Phnom Penh, Saigon and Hanoi
Trip Start May 02, 2012
64Trip End Jul 31, 2014
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Where I stayed
Our brief stay in Phnom Penh was unexpectedly enjoyable. We had not planned to spend time there and just to use it as a stop-over on our journey trip to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. However, we changed our plans and I am so glad that we did stay for the one day (and 2 nights) in Phnom Penh as it is totally different to Siem Reap.
Phnom Penh is situated where the Tonlé Sap "Great Lake" drains into the Mekong River. Tonlé Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, is an ecological hot spot and was designated as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997. It is unusual in that its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons
The wide promenade in Phnom Penh alongside the river was always interesting – with large groups of dance exercises going on to loud vibey music, picnics on the pavement (the large grassy areas seem to be off-bounds for sitting – or maybe the locals just like to have a flat cement area to set out their food!), well-used outdoor gym equipment, flags of every country fluttering down the river's edge (I was excited to find the SA flag!), boats plying their trade up and down the river, and bars and cafes teeming with all nationalities plus locals. The Royal Palace and grounds dominate the riverfront. We enjoyed a couple of really good mojitos at a rooftop bar overlooking all the activity.
We took a tuk-tuk to the Killing Fields where the Pol Pot regime murdered some 20000 persons between 1975 and 1979. (In total some 3 million out of a population of 8 million Cambodians were killed by the regime during this period). When we got to the Killing Fields we saw only a little orchard with a small lake and a big stupa (a memorial structure, in this case containing the human skulls and other remains of those murdered), and it all just looked so under-stated. But the presentation was extremely sobering and excellently done. With earphones and English commentary a quiet walk through the orchard revealed the horror and trauma that transpired in that little area only a few years ago. Genocide can happen anywhere, anytime…. Awful. The Killing Fields is an honourable memorial to those who perished in that time. It upset me to learn that Pol Pot was still accepted by the UN and the western world right up until 1998 and lived a good life until he died of old age……
We also toured the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh - beautifully kept gardens, silver tiles decorated the large floor space of one temple and a large Buddha studded with thousands of diamonds took pride of place
Then another 7 hour bus trip to Ho Chi Minh City which included going through the Cambodia/Vietnam border. HCMC is the politically correct name according to the northern Vietnamese but is called Saigon, its original name, by the locals. We managed to get in contact with our tour guide from our last visit to Saigon in 2008. At that time she had taken us to her home where we sang Karaoke and had a really good home-cooked meal! Ha Dung now works part-time as a tour guide as she has married and has a baby. She and her husband, Nhut, and baby Nguyên (so cute and nicknamed Cherry) picked us up on their motorcycles, and we went for lunch at a local restaurant. I LOVE the food in Vietnam. We then cruised around the city on the bikes joining the hundreds of thousands of other motorcyclists! We were three up on my bike with myself and Nhut and also the baby in front on a little high chair! We ended up in a maze of shops and houses (which generally had one room downstairs and one upstairs). The passageways were narrow and it was difficult to get through even on the motorbikes. Anyway, we arrived at Ha Dung’s gran-in-law’s home and we met her and Nhut’s mother
THEN another two nights and one day "1st class" train trip to get to Hanoi!!!!!! We shared our compartment with two Vietnamese men. The food lady with a trolley on the train was quite busy, and we had luke-warm coffee, popcorn, peanuts and a blob of rice with soya and a spring roll thing – I don’t want to know what was in it…. during the trip. But the sheets on the beds were clean and the staff did keep emptying bins and mopping out the toilet. I would hate to think what 2nd class and 3rd class is like!
Our hotel in Hanoi is in the Old Quarter (Ma May Street) and is within easy walking distance to a pretty lake in the city. This area is a big tourist backpacker spot. Their hours are slightly different to ours! The traffic and party noise hots up (as does the weather) through the night! We have been here before so we are not too keen on being out in the non-stop traffic and ruthless heat. We had to remember the cardinal rule of crossing a road here – just set out at a regular pace into the throng of motorbikes, and the river of traffic swirls around you!!!! It’s like the parting of the Red Sea – just requires faith!!!! The first night here we ate at an outdoor local restaurant. There was a terrific storm during our meal that forced us inside, and with water lapping into the restaurant, and as I wasn’t keen to walk knee deep through the floating debris, we had to wait for the water in the streets to subside before walking back to our hotel!
We leave at 5:30 this evening for Beijing on what I expect will be another “1st class” train. We expect to go through the Vietnam/China border at about midnight. With the trouble brewing between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea it could be an interesting border crossing! We also change trains there - hopefully 1st class has a different meaning on Chinese trains!!