Looking at a map of the area that used to be called Indochina, Phu Quoc appears more of a Cambodian than a Vietnamese island. Rumors of an agreement between the two countries to allow a ferry service from the resort town of Kampot have been heard for a decade but nothing concrete has happened so far. How to get to Phu Quoc from Cambodia is what this post is about.
Assuming you will start your journey in Phnom Penh, there are two ways to reach the border crossing at Ha Tien: directly, with a straight bus journey, or step by step, visiting other nice cities along the coast and then, on the last leg, crossing into Vietnam from the town in Kampot.
There are several bus companies to choose from. They are all more or less the same in terms of standards and fares differ very little. It is better to buy tickets at their offices (all located near Psah Thmay) rather than in small travel agencies, as you may end up waiting for all passengers to be collected from various parts of the city, which generates long delays and it is not such a very good way to start.
Another alternative is to use one of the ubiquitous minivans that depart when full and, in theory, travel faster than coaches. Though, keep in mind that legroom is minimal and reclining seats are not so reclining. Please be warned: air conditioning is great, when it works. If it breaks down, as it sometimes happens with buses and minivans, you are going to travel in a 4-wheels sauna. So if you opt for the minivan, check if windows can be opened.
The third option is the shared taxi. Many years ago, when Cambodia’s infrastructure was battered by years of war, this was the only option, in the form of white Toyota Coronas from the 80’s. Nowadays taxis are mostly Lexus 4×4 and Toyota Camry and instead of sharing the journey with as many as five peasants and their livestock, now you travel comfortably with only two or three upper-class Cambodians, or other tourists. Alternatively you can pay a forfeited fee and have it all for yourself.
A final tip if you want to do something that very few people have done so far: as the dilapidated railway network has been partially repaired, there are now regular trains to Kampot on weekends. Inquire at the railway station in Phnom Penh.
Once in Kampot, you can do the trip on a do-it-yourself basis, organizing every step, or just book a minivan from a travel agency in Kampot. Once you reach the border, the pier for the ferry to Phu Quoc is about 7 Km away. Therefore, by leaving Kampot in the morning you will be at your hotel in Phu Quoc in the early afternoon. If you purchase a transfer from a tour operator the ferry ticket is included and they will make sure you won’t miss its departure. If you do it alone, you will have to take a tuk tuk, taxi or motodop to the border, which is about 1 hour away.
Visitors from many Western countries are granted a 15 days free visa on arrival, so if you plan to stay longer in Vietnam you should apply for a VOA (visa on arrival) or, even better, get one from the Embassy of Vietnam in Phnom Penh.
After crossing into Vietnam, again you have a choice of tuk tuk, taxis and motorbike taxis eagerly awaiting to take you to the jetty or to the right bus station for your onward travels to Ho Chi Minh City and other nearby provinces. At this junction, strong negotiation skills are essential.
The company running the ferry is called Superdong (don’t laugh) and has a website with a timetable. Departures from Ha Tien are at 0515, 0730, 0800, 1230 and 1315.
The ferry is strongly air-conditioned i.e. it’s terribly cold inside. The journey takes one and a half hour with calm sea. There is entertainment on board in the form of karaoke (probably the saddest songs on Earth), Hong Kong action movies and Vietnamese-dubbed Hollywood blockbusters. But all this is irrelevant as the noise from the engines obliterates everything. Smokers can enjoy a space outside at the stern of the boat. The cruise ends at Bai Vong ferry terminal on Phu Quoc’s east coast.
The Pearl of Vietnam welcomes its visitors with a lively, agitated crowd of touts elbowing and pushing each other to attract your attention. These are the owners and of motorbikes, taxis, tuk tuks and minibuses, ready to take you wherever you want to go. Welcome to Phu Quoc!