‘Nam

I’m in Cantho, the transport and industrial hub of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. I got here after a slow boat journey from Phnom Penh down the Mekong River, which was a great chance to see people fishing, boating and doing everything else they do by or on the river. The Mekong is huuuge, and branches off into lots of tributaries and smaller waterways, feeding and housing thousands of people in a lush, fertile flood plain. The people I have met so far have been very friendly and hospitable, so it’s made leaving Cambodia a bit easier. I got to like Cambodia quite a bit in case you hadn’t guessed, but that was helped by Siem Reap, the Sangkheum Center, and the people I met at Earthwalkers and the Angkor What… sometimes places may not be so extraordinary but the people are just right, and enough to make you want to stick around longer than you should. It even took Iris and I an extra day to leave Siem Reap for Phnom Penh in the end, after yet another night on the whiskey buckets, and deciding that Battambang really wasn’t worth a visit after all. I’m sure it was but the whiskey bucket won.

Phnom Penh was an experience, albeit a short one. We got off the bus to the largest and most aggressive crowd of tuk-tuk drivers I have ever encountered, making the ones I’ve met anywhere else meek and retiring by comparison. After ignoring all of them on principal (if you get in my face and ask me if I want a ride ten times in a row, my answer will stay ‘no’, just to spite you), Iris and I walked to our hotel, except we hadn’t booked into it so it wasn’t ours in the end as they didn’t have space. So we walked a bit more and a bit more and we were soon getting to the point where the tuk-tuk drivers’ offers of guesthouses were looking attractive.

Phnom Penh wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, with a conspicuous absense of gun-toting Khmers on every corner waiting to demand all of my money and my camera. Staying at the riverside (in the friendly Indochine hotel) provided a pleasant mix of river breeze, outside seating under canopies, good food, very cheeky street kids – and even the tuk-tuk drivers were capable of being charming. I can honestly say I left Phnom Penh feeling good about the place.

While in Phnom Penh, Iris and I visited the two main tourist attractions there, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (former S-21 detention center) and the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. We saw some awful, sad, tragic things, confirmation if it were needed of the insanity and brutality of the former Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. I’ve added some photos in a set here, but be aware that some are disturbing. I’d also recommend the political biography of Pol Pot, Brother Number One, by David Chandler for those with an interest in the Khmer Rouge and the recent history of Cambodia. It’s highly accessible, but nevertheless a fascinating insight into Pol Pot and the development and rise to power of the Khmer Rouge. I bought my copy from a street kid in Phnom Penh, those at home might just try Amazon.

Tomorrow it’s some floating markets, and then on to Ho Chi Minh City.

3 thoughts on “‘Nam”

  1. You can sense a change moving from one to the next I think, more pronounced the further away from the border you get, though sometimes the differences have seemed subtle. Language differences would be one of the biggest things. Thailand may neighbour Cambodia but it’s a dramtically different country as it is so much better off, and Vietnam has so far had different food and drink, the women dress differently, and people are (mostly so far anyway) less in your face for money – that will probably change when I get to Ho Chi Minh City later today.

    Oz next, about 16 August!

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  2. I’ve just realised that saying that those are the only discernable differences between the Asian tiger countries is like saying that the only discernable difference between India and the UK is that Indian men have more more moustaches – i.e. a poor analyis of the differences. There are a lot more, though obviously there are a lot of similarities. Given that the borders of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have shifted over the years, it’s not surprising that there are similarities between the countries, but the feel of each place is different.

    Having said that, India felt like different countries within the one place, and any other big country has differences within its borders between its people. Maybe the differences are less controlled by political boundaries than they are by simple distance.

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