Vietnam is just like I remember it,… back at home! The smells, the food, the smiles and the crazy driving. I’m not trying to be funny, but I feel very much at home here in Ho Chi Minh City!
I should probably back-track a little bit. We last left you in Siem Reap, ready to board our plane back to Phnom Phen. The flight was rather uneventful, just your regular short trip (a 30 min flight sure beats the 6 hours drive on bad roads in a crowded bus) in a small Boeing. We did however get a free upgrade to business class – but so did the other 9 people on our flight! We arrived safely back in Phnom Phen and caught a taxi back to our hotel.
The following day we casually decided to take in a couple of tours – The Killing Fields and the S21 Prison (“the place where people go in but never come out”). It was very confronting seeing these sites and knowing that these atrocities had occurred in our life time. The S21 prison was mostly left in tact and of the 17,000 people that were imprisoned and tortured at S21, only 7 survived – the artists making busts of Pol Pot. We were dumb founded at Pol Pot’s cruelty and the measures that he took to ensure his power. Our guide informed us that 10 to 15 year old boys were used to perform the killing – this was viewed as an impressionable age where the superiors could mold the boys minds. We saw the mass graves and the bones that show up after every wet season as the topsoil is washed away (we accidentally stood on some loose teeth and exposed clothing). Shovels and axes were used to slaughter the people because bullets were too expensive. Any ideology that Pol Pot had worked to was lost by the time he reached power and his rein seemed to be purely about self preservation – even killing his own men when he suspected that they knew too much. Our taxi driver gave the best description of this man – “Pol Pot was a psychopath”. The killing field that we visited is one of 400 that have been discovered so far. Over Pol Pot’s rein, 3 million Khmer people died (with a total population of only 8 million) – from butchery, starvation and as a result of the American’s secret carpet bombing campaign. During this time rice and food production increased, however the Khmer people where only provided two bowls of watery rice soup – as the food was sold to China by the officials.
Being a little emotional, I decided that I had had enough of “roughing it”, and decided to fly to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and camp out in a nice hotel after Philippa and Rob made up there mind to “float” to Vietnam. Their trip took four days (mine took one hour), and from what I hear was a lot of fun (Phil/Rob will post a separate blog about their trip later).
While waiting for them to arrive, I did the usual… Watched a lot of TV, sussed out the local KFC (several times) and did a bit of a walking tour which resulted in me getting very lost. A friendly “Cyclo” driver offered to show me around,… I promptly instructed him to “head for the nearest McDonalds”. 10 minutes later, we arrived at KFC (again) – apparently KFC is the closest thing that HCMC has to a McDonalds. I thanked the Cyclo driver for the ride and asked him how much I owed him; the ride *should* have cost 5,000 Dong and I was not surprised when he said 50,000 Dong (all I heard was the “5”) – I promptly paid the man, and realised that I had been ripped off while chowing down another Zinger burger! Groan – all these different currencies are giving me the irrits.
Cambodia was again a real culture shock at first, however the beautiful people with their warm hearts have given me a real passion for the country and I suspect that we will be back sometime soon. Vietnam so far has been a lot of fun, and I am finally leaving the hotel now that Philippa has returned (God, I missed her). I think the next three weeks here will be great if the past few days are anything to judge the country by!
Now onto some serious news! Why the hell is Philippa getting 2-3 emails a day and none to me… Starting to think you buggers don’t love me! 😛 Miss you all sooo much and looking forward to getting home, sometime in the next couple of years!