When you’re traveling around in southeast Asia, there is a possibility that you will go overland from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. You can do that two ways. One way to do it is with a bus company like Mekong Express. They charge you $12 one way and it’s all quite luxurious and easy. You leave around 7 am and go to the border. At the border everything passes quickly as the bus host will collect all the passengers passports at Moc Bai borderpoint and put them with some bribe on the desk of the immigration officer for your exit stamp of Vietnam. The same ritual by managing the Cambodian visas.
The only point you have to pay attention to is when you aren’t planning to stay on a tourist visa in Cambodia. Those bus companies only manage your tourist visa. They offer you the possibility to manage your own visa, but they refuse to wait longer than 30 minutes for you. In other words, they kind of pressure you to let them manage you a tourist visa. Everyone takes their bags out and crosses the border and 30-40 minutes later you’re in Cambodia and on your way to Phnom Penh.
Overland by yourself
This is partly the same way as doing the visa run from Saigon to Moc Bai and back to Saigon. You go to park 23/9 at Pham Nhu Lao street. Just around the corner of Bui Vien. There is a buspark. Some are green and some blue buses. You walk to the end of the park where the blue bus 703 is waiting that goes to Moc Bai border. It goes at least every hour. You pay a ticket in the bus of under $2. Then you walk from the endpoint, left and after a 100 meters right, to the exit building of Vietnam.
Usually get in the queue on the right side counter. This can be a bit of annoying, as they seem to be unwilling and disinterested immigration officers, who are obviously not happy to work at the ‘no bribe line’ where most people don’t put some money visible in their passport. Now there are several casual guys hanging around in the immigration building that approach when you get in and when you wait in line. They offer to help you get fast through immigration for about $5. Amazing that those people can openly do that inside an immigration building. The worst part is that they are stubborn and not easily take no for an answer.
Get your stamp and walk out, where new people hassle you to give you a lift on their motorbike to the Cambodian immigration, a 100 meter walk, or to help you get passed fast there. At the Cambodian side, Bavet, you get your application form from a boot in the middle between roads. Fill the paper and get a visa sticker. Be prepared to pay at least $2 extra for the officer. If not, you might be in for a long wait. In case you want another visa than tourist, apply for an EiVisa. This visa is supposed to be easier and longer to extend than a tourist visa. You can do this all yourself or let a guy do it for $5 and you’ll be passed in 5 minutes. From there you walk into the left building where you get a stamp and than you walk out. At both immigrations the hand luggage isn’t checked at all.
Overland part 2
Now you walk to the road where the tourist buses pass again. There are plenty, so don’t worry not to find one. Unless you are later in the day, but when you leave Saigon at 8 am, you’ll be able to catch a tourist bus like the mentioned Mekong Express at the border. You offer the driver something like $8 and he will give you an empty seat in his bus all the way to Phnom Penh. This way you won’t save a lot compared to the arranged bus trip. It’s all about getting yourself another visa than tourist visa for Cambodia. Once you reach Phnom Penh you get out and go your way.
In case you’re planning to go on to Siem Reap. Tell the driver of the bus. He stops in Phnom Penh at some office, or calls a tuktuk to bring you there. You can buy a ticket for $8 for a big bus to Siem Reap. Either you’ll get picked up at that office or they bring you to a small bus stop place. Within 45 min you’re on the way and you reach Siem Reap around 12 at night. The bus stops on the edge of town. You need to catch a tuktuk or Grab from there to your hotel. A 16 hour journey from Saigon to Siem Reap, but all smooth and easy and to some level an adventure.
An impression video can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0qpFhcMzUg