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vrijdag 13 maart 2009

Ho Chi Minh City Day 1 & 2

In the meantime we've arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, (HCMC) Viet Nam, the former Saigon. But before I get to that I need to talk a little bit more about Cambodia.

The third day we did our last tour of the temples. This was pretty nice, but a bit unnecessary as well. In two days you can see all of the most interesting ones. On the other hand it was a pretty relaxed day. One of the reasons we did a third day was that we had a 3-day pass, another reason was the fact that the battery of our camera was dead the before right about when we were visiting Preah Khan. So, we went back there for the pics. I really enjoyed that temple for the same reason I liked Ta Prohm: the awesome sight of the strangler trees. These huge trees grow right next to or on top of buildings. Their reeds go round and/or insert themselves in the stones of the structures. The buildings become unstable, but eventually they're held together by the strangles. Pretty dope sight.

In the evening we went out for some entertainment and food to a place called the Dead Fish Tower. It was recommended heartily by the local tourist guide for the free apsara dancing (the ritual hotties for the Hindus) and crocodiles. Like fools we walked into the tourist trap. The resto is different, in that they got several plateaus on which you can be served, making it a bit special. But then you've had the most interesting part. The dancing is ok, but not that exceptional. I expected to see the crocs displayed somewhere in the center of the room, but no such luck. They're stuffed in a corner of the room. The positive part is that the animals come from a breeding farm that closed. Instead of setting them free, after which they get killed and turned into handbags, the Dead Fish takes care of them. Nevertheless, it was expensive. I wanted to see the dancing (fool that I was). The next day we saw a flyer of a daily free show by Cambodian orphans. So, if you ever go to Siem Reap, skip the Dead Fish and go help orphans instead.After dinner, we were tempted by a Thai/Khmer massage. That was pretty violent I must say. Not bad, just rougher than expected. But hey, who can say no to being manhandled by young chicks?

Conclusion of our stay: Cambodia isn't a country you'd readily think of going to. This, however, does not mean it isn't worth going. People are very friendly, selling tactics are not as agressive as say Egypt, and it's quite beautiful. I can only speak for what I've seen during a brief stay in essentially one town (and surroundings).

And now to Ho Chi Minh. You move one country and there is a world of difference. Your basic SE Asia-ness remains, but whereas Cambodia (or at least Siem Reap) is a slowly developing country, Vietnam is steadily on the rise. We went from a small town to a big city. You immediately get the big city vibe of course. The first thing we noticed was the cleanliness of the streets though. Siem Reap is very dusty and there's dirt and trash all over the place. HCMC is paved almost all the way and there is as good as no trash. The second thing we noticed was the amount of traffic on the road. Ten years ago Vietnam's cities were filled to the brim with bicycles. Every street was a river of bicycles. These have been replaced by motorcycles. And a growing number of cars, quite a few I can't afford. The last time I was here (in 2004 if I'm not mistaken), the motorcycles were not all that young and the known Western music was still mostly about the eighties. Nowadays most of the bikes are new and accessorized: colors ranging from white to pink, drawings on the side and all kinds and colors of helmets you can see. There are actually entire shops dedicated to helmets alone. Another thing I noticed is the change in clothing , mostly of women. Back in the day most women wore simple pants and (mainly see-through) shirts. Now there is all kinds of clothing. Music has been updated as well. They even got local hip-hop (sort of) and r&b acts. The city is bustling and economically on the rise, that's very clear. Strangely enough, everything here is a lot cheaper than in Cambodia. And Ha Noi is supposed to be even cheaper. So we're holding off buying stuff here.

Today we did the tour of the historical city, which included the General Post office, the municipal house, and the erstwhile Opera house. All of these are French colonial style buildings. We also saw the Reunification Hall and the War Remnants Museum. The Reunification Hall is the former presidential palace where the American puppet regime, led by President Diem, ruled the south before the viet cong seized/liberated (depending on the point of view) the city and the region. Again, my mistake. I already saw it, and I'd forgotten that it's actually quite lame. You just get to see the former presidential rooms, which have been preserved in an early sixties time-warp. The War Remnants Museum tells the story of the Vietnam/American War through the eyes of the communist regime. Absolutely brilliant just to see how "the glorious Vietnamese people" have overcome "America's war of sabotage against the reunification" of the country. It's being renovated right now, meaning the top levels weren't open. As a result Hammy didn't get to see the bottled Napalm babies which used to be here (she didn't mind that much).

Tomorrow we're doing a trip of the Mekong Delta. We'll be seeing floating markets, islands, honey rhum.

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