Day 12: Chau Doc, the border town between Vietnam and Cambodia

Good thing the tour starts at 7:30 and not 7:00 as I thought because I don’t walk down the stairs until 7:15.

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We have to walk to the bus. And-unfortunately-it’s the same company as the Cu Chi Tunnels tour. Not kid-friendly. I’m learning a lot on this expedition, and one is that a little research into whether or not kids are welcome goes a long way. It is a bus full of hardened backpackers, their necks tattooed, every stop necessitating a slurp of a cigarette before reboarding. Not one even gives Ryder a smile, though we must have been a sight.

I’m not traveling lightly, for one thing. Damn my Tokyo shopping paradise. I’m never going shopping again, I promise myself. It’s an empty promise, of course-somewhere along the way I’ve discovered a love of the sport.

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I didn’t do enough research on the tour-chalk that one up to experience as well-partially because the accents of people in SE Asia I generally find nearly impossible to understand anyway. I thought we’d be riding a boat all the way there. Instead, it’s many many hours on a bus, interspersed with a small boat tour seeing how they make hard , chewy rice-similar to popcorn, whose maker keeps surreptitiously slipping Ryder more of the stuff,

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and rice wine. Ryder begins making friends despite themselves because of his delicious laugh. He is playing peek-a-boo with me and laughing so happily that some people come over to introduce themselves-Dani from Mexico. She says, “Ryder is the first Mexican I’ve met on my trip!”

I meet another man who’s away from his family because he’s working in Indonesia and sent his wife back to DC to have her baby. He misses his little toddler daughter dreadfully, and Ryder lends a sympathetic ear: he requests to watch videos of her on his phone.

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He’s from the Caribbean; his wife’s from Zimbabwe; they met in South Africa. He’s in the oil business. “I’ve got a list” he admitted, “a real, actual list” of places he wants to visit. A kindred spirit. “She’s ready to settle down,” he tells me ruefully, “And she wants it to be London because her family is there. I’ve tried Singapore but she says that’s too far away. Honestly, I haven’t won a fight in months because she’s pregnant.” “London will make a great travel hub. You can get cheap flights from there even to Malaysia,” I try to be encouraging.

We stop for lunch. Neither Ryder nor I eat much. The medicine Vu recommended me is working-no belly grumbling-but no appetite either. As far as meals go it’s rather bland anyway. We could have upgraded to the fish, but seeing the water quality of the lake doesn’t increase my appetite any.

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We’re on the bus for the rest of the afternoon, stopping only for 30 minutes at a crocodile farm, whose inhabitants are strangely cuddly with each other. There’s a deserted playpen of balls in a forlorn area. I let Ryder sneak in.

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More driving. It’s getting dark. We play like our tyrannosaurus rexes are crocodiles. Dani asks, “Does he EVER complain?” because indeed, he has been extraordinarily cheerful. I smile inwardly. Ryder is a toddler, after all. I say, ‘’His number one refrain is, ‘Something else to play with?’”

Finally we’ve arrived at Chau Doc, the border town. Ryder and I get our own room, but we still need to forage for something to eat. The group, who’s warmed up to us, invites us to go with them to the night markets. Ryder immediately makes a friend: a little girl whose female family members aggressively try to force them to hold hands and intimate that one day the two should marry. The Vietnamese don’t have personal space, and that includes children. The scene causes the group of backpackers to gather in a circle to watch the chase. Matador Network says 75% of backpackers traveling through Southeast Asia don’t interact with the locals, but only with each other. I can say it was true of this group, but Ryder broke those barriers and showed them how it’s done by flirting with that little Vietnamese girl.

Unfortunately, by this time I have a respiratory infection, full stop. The pollution is terrible, and mixed with the heat, Saigon has done me in. I can’t sleep much at all that night, and Ryder is wired from all the attention and stays up late too. The consequence is a miserable time getting up at six am to eat our oily egg breakfast and drag ourselves over to the boat dock-there is a man waiting to bicycle us there even though it is just down the street-otherwise we would have been a spectacle. We say goodbye to Dani and the rest of the backpackers.

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Yeah, all of that is our stuff

Ryder is cheerful enough playing with his toys to get on the boat but once on his lack of sleep shows. He is feisty and it’s hard to discipline on a boat. Not only is there no where to take him for time out, but even trying to stand up is next to impossible. His screaming and crying is in direct contrast to yesterday’s good behavior. This is a completely different group, too, equally disinterested in him.

We get off at the visa station along the shore. Again, there is a little boy with a bulldozer to offer. Ryder chases him around; again, the crowd of backpackers are amused. The next boat stop to get the actual stamp is much longer. It’s so hot and there’s no where to escape the heat; this is all being done outside, in a beautiful garden. Ryder finds more children, rides their bikes with them. Somewhere along the way he’s lost all affect of shyness. He sees anyone under the age of 10, shouts “Friend!” and runs over to them. There are children everywhere in Southeast Asia, even in this little passport control area.

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It’s ten am by the time we get back on the boat, with three hours left on the water until we arrive. Fortunately, Ryder sleeps all the way there so everyone can have some peace and quiet. I finish God Sleeps in Rwanda, a book on Rwanda’s genocide: a roundabout introduction to Cambodia’s dark, recent past.

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Glimpse of Phnom Penh coming into view

When it’s time to exit the boat, I have no idea what to expect in terms of tuktuk price. The tuk tuk driver offers $5 and I accept. If that’s too high, that’s still plenty low enough for me. (It was too high, $3 would have been more than fair.) I try to tip the guys who helped me with my bags up the monster embankment and they refuse. We get to our hostel without any trouble, but I’m so overwhelmed from the lack of sleep, runny nose, and full days tour that I can do nothing but veg with my eyes open on the bed for a couple of hours. When we checked in we were told the manager had a little boy, so come evening time we go seek him out. Though he’s five, he and Ryder jive right away, with Ryan mimicking Ryder’s gobbledy gook and both of them laughing like crazy while I eat my delicious bowl of mushroom soup.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 366 awesome articles for us.

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