Sunday, May 5, 2013

Oasis Bar (part 4)

My husband heard of a newer border crossing (a few years old) between Cambodia and Vietnam.  We had not met anyone who had crossed this border before.  We decided to brave it and gave it a try, crossing the border from Sihanoukville to Hà Tiên via a mini-bus that we arranged ourselves.  When we were half way into our trip, as we arrived in Kampot we came across heavy monsoon-like rain. After several weeks of mid 90s F weather with high humidity we were happy to have some rain, although it was more rain than I prefer.  The streets were flooded to about knee high. The ride on the mini-bus was a trip we will not quick to forget.  My husband and I were the first few passengers to be picked up. When we got in the van I noticed it was quite old, the air conditioner was weak and the seats were small--even for my somewhat small frame.  As our journey continued further the driver started to pick up more passengers and when we thought we could not possibly squeeze more people in this tiny van we were soon mistaken.  We were packed in with all of our back packs like sardines.  By then most of our bags were hanging out of the back door.  Our driver could not close the door.  He had to put a blue tarp over the bags and tied it down with ropes.  I felt as though we just traveled back in time 10 yrs. Traveling in Asia used to be like this or so I thought.  Nowadays the road is better, the vehicles have improved greatly and there is so much more competition so how did we get ourselves in this type of transportation?  Luckily the trip was not too bad--only about 3 hours long.  In the end after the other passengers were dropped off, my husband and I were the only ones left to cross the border into Hà Tiên, Vietnam. 

I was a bit nervous since not many foreigners cross into Vietnam by this border. Our driver told us with limited English that he can drop us off in Cambodia and we would walk to Vietnam and check in at the border.  He said if he does not have to drive into Vietnam he will save $20 USD.  That does not sound much money but it is a lot of money for him.  We pondered at his idea.  I guess while we were thinking he decided to give us $5 USD to help make our decision quicker...for a taxi into Hà Tiên he stated.  He advised me not to speak Vietnamese when I meet the border patrol.  He thought that I may have to pay a higher fee if I speak Vietnamese.  After he dropped us off with our bags, we walked about 20-30 feet, I looked back and he had already disappeared with his van.  We walked past many guards and gates. The interesting thing about this border area is that there were several casinos under construction.  My husband thought this is no-mans land and they have built here outside of either country. We wondered how customers can go in these casinos.  What about visas?  How do these people get back home?  Cash probably works at the border for the gamblers.  During the walk we saw very interesting people packed with loads of items in their vehicles driving into Vietnam.  After we walked quite a long way we reached a small border check.  We gave the man our passports and visas and he told us to go to the another building.  We kept walking and finally we reached a larger more official looking place with x-ray machines.  Outside one of the guards stopped and asked us in English, "do you need to change some Vietnamese money?  I know you have money!'  We smiled and politely told him "no, thank you, we were in Châu Đốc and we had some money left" and walked inside.  Inside we were told to see the men at the desk.  They gave us some forms to fill out and we had to check yes or no for illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, syphilis, diarrhea, fever and a big list of diagnoses and symptoms.  I wonder what would happened to us if we checked yes to any of those and do people truly fill these questionnaires honestly?!  After we completed our forms and paid $1 USD each medical fee we were then directed to another window. There we handed over our passports and visas and I still did not say a word.  After what seemed like eternity our passports were stamped and we were free to leave.  Outside the building one of the motorcycle taxi drivers followed us, asked us where we were going and then offered to take us to Oasis Bar in Hà Tiên  for $10. We knew from the Cambodian driver that it should cost $5 for a taxi into the city from the border.  I still did not speak Vietnamese.  I was still a bit shook up and stunned from the border crossing ordeal since I had no idea what to expect.  So I responded in English, "$5 for both of us" and kept walking. He tried to tell us $10 but I kept walking. Finally he said "ok".  Each of us got on the back of a motorcycle and the drivers rode us about 7 km into Hà Tiên.  We gave them extra money since they dropped us off safely at Oasis Bar, and we thought they had charged a fair price.  It is always a bit of an adventure to take a motorcycle taxi since you are never sure how safe the ride can be.  I don't take a motorcycle taxi often but when I don't have any other options and find myself on one I feel the need to be ready to defend my life if needed. After the drivers drove off my husband turned to me and said we were lucky to get a ride when we did since there were no other taxis or public transportation, it was getting late and it would have been a very long walk in the dark!

After we got off the motorcycles we walked into Oasis Bar.  By that time I was relieved that we made it into Vietnam safely.  We had read about this bar in Lonely Planet and thought it would be a good place to learn where to stay and what to do in town.  Oasis Bar is owned by an English expat named Andy and his Vietnamese wife.  We met Andy and learned a great deal about his life, bar and life in Hà Tiên.  He told us he has lived there for a number of years and enjoy the slow pace of village life. Oasis Bar is probably the only place in this region where you can eat an English breakfast with real sausages and English tea!  If you have been traveling in Asia for any length of time and have a craving for an authentic English breakfast and sausages then you should stop in!  I particularly like the fruit juices! Thank you Andy!!

Oasis Bar
(my husband and I met this Aussie (seen on left of photo)
who started back packing in 1971 and finally
settled in Hà Tiên in the last few years)
Andy, owner of Oasis Bar (left)
and my husband Paul (right)
typical street in Hà Tiên
view from hotel balcony
view from Mac Cuu tombs
(Mac Cuu founded Hà Tiên)
our mini-van was not this packed full
in the back but it was pretty darn close!

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