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IndochinaThe Dark Past

On 26 October 2008 from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam , trackback

Wednesday 22 October we got picked up by a pickup, thinking we were the last passengers on the route of hotels around town. We were wrong. I never knew one pickup truck could fit so many people and backpacks. Luckily the boat to Battambang was not as crowded. Patricia and I went for seats on the inside, fearing we would get sunburned on the roof. Turns out that getting wet by rain was the main risk of the roof. On the way to Battambang we passed several floating villages, where the entire life of the inhabitants is taking place on the water. Progress has not passed by these towns though, as one of the houses was a (non-floating) platform with a tall mobile phone tower. I am still not sure if the captain took a wrong way somewhere in the wetlands (my GPS travel recorder may provide the answer), or if we went slower than usual (it did not appear so), because it took us 7 hours instead of 5. That left very little time to see some of the sights outside the city of Battambang, since sunset is around 17:30 and at 18:00 it is pitch black. We decided to call it a day.

On Thursday we took the bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh, once again arriving in the afternoon. We explored the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda the same day, leaving plenty of time for the other sights on Friday. That was a good thing, because Friday morning it rained and therefore we had a slow start of the day (it is vacation after all). In the afternoon we chartered a tuk-tuk driver to bring us to the other Phnom Penh attractions. We started at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, where opponents (in the broad sense, basically everyone with education or glasses) of the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime got tortured before being killed at the Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek. That was the next destination of the afternoon, but it failed to leave a big impression, except for the stupa with the thousands of skulls that were dug up.

On a completely unrelated note, the last attraction we went to in Phnom Penh was a base of the Cambodian Army. In return for my sponsorship I got to fire an AK-47 (aka Kalashnikov) in their shooting range. I fired shots both manually and semi-automatic (mostly manual though, seeing it was USD 40 for 30 rounds). In the evening I went on a little pub crawl with some English (Ian, Tony & Sarah) & Australian (Dickbee). Besides playing pool in the last bar, the other game to be played was spotting the girls that are not actually girls. We ended the night (danced the night away would be a more accurate description) in the club Heart of Darkness.

So with little more than one hour of sleep for me we got into the bus to Vietnam on Saturday. The border crossing here was the easiest non-Schengen I ever encountered while travelling by bus. We only had to get into the bus (out of Cambodia), or through a security check (into Vietnam) when they called our names. Easy does it. In the afternoon we visited some more reminders of the wars in South-East Asia, but this time the focus was the Vietnam war. The Reunification Palace was not very interesting, but the War Remnants Museum was, with shocking photos of the Vietnam war, and examples of US military equipment outside. Notre Dame Cathedral was the last stop of the day.

Sunday we booked a full-day tour to Tay Ninh and the Cu Chi tunnels, in a big bus full of tourists. Something went wrong there. In Tay Ninh we visited the very colourful Caodai Great Temple and watched part of a mass. In the afternoon we visited the Cu Chi tunnels, built by the Viet Cong. The tour started with a very bad propaganda film with footage from the 70’s. After that the different tunnel entry points and traps were showed. The tour ended with a run through a narrow, dark and hot tunnel, which was obviously not designed for a Dutch guy with a backpack. Good exercise though.

 

Comments

1. Arno - 27 October 2008


Hi Guido,

Sounds you’re enjoying yourself. Is it a rush or do you take time to see things properly? Not much to tell from here. Good luck.

2. Guido - 28 October 2008


Some places are a bit of a rush, but mainly because the bus usually arrives early afternoon, and the sun sets early. Spending another full day is too much in most cases, though. So it is a bit of an ambitious planning, but then again, nothing wrong with a bit of ambition.