The Vietnamese authorities saw fit to let me across the border and I am now in Another Country for the first time since February. This, of course, means leaving behind Cambodia, and all the things that came with it.
It’s a sad fact of this transient lifestyle that you end up saying more goodbyes than you’d like and there’s a lot of people who’ll I’ll miss: both the staff I was lucky enough to work with at Chab Dai and the fellow Foreigners who I met along the way. It wasn’t always easy living so far from home and in a place that’s frustrating in its differences sometimes, but as far as culture shock goes, these friends were a huge support to me through the dips and a big laugh through the highs. So, I was feeling a strong case of the sentimentals as I left Phnom Penh early last Sunday.
I had one last trip planned, however. My last days in Cambodia were spent in Mondolkiri province, a Northeastern region known for its European-like green landscape and (equally European-like) cooler temperatures. Staying in the main town of Sen Moronom, I saw coffee plants, beautiful waterfalls and met some of the tribal Bunong people, as well as this rather banana-hungry fellow here:
It made a nice last memory of the country I called home for 5 months.
Ccrossing the border at Trapeang Sre – Loc Ninh, had me a bit worried, mainly because it’s a little out of the way and no one seemed to be talking about it on the internet.
In fact, it was pretty straightforward, if you don’t count the five different types of transport from the journey’s start to the end, probably getting massively overcharged along the way and a slightly mad bus ride to Ho Chi Minh City, in which the conductor swung himself, bags and other people on and off the moving vehicle with casual ease. However, when I arrived, I did manage to navigate the local bus to my final destination, all for the price of about 20p, so that made me happy.
Ho Chi Minh…or Saigon
Officially this second city is named after Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader who fought first against the French rulers of Indochina, then against South Vietnam and the US. But everyone still seems to call it Saigon (its pre-1975 name).
Whatever you call it, the city has charm by the basket-load. Sprawling across 13 districts but very walkable at its core, you’ll find locals salsa dancing in the park before breakfast, cruising around in the constant stream of motorbikes or dining alongside tourists at one of the many street-food venues across the centre.
And like every city should, you have several opportunities to see it from on high, this photo being taken at the Alto Heli bar in the Bitexco Tower. The cocktail prices were as ridiculous as the convoluted way inside (“go up the escalator and look for the woman in black” was the actual phrase used) but it was a pretty spectacular view.
Like Cambodia, Vietnam has had its fair share of trauma in the recent past and there are reminders of the Vietnam War (as well as very pointed reminders of who won) at several interesting attractions here, from the War Remnants Museum to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an ingenious underground labyrinth north of the city, from which guerrilla war was waged against the GI forces above.
But it’s also a place that has an appealing energy weaving in between both the shiny new skyscrapers and the grand hotels and public buildings of Saigon’s old colonial life.
It makes a cracking first impression of Vietnam and having begun my adventure here, I’m looking forward to the next leg of the journey northwards.