Travelblog: Crossing the border from Ha Tien to Kep

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11 Mar 2010

There are three popular border crossings for travel from Vietnam to Cambodia. The road trip from Saigon to Phnom Penh via Moc Bai is the most popular and is a very straightforward six to seven hour ride from Saigon.

Then there are those that travel along the Mekong River from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh by boat. The river journey takes about five hours and makes sense for those who are doing a few days of travelling in the Mekong Delta before heading to Phnom Penh.

On my most recent journey, we travelled along the most interesting and least busy of the three main routes - from Ha Tien in Vietnam to Kep in Cambodia.

border,Ha Tien,Kep
Photo: Mark BowyerThe Vietnamese border gate at Ha Tien. Ha Tien was an enjoyable transit for a day en route to Cambodia.
Ha TIen is located at Vietnam’s south western tip on the edge of the Mekong Delta. Travellers might end up at Ha Tien after an extended journey through the delta or, more commonly, by boat from Phu Quoc Island. Ha Tien is a pleasant place to spend 24 hours - probably not more - and the journey to Kep in Cambodia is very simple from there.

Make sure you've got some passport photos and 25USD cash for your Cambodian visa. If you're coming into Vietnam, you'll need a visa in advance of arriving at this border.

Simply take a taxi to the Cambodian border (around 20 minutes and 5USD), walk across the border and get a car or motorcycle taxi to Kep. It’s a slightly intimidating process since on arrival at the Vietnamese border, you will be accosted by motorcycle taxi drivers who will try and lock you in to a car or motorbike taxi deal to Kep. Through some arrangement with Vietnamese and Cambodian officials, these guys have complete access to the immigration area. They were friendly enough but quite pushy.

border,Ha Tien,Kep
Photo: Mark BowyerPacking the load for the border crossing into Cambodia
They'll also try and help you with your luggage with a view to locking you into their transport services. If you have loads of luggage, you'll have no choice but use them as you need to walk several hundred metres to get through the border stations to the other side. There are no trolleys.

We held off making a decision on transport until we got through all the immigration procedures. On arrival at the Cambodian side, the same guys were harassing us to finalise an arrangement. There seemed to be no alternative so we sourced a car from them.

The system works like this. There are usually a few guys who speak reasonable English that handle the negotiations. Once they lock you in however, they will pass you on to others who in our case, spoke no English. They demanded we pay in advance. We refused. They demanded we pay for fuel before departing. We refused. After that, everything was efficient and civil and we hit the road.

border,Ha Tien,Kep
Photo: Mark BowyerAfter all the negotiation, this was the craft that took us to Kep from the border.
It cost 30USD dollars for two people and the journey took around 40 minutes.  We paid on arrival in Kep. The car was a twenty year old Toyota Camry and the driver drove safely.

Motorcycle taxis for those with less luggage cost 10USD each to Kep.

It all ended up fine but this is a remote border crossing with no public transport options so you feel a little vulnerable with all the harassment. It’s also clear that they will scam you if they sense they have a chance with extra fuel payments etc. Be firm and friendly and you should be fine.

We arrived late afternoon which was probably not ideal. Would recommend morning or early afternoon to maximise your flexibility in negotiating forward transport.

The reason I prefer this route is that it means that your Cambodia expedition starts along the quiet and picturesque southern coast. Kep and Kampot are lovely places to start a journey through Cambodia.
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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