Posted by: rob | August 4, 2007

Chau Doc to Phnom Penh

Hopefully others wanting to do the same route will stumble upon my ramblings and commit to memory: 1) The slow boat is nice, 2) Never use Delta Adventure Tours.

We left the Vietnamese town of Chau Doc headed toward Phnom Penh, Cambodia, just 165km away. It took 10 hours by two boats and a bus. There is a 4-hour ‘express boat’ ($18) that was sold out, except our hotel landlady somehow had two tickets left for $40 each. Not wanting to fatten her coffers we found a cyclo driver that knew of a different speedboat. A few minutes later he had dropped us at – you guessed it – Delta Adventure Tours. Argh! An hour later we’d determined there was no speedboat, so we had to sign up with Delta Adventures for a slow boat ($8), the group we’d had all sorts of annoyances with.

Next day up and ready for the 7.30 AM cyclos that the Delta lady said she would send for us in order to make the 8.00 departure. 7.40 and no Cyclo so we hired a motodop driver to take us to the Delta office and sort out the problem, as we didn’t know exactly where the slow boat would depart from. A short ride later we were on the boat. It has room for 35 people, and there were 35 pieces of luggage, but there were no people and no staff spoke English. Shortly before 9.00 it putt-putted off with only us aboard, past the shanties that surround Chau Doc, then moored again. Finally at 9.30 AM the Delta tour group shuffled on board (we were the only independent travellers) and the boat departed, 90 minutes late. The journey is along the chocolate coloured Mekong river, Bassac river, and their tributaries. It’s almost all very beautiful. The guide hops off halfway with the collection of passports to speed the process and three hours later you arrive and hop ashore for a few minutes at the border.


Another comedy ensued here. We couldn’t see the guide anywhere and the other 30 Delta passengers stood in a clump as they tend to do. Kim and I went searching other areas for her and soon enough the other 30 followed us. In the middle of nothingness stands an X-ray machine in a glass booth, operated by an old Vietnamese guy. One passenger felt the urge to put his stuff through and 15 minutes later all 30 lemmings had followed suit, casting suspicious eyes at Kim and I who had not. “Who told you to come here! Who told you to do this!” said the guide as she came running over. The Delta passengers were basically trying to re-enter Vietnam.


On to a second, smaller boat, but one that lets you sit on the roof. All the Delta people had their luggage through into a giant haystack at the back of the boat, which we managed to avoid after some Dont Mess With Me wrestling with the boatman. This three hour trip is the best of the journey. Cambodia looks immediately different. Far less infrastructure, more rural, no lights, no vehicles, more barnyard animals. But for three hours children line the shore 100m away yelling “Hello!”, smiling their beaming white smiles, and waving frantically. It’s not an exaggeration to say there are kids every few hundred metres. Soon everyone on the boat was also waving, smiling, and shouting hello back. Great fun!


The second boat pulls up at Neak Leung, some 60km from Phnom Penh, for passengers to catch an onward bus. The Delta ticket lady has sworn there was no bus involved but we expected this to happen. ‘Bus’ is an exaggeration as it is a small minibus and large minibus outside someones crumbling home. We jumped in the comfier looking small bus along with a German family of six, the father of whom looked like Chevy Chase and his son like Rusty from National Lampoons. This minivan took us for 90 minutes along the worst road I’ve ever experienced in my life and hopefully ever will. Continuous 10″ deep potholes and corrugations. The handholds in the van had all been ripped out long ago, and the seats were now bolted to 4×2 pieces of wood as they’d come loose over the potholes. Even the window wouldn’t close due to the constant shuddering it had endured. At least there were only 10 of us in the van.


As it usual with such outfits when you arrive at your destination Delta drops you in the middle of nowhere at a dodgy hotel (strangely named Kings Hotel) with people grabbing at you and your bags so that they score your money for a nights rest. Don’t do it. Hotels are crazy cheap in Phnom Penh so head into town on the first non-affiliated tuk-tuk.

Despite all this we had an excellent day adventuring. From Chau Doc you have little choice but to take one of these boats as there are no cars or flights as alternative. Just make sure you never use Delta Adventure Tours!



  1. Certainly a trip to remember, especially the haystack of baggage. The German National Lampoons family was hilarious. Even the mother was just like the wife — going along with all of Chevy’s jokes — and the daughter was like Audrey, the sexually-adventurous yet slightly geeky teenager who was there with her boyfriend. Chevy even used a blanket stolen from Thai Airways.

  2. What about the Victoria Boat or the Blue Cruiser from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh, do you know?

    Sydney, Australia

  3. The Victoria boat is expensive ($50-75pp) and you have to stay at the Victoria hotel ($100+/nt), apart from that I am sure it is fine. For that price you could hire a private driver to take you via Moc Bai. The ‘different boat’ mentioned above is the Cawaco, which has a website and seemed OK if it is running.

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