From Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City

26 Feb

Phnom Penh

…which we left on Sunday.

 

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is six hours away in a bus and a world apart from Phnom Penh.

We would have made it there sooner if we, as many others, had stuck a few notes inside our passports and bribed our way past the queue at immigration. As a Scottish man pointed out as the tenth chubby Vietnamese pushed and shoved his way past, there is no incentive to improve. Efficiency would mean that no one would pay bribes.

Anyways. Once you finally make it across the border, the change of scenery is striking. Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City is not a fair comparison, but we will do it nonetheless.

Vietnam's GDP is ten times that of Cambodia, so that bamboo is changed to brick, tuktuks swapped for buses, and the number of people on motorbikes reduced from four to two are actually not that surprising. But, what made us gawk out the window was the colour green. If you need any proof of the efficiency of irrigation, take a bus during the dry season from grey and beige Cambodia to extraordinarily green Vietnam.

After Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City – once Saigon – is easy to visit. Streets and boulevards are lined with trees, there are pavements you can walk on, and the air feels fine to breath. The city centre is largely made up of low and mid-rise buildings and the entire place gives off more of a village vibe than that of a bustling city of eight million people. That every second middle-aged woman sports a pyjama adds to that feeling.

Backpackers have also reemerged, as have the kind of hip shops, bars and restaurants that you find in Bangkok. I must admit, I am happy to be back in “cool Asia”. It never fails to impress and in Ho Chi Minh City, the French legacy also ensures easy access to lovely flakey, buttery croissants for breakfast.

Traffic may be calmer than Phnom Penh, but motorbikes still dash from everywhere. Our first night here, an assertive local woman came to our rescue as we wondered how on earth we would survive an attempt to cross the street. “Want to cross? Come with me!” Following her like scared sheep eying the 20 motorbikes coming directly at us, I asked optimistically, “So..they always stop?” But no. She laughed! “They NEVER stop!”

The trick to survive is to forget about traffic laws and traffic lights (everyone else has). Simply start walking slowly, so that the motorbikes can still whizz around you, and make sure to keep a somewhat predictable pace. Stopping (read: paralysing) is not advisable, as this leaves everyone confused as to your next move.

Although the city itself does not readily remind you that you are in a one-party state, several of the museums serve as stark reminders. More about that later. For now, here are some photos of Ho Chi Minh City.

 

 

'Tous les Jours'. At least every day we are in town.

A French bakery and a heavenly escape from travelling.
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'N2 Heaven' on Ba Huyen Thanh Quan

Choose your tropical fruits, add some cream and watch it transform to ice cream with a burst of liquid nitrogen. Owner and inventor Tony Khuy said it took him two years and 10 pounds to work it out. Best mango ice cream I have ever had. And first and worst brown rice ice cream for my more adventurous boyfriend.

 

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