Photo: Wat Lanka, Phnom Penh.

Despite the fact that Cambodia is bursting at the seams with beautiful islands, sometimes it’s nice to hit the open road and head to one of Vietnam’s tropical islands — which, as it turns out, is just as close as Koh Rong is.

A half-day journey from Phnom Penh.

There’s not a lot of information out there on how to best get to Phu Quoc from Phnom Penh, though. Travel agents in town will recommend that you buy an all-inclusive ticket which transports you from Phnom Penh to Ha Tien, then over the border, then to the ferry and to Phu Quoc for $27. If you’re travelling alone this isn’t a bad idea. Buses leave at 8:00 from Phnom Penh and you can purchase tickets at any of the riverside travel agents.

If you’re travelling in a small group, or are more adventurous, you can go on your own.

From Phnom Penh, a taxi to the border at Ha Tien costs $35 to $50. The cheaper alternative is to take a bus to Kampot for $6 or $7. In Kampot there are minivans leaving from the Boddhi Tree Guesthouse that go to the Vietnam border, or you can catch a moto to the border for $7 or $8.

Once you’re at the border if you’ve already got a moto at this point, your driver may walk you through and then drive you the extra few kilometres to the ferry. Otherwise, you can pick up a moto driver on the Cambodia side to take you through the border, or just hoof it. Be warned, it is a bit of a walk through the border area but there are a number of casinos to distract the intrepid tourist.

If you haven’t got a visa already, you can get a 15-day free visa for the Ha Tien Special Economic Zone. It’s an open question whether the SEZ includes Phu Quoc, although travellers report having no problems using this visa to visit the island as long as they exit the country through Ha Tien (and I had no problems with it last week). However, you will probably be asked for a few bribes in order to get said visa. First, you will be asked for a $1 health check fee. I thought this one was real, so I paid it, although I now know that you can just refuse and they won’t force the issue.

Then, I was told that I’d have to pay $5 for the free visa. My sense was that the Cambodian moto driver I had picked up at the border — and who was acting as my translator — was in cahoots with the Vietnamese immigration team to shake down foreigners (and people say they can’t get along!) We refused to pay the fee and after a few negotiations, we were given the free visa for free.

That's right, as part of this journey you can ride the Superdong.

Next step is to take a moto to the ferry. If you don’t have one already, the moto from the border to the ferry terminal will cost $2.50 to $4 depending in your negotiation skills. You can buy a ferry ticket at the terminal or at any of the travel agents in town — the cost is 215,000-300,000 VND.

The final step is from the ferry terminal in Phu Quoc to town. On the boat you’ll be offered a ticket on a minibus to town for $2 — it’s a pretty good deal, as taxis cost five times that and were in short supply when I was at the dock. If you’re skeptical, as I was, you can find other minibuses hanging around for around 50,000 VND.

It’s possible to do this whole trip in under six hours if you time everything correctly, and you’ll be rewarded with the lovely beaches of Phu Quoc.


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