24
Jan
10

Jan 15-19: Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City

Phnom Penh along the beach

I haven’t had a chance to post in a while, so I’m going to try and go back (quite) a few days and recap the events between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the next few posts. Bear with me over the next week, we are very busy and good internet is difficult to find apparently! Right now we are in Hoi An, halfway up the coast of Vietnam, but let me tell you how we got here…

Our last night in Phnom Penh was one of the most hellish nights I have ever had, and definitely the worst so far on the tour. A few of us went to a Thai boxing match during the evening last Friday, and I started to feel ill. Since we were about 60km outside of the city, I couldn’t easily get a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, so I decided to wait it out. By the time I got home two hours later, there was liquid coming out of both ends of my body (EW!) and I had the worst stomach cramps known to any woman. I spent most of the evening and the night on or hovering over the toilet, wishing for my life to end (well, not really, but you know I’m a big fat drama queen :). Luckily by Saturday morning I was feeling sufficiently better to be able to board the bus for a 6.5hr bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City, although I ate nothing for three meals, and nothing but baguette and rice for the next three.

Our group having our welcome to Vietnam dinner at the market in Ho Chi Minh City

Things in Vietnam are much better than they were in Cambodia, and the difference is obvious as soon as you cross the border. The two countries, although bordering, are like night and day. Ho Chi Minh City is a busy, hot city, but it is clean, and doesn’t have the same smell as Phnom Penh. The people seem cleaner and happier, and it seems that life is easier here, despite the fact that Vietnam is still gaining it’s own independence and establishing itself as an economic force. While the Cambodian people are still recovering from the past, Vietnam seems to be moving steadily toward the future.

Our hotel in Saigon was interesting. I spotted a gecko on the wall after arriving in our room, and proceeded to ignore it; however, it was much more difficult to ignore the three-inch brown cockroach crawling down the wall immediately following my shower! Our solution was to leave the light on in the bathroom, close the door, and shove copious amounts of toilet paper  in the crack it disappeared into. Luckily we only had to spend one more night in our room before leaving for our Mekong River homestay.

Court disappearing into one of the Cu Chi Tunnel entrances. This is how the Viet Cong got into the tunnel network.

On Sunday a group of us went to the Cu Chi tunnels, outisde of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels were used as an underground network by the Viet Cong during the American War (what the Vietnamese people call the “Vietnam War”). The tunnels include bunkers,  barracks, hospitals, and kitchens, and were cleverly disguised. They were also surrounded by a number of nasty looking booby traps, which made me cringe. It makes me wonder how one human being can want to inflict so much pain, torture, and slow death on another human being. I mean, I know it’s war but still.  We all got a chance to walk in the tunnels, but I could barely fit through while crouching, and the walls were barely wider than my own hips. Turning around would have been a nightmare!

Me going into the Cu Chi tunnels through a more "comfortable" method.

During the afternoon we went to the War Remnants Museum, which is honestly one of the most captivating museums I have ever seen. The photos were necessarily graphic and moving, and really helped to illustrate the stories, quotations, and timelines documented in the museum. I never realized the extent to which the Americans destroyed Vietnam and it’s people during the war, and for what now seems such a senseless reason. Where Cambodia seems to still be recovering from the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese people are all too happy to put the past behind them and start looking toward the future. Our local guide said that many Vietnamese prefer to live in the present, instead of being haunted by the war, and it seems to me that Vietnam is rebuilding itself beautifully.

On Sunday evening we met our new, Vietnamese tour leader, Dat. It seems that the tour we are on is a combination of smaller, one-country tours, so we have a new leader for each leg. We also said goodbye to five members of our Cambodian leg, and pciked up tow more, sisters from Australia. We had a welcome dinner in the market, which was some of the best bbq ribs I have ever had.

Traditional Vietnamese "conical hats"! That's me on the right, by the way 🙂

Monday morning brought a new and unexpected twist: our private bus was huge! After being squished and cramped in a small, non-air conditioned bus in Cambodia, we were all overjoyed at the sight of leg room and circulating air! We drove to the mouth of the Mekong Delta, where we boarded a boat to take us to our homestay.

After the homestay in Cambodia, we were all apprehensive of our accommodation, but again, Vietnam did not disappoint! We were greeted by our own cots with mosquito nets, tables and chairs, hammocks, a cooler full of drinks, toilets, showers, electricity, and fantastic hospitality from our local family! Dinner was delicious, all fresh and prepared and served by the family, and then they treated us to  some traditional south Vietnam music and singing! IT was one of the best nights so far, in my opinion, because all of us had a chance to relax, chat, play games, and connect with locals.

Along the Mekong River

On Tuesday we awoke well rested and well fed, to a western breakfast before boarding our boat to go back to Ho Chi Minh. We had free time to explore the city before our night train to Nha Trang, but it was raining so we opted to visit Reunification Palace.To be honest, it was pretty boring, but every trip to Ho Chi MinhCity must include a visit to the famous gates which were crashed through by a tank during the War, so we went.

Tuesday night we boarded a night train for Nha Trang, and that is where this story ends. Here’s hoping I will get to fill in the remaining gaps before we get too much further up the coast.

Until next time,

Lex

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