Dep Phnom Penh Cambodia: 08:00
Arr Chau Doc Vietnam: 15:30
All the way to the border Dominique’s incessant, lispy proclamations and wild gesticulations fill the minivan. He’s got something for all of us:
“You’re from Germany?? Merkel! Hell Hitler!” This is to Marion and Johannes behind us.
Leno and Will from Albuquerque New Mexico in the back are reminded that a man named Donald Trump recently became US President and there is a long structure he’d dearly like to build near their place of residence. He has invited Kaili to France, before her and I swap places in the van so she’s not sat next to him. And for the Brit?
“Oh my sister married a British, she lives in Cricklade near Swindon.”
When we go quiet on him, this restless man-child turns on our hapless driver, banging him on the arm and urging him to speed up.
The minivan finally stops on the Cambodian side with the Mekong river wide and murky on our. We file out, expecting the boat leg of our bus/boat border crossing. And hoping for somewhere we all can spread out.
There’s no boat.
Ahead of us, the road to the border has subsided into the Mekong, taking with it the concrete approach to a riverside house. It’s impassable.
I can’t fathom what is going through the mind of the bewildered homeowner stood at his front door surveying the new riverbank, now a couple of inches away.
Meanwhile immobilised trucks and vans line the approach to the land slip and a stream of men ferry bags of rice across what’s left of the road from the foremost of those. I help them with a very heavy bag.
Presently, our driver rustles up a 4×4 and we haul our packs across the muddy path to where the road continues. With the journey having become an adventure the company, further riled up by Dominique’s posturing, is now in high spirits.
The river in Vietnam is flanked by a patchwork of cranes, factories and stilt huts. Barges laden with building materials chug past, drying laundry and hammocks accompanying grim-faced captains in the cabins.
An hour drifts by. Dominique shows me a picture of the friend he is visiting upriver. It’s a selfie snapped in the car; a beautiful, well-dressed Asian woman is smiling at him through rosé lips. I look at the bald almost toothless cigarette factory in front of me. There’s something transactional going on here. He tells me a story about a different Cambodian woman who he entertained in Northern France for a couple of weeks until she told him she would end the relationship unless he married her.
“This one’s got a dress shop and a car. I think she’s quite stable. We communicate using Google Translate.”
Finally he falls asleep stretched out on a bench, arms thrown over his head. Upon arrival in Chau Doc, the Frenchman books himself an immediate transfer onwards to Can Tho, subjecting the poor tourist information staff to a barrage of nonsense in the process.
The rest of us agree to walk into town from the wharf together.
First, some farewells.
“Goodbye baby.” Dominique briefly holds Kaili’s hand in both of his.
About half an hour from my grandma’s house lives a female relative of a French nutcase.