify.
Good news: it really is dead easy to get your Vietnam tourist visa in Phnom Penh. All you need to do is:
Find yourself a travel agent.
They all do visas. Seriously. Ask around a few different places as some charge less than others. In May 2013, the lowest price for a 30-day visa I could find was $58 (or $55 for a 15-day Vietnam visa). Every single agent said they could arrange a next-day visa. It’s a little nerve-racking, handing over your passport to a stranger, but you’ll get it back in 24 hours with a shiny new piece of paper inside.
There’s also the official embassy, but apparently it costs more and can take longer, and wasn’t all that conveniently located.
On a related note: should you stay in Beung Keng Kang? Well, the area is full of travel agencies; the one we used even had a laundry service. Two birds, one stone! It’s close to Lucky Supermarket, the excellent Tous les Jours bakery, and a ton of other restaurants. It’s also close to the Naga clinic, where staff speak English and T got his stitches out. However, it’s a bit of a hike to the Central Market and the river.
Find yourself a ride to Saigon.
The Mekong Express bus company seemed to come well recommended, and for good reason.
Heck, it’s more like an airline than a bus. You’ll get a free cleansing towel, breakfast pastry and muffin, water, and there’s even TV and wi-fi aboard. The seats are incredibly roomy; it more than makes up for the ominous cracks in the windows and windscreen.
Rather than tossing bags into the storage compartment willy nilly, each one is assigned a luggage tag. (However, they will unceremoniously leave your bags out in the dust when you cross the border at Vietnam customs. You have to pick them up, get processed, put them through the x-ray machine, then get back on board.) Staff make announcements over the intercom, and hold passports for everyone in the group, helping you through the customs process. Expect a quick lunch stop pre-border crossing, where it’s cheaper to pay in US dollars (the baht/dong prices are way out of whack).
Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about Mekong Express. It’s the Emirates of buses.