On March 1st I traveled northwest 117 kilometers from Cần Thơ to the border town of Châu Đốc. Having been told that mechanics in Cambodia are unlikely to want to service a Vietnamese motorbike, I spent my time getting some further repairs done on Jackie. I also had her washed, because sometimes you’ve got to treat your girl. I walked across a bridge at sunset and had my last bowl of pho sitting on a plastic stool on the sidewalk. I went home and double checked my plans with the owner of my hotel:
“I want to cross the border into Cambodia tomorrow. Is it correct that the border crossing is only 24 kilometers from here?”
“Yes, you will need to go to that one so that can stamp your passport.”
The next day I wake up and hit the road early. The ride to the border is only 40 minutes, but I want to give myself extra time to take in the sights and to account for any delays at the border.
The ride is beautiful but its slow going. The road is narrow and there are a lot of schoolchildren around on bicycles. I ride slow as I want to be careful. I want to be respectful. The last 30 something kilometers of Vietnam seem to stretch on forever. It allows time for the excitement of crossing the border to gurgle up in my chest. It’s strange to see this ride come to an end, but I’m overjoyed that another one will immediately begin.
I take in all the sights hungrily. There is almost a mania to the focus with which I look at it all; take it all in. I separate all the tiny little details that I love, I look at them carefully. I plead with my brain: please, please remember this.
I reach the border sooner than I would like, and I immediately begin to feel a sense of dread. There’s no one here, it is way too quiet. I flag down a lone immigration officer and using my hands indicate that I wish to cross the border. I point at my bike and myself and gesture towards the border gate a ways down.
“No,” he says. “No can stamp passport.”
I repeat all of the gestures again. Surely he is just not understanding what I mean. His reply is the same “no can stamp passport. Hà Tiên, Hà Tiên.”
Fuuuuck. The data on my phone has run out, and as it was meant to be my last few hours in Vietnam, I didn’t buy anymore. Now I am at a closed border, needing to drive to another border, and I have no way of navigating.
“WiFi?” I ask with obvious desperation.
“WiFi,” he replies. Thank god for the 21st century.
I log onto the immigration office’s WiFi and look up where Hà Tiên is. 91 kilometers, only another 2 hours or so. I download the offline map and thanking the official, hop back onto my bike.
I am feeling mildly stressed out at this point, I will admit. But as I listen to some of my favorite road trip songs and ride on, I tell remind myself that it will be fine. What’s the worst that can happen? You get there and they deny you entry, then you’ll figure it out. Just look at this as a few extra hours of reminiscing.
I continue to ride past the school children and I’m reminded of so many kids I have seen along the way. Always with white short sleeved shirts, clean and well pressed, blue bottoms and some kind of bandana around their neck. Out here, it’s red. I look at the rice fields and I think of the countless rice fields I’ve seen on the way. Dazzling greens, golden yellows and a whole range of colors in between. I look at the banana trees and I find myself hoping that Cambodia has them too. I look at all of these details that strike me as so quintessentially Vietnamese, and I am grateful for what has been a wonderful ride.
I started this trip as a girl with a pipe dream. I arrived knowing I wanted to motorbike from north to south, never realizing what that would mean, never realizing how much the adventures would come to suit me. I started the trip unaware of just how much I would encounter that I would fall in love with. The friends, the sights, the breakdowns, the miscommunication and all the messy, happy, glorious bits in between.
I arrived in Hà Tiên in the afternoon hours, my head very much in a cloud of happy memories. The rural roads gave way to coastal ones, and soon enough the beaches were behind me and I was pulling up to a government building. This has to be the border.
It’s a funny feeling, really, experiencing big moments alone. You step onto a plane, going on your first ever trip, or arrive at a border crossing with your bike, and it is a moment that feels life altering. It feels dizzyingly exciting. But to the people around you, it is just another day. And so it was when I took off my helmet and walked over to the Vietnamese border officers. I was waved to a window without so much as a second glance. Within seconds, I had officially been stamped out of Vietnam and waved onward. Goodbye, then. Welcome to no-man’s land.
A few hundred meters and Jackie and I were pulling up to the Cambodian border. The process was, much as before, quick and painless. Not a single question was asked about me or the bike. Money, stamp, sign, stamp, here’s your passport back.
I walked out in a daze. Just like that, Jackie and I were in Cambodia.