Originally we thought we would have to return to Ho Chi Minh City to take a bus to Phnom Penh, but after doing some research we learned the border in Ha Tien was open to foreigners. This was perfect for us since we wanted to visit Kep first in Cambodia and not have to backtrack to HCMC or Phnom Penh. Getting there from Can Tho was quite the adventure….
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The Journey to Ha Tien
There’s no direct way to get to Ha Tien from Can Tho since it’s not a popular destination. Our research had led us to believe that we would have to first buy a bus ticket to Rach Gia and then get another bus to Ha Tien from there, but Mr. Hung told us there was one direct bus leaving at 10am. When it was time to go, however, he was nowhere to be found. We were able to communicate to the nice ladies working in the kitchen that we had to go so they put us and our big backpacks on their motorbikes and zipped us to the bus station. We found a mini-bus with a Ha Tien sign in the window and bought our tickets.
The bus station was chaos with buses blaring their horns and vendors walking around trying desperately to sell anything from tissues to baguettes. It was quite the scene. Finally after sitting and waiting for two hours the bus was full and we left. It felt like we’d been driving forever when we finally stopped and everyone was made to get off. We were in Rach Gia. It turns out there’s no direct bus to Ha Tien, but rather than having to find another bus station and buy another ticket, a lady from the first mini-bus ride who apparently worked for that bus company became our ‘babysitter.’ She communicated with body language for us to sit down and wait. We were able to enjoy a delicious street food snack and find a toilet. Finally a mini van pulled up and we were crammed inside with about 15 locals and we were off again. After about five hours, we finally arrived in Ha Tien.
Most people only come here to cross the border or get a boat to Phu Quoc island. They don’t spend more than a few hours in the city. We still had two days on our visas and we were exhausted having just come from Sapa in the far north in less than a month without taking a single flight. So we decided to relax in the seaside town for two days. We had read that the Hai Yen hotel was the best value for money and it was true. For 250,000 VND (roughly $12) we had a huge room with two double beds, a living room and a balcony.
After checking in we went for a walk and had some delicious seafood pho for dinner. The next morning the power was out and it was hot. We really wanted to go swimming. After a bit of trouble and frustration we finally agreed on a price for a day tour with some motorbike drivers. Our first stop was Mui Nai beach where we relaxed and had a photo shoot with some locals. I guess they don’t see too many foreigners on that beach. Next we went to a cave in a mountain known as the ‘face cave’ because the rocks on the outside resemble a human face. Our last stop was a temple and a tomb for a man who was very important to the area and his family. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on our balcony.
Food and Drink
There’s plenty of cheap local fare in Ha Tien like standard rice and noodle dishes. We particularly enjoyed the seafood pho. Oasis is the only place in town with western fare, cocktails and super cold, cheap beers. We enjoyed the food so much we went there twice. They have a specials menu every day based on what’s available at the local market. Couscous with vegetables and creamy lentil soup were the specials on hand during our visit. The full English breakfast was equally delicious. There’s a travel agency that operates out of the restaurant that can book onward travel and arrange the visa for Cambodia.
Crossing the Border
We arranged for a mini van to take us all the way from Ha Tien to Kep. The journey was only $12 each. The same travel agency also arranged our Cambodian visas for $27. The official price for the visa is $20 but the officials at this crossing are corrupt and make you pay $25. We figured the extra $2 was worth not having to deal with the hassle ourselves. It also made the process much faster. When we arrived at the border, the Vietnam side was quite simple and we were given our exit stamps no problem. Then the van drove us through no-man’s land to the Cambodian side. The only sign of life in this corner of Cambodia are the handful of casinos, geared towards Vietnamese who flock here due to the illegality of gambling in their country. We had to sign a few papers, including a health questionnaire with a subsequent ‘health check’ where all the official did was take our temperatures. We all had to pay $1 for this. There were two people in the group who opted to do the whole process themselves and tried to refuse paying the health ‘fee.’ In the end we were all yelling at them to pay the fee and get in the van as it was so hot outside. They finally paid and we were on our way to Kep. Our time in our first country of traveling had come to an end.
Ha Tien Summary
Transportation: We arrived in Ha Tien from Can Tho by motorbike, bus, mini van, and one more motorbike. It was an arduous journey that took the entire day and about $20 total.
Accommodation: For just $12, we had a huge room on the top floor of the Hai Yen hotel – two double beds, en suite, living room w/ fridge, and a nice balcony. We’re pretty sure we were the only people in the hotel during our stay.
Getting Around: For our day trip, we paid two motorbike drivers $10 each to take us to the beach, the “face cave” and a temple. You can easily walk around the little town as well.
Activities: Head to the beach, which isn’t impressive but is a nice respite from the heat. There are some caves and temples to check out as well.
Food/Drink: Plenty of cheap local fare, including some delicious seafood pho are readily available. For western food and cocktails, Oasis is the only place in town.
Recommended Time: While most just blow through here on their way in or out of Vietnam, we feel like it’s worth spending at least a day here.
Total Cost: We spent a total of $110 for our two days in Ha Tien. This does not include our Cambodia visas ($27 each), which we have included in our Cambodia budget.