Best of both world
11.11.2006 30 °C
Cambodia and Vietnam, two neighbouring South East Asia countries which formed part of the Indochina region and sharing 4 border entry points have been very distinctive in terms the people, culture, economy and food. Setting my foot in Phnom Penh,Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam provide me the opportunity to experience the way of life of the people, their culture and to witness some very important historical sites and buildings as well as the many religious structures of wat, pagodas and temples. Not forgetting the chance to taste the authentic local food too.I arrived in Phnom Penh International Airport, engaged a motodop (motorbike taxi) to get to the city centre. It was late in the evening. Headed for the city centre with the motodop (moto taxi) and checked into the a guesthouse in Sangkat Psar Chass, Khan Daun Penh, adjacent to the Old Market and Sisowatch Quay, popularly known as the Riverside. Riverside as the name suggest is a place fronting a long river with a row of hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs. This place is very lively day and night with locals and foreigners strolling along the riverside walkways to unwind as well as foreigners patronising the restaurants and pubs during night time. Over here,you can also see many tuk-tuks plying their trade, so, getting around is not a problem, but make sure price are negotiated prior to getting on the vehicle. Over dinner, as I saw there were many street food stalls just few metres away my place of stay near the old market, I decided to walk around to have some local food. I bumped into a shop located few rows opposite the place I stay. There was a push cart at thr front of the shop where Cambodian Ham are available. Met a fellow Malaysian who greeted me from above the first floor of the shop. He introduced himself as Teoh. According to Teoh, he and several other Malaysians owned the pork ham business in Phnom Penh. They were into the wholesale trade supplying pork ham to food business community in Phnom Penh while also venturing into their own retailing of french bread with pork ham through push carts. They had created a brand name for this business doubt "The Cambodian Hamburger". In Vietnam, you can also find plenty of push carts selling french bread with pork ham in coffee shops, streets and fivefoot walkways. This ham is normally taken for breakfast, afternoon or night snack. A pork ham bread comes with french bread: half or whole, slices of pork ham, pork mince, mint leaves,long green leave and cold salad. For half bread it costs 1,500 riel (USD1-4,000 riel). After a long chat, it was time to say goodbye. A very friendly chat sessions and great to have Teoh shared his business experience over here in Phnom Penh.
It was time to set off to Ho Chi Minh city at 8.15am. Ticket costs USD12 for a one way journey. I met with 3 Malaysians on board the bus. One of them owns a garments business in Vietnam. We had lunch together at the Cambodian border. They were friendly and cheerful lot. Border in Cambodia is Bavet while in Vietnam is Moc Bai. Bavet has a casino and many Vietnamese crossed the border for gambling purpose. We parted ways after arriving at the Ho Chi Minh city centre and I proceeded to the backpackers area of Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham and Bui Vien to look for accomodation. I checked into Lan Anh Hotel@252, De Tham Street for only USD10 for a one bed room per night. It comes with cable TV, hot and cold shower, air-cond, fan and free breakfast. After settling down, I set off on foot to explore around the backpackers area. As I strolled from one street to another, I came across a Pho (pronounced fur which means rice noodle) shop. There were many pho shops around as well as fivefoot pho stalls. They can be seen in each and every corners of the city.The Vietnamese just love the noodle so much that they eat them during breakfast, lunch and dinner. I noticed a franchise pho restaurant named Pho 24. Unlike the conventional pho restaurants, this franchise restaurants cater to the middle to upper class Vietnamese and tourists with the comfortable settings,clean, air-conditioned and contemporary interior. Met with Vietnamese friend,Ngyuen Thi Tan Duc.We proceeded to the night market near the Ben Thanh Market. This area have rows of food stalls serving seafoods and all kinds of Vietnamese specialties including the fresh and fried spring rolls and Banh Xeo (egg pancake wrap with vegetables). The night market was located across the street where the food stalls were and there were variety of items being sold here. The streets of which these night market stalls and food stalls were being set up were closed to traffic for the convenience of visitors. The food stalls here were never short of customers with most of them packed with diners. As we walk through the stalls, we settled down at one of them and ordered a plate of fresh spring rolls and Banh Xeo. We chatted and enjoyed the food very much. .After finishing our dinner, we decided to proceed elsewhere for drinks as it was still early to call it a day. We went to one of the cafes near the place I was staying and I ordered the iced black coffee while she ordered a bottle of mineral water. Would like to try the Vietnam coffee as it was said that it produces best coffees in the world.
The next morning, as I finished my breakfast of french bread with egg and tea, today I set off for city tour on cyclo. Ho Chi Minh city boasts many pagodas and temples and some that I visited include Giac Lam Pagoda, Xa Loi Pagoda, Thien Hou Temple, Phuoc An Hoi Quan Temple, Jade Emperor Pagoda, Hoi Quan On Lang Society Premises, Hong Kong market, Binh Tay Market (Cho Binh Tay in Chinatown), Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace and the General Post Office. Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace and the General Post Office were adjacent to each other and it gives one the feel of being in the European country due to its neat settings of roads, clean environment, well landscaped with parks as well as the European exterior of the buildings surrounding these tourist attractions. Another landmark insight was the HSBC building located opposite the Notre Dame church which add to the European charm in this area. Another notable experience during this city tour was encountering the sights of coffee streets where rows of shops along a street in Ho Chi Minh citspecialise in selling variety of coffee beans as well as a street where dog merchants can be seen parading their stocks for sale. Traffic in this city need no introductions. The number of motorbikes outnumbered any other vehicles and you really need to be very alert and extra quick to cross the streets. People just disregard the road rules. Helmet is not necessary for city travel. However, for certain areas outside the city, it is required to put on the helmet while on motorbike. Honking can be heard almost every seconds.As the day sets down, I was back at my hotel by 6 pm.
It's a day tour out of HCM city to the Cao Dai temple and Chu Chi tunnels. Along the way, at a laquerware processing village, you can see how the laquerware were being processed from the A to Z. You can also purchase the ready made laquerware at the laquerware boutique located within the processing compound as souveniers or for your own keep. The coach departed for Cao Dai Temple, a very distinctive temple from others found in Vietnam and other Asian countries. This temple located in the Tay Ninh district accessible along the road leading to the Vietnam-Cambodia border of Moc Bai-Bavet. It was distinctive due to the fact that several religions were being integrated into one single beliefs comprising the Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism Christianity and Islam. To differentiate themselves, the worshippers wore customs of their own religions to reflect their religious identity. 4 prayer sessions were conducted in a day at 6am, 12pm, 6pm and 12am. Inside the temple, there appears a mural of 3 saints of Cao Daism located at the main entrance of the temple. The open spaces of the temple was where the worshippers perform the prayers of chanting. On the other end of the temple, there were several red-cushioned couch together with altar on a rounded structure while a big round globe with a divine eye on it hanging from the ceiling above the altar. The are a total of 5 tiers inside indicating the rankings on each level by a statue. The 1st and highest tier are Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tze. Second tier has Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, Lai Thai Bach and Quan Thanh Do Quan, recognised as "3 Lords of The Earth". Jesus Christ is on the 3rd tier while Khuong Thai Quan, the head of ancestral spirits on the 4th tier. Photographs were allowed in the temple. Visitors will have to clear the ground floor and proceed to the upper balcony on the left and right of the temple when prayers session begins. From outside the temple on the way out, it can be noticed that the temple has a very large gated compound and looked very much like a palace environment. It gives one the thought of being in a forbidden city. The next journey is to the Chu Chi tunnels. Entrance fee to Chu Chi tunnel was USD5. There is a video presentation on the history of Chu Chi Tunnels before visitors proceeded to the nearby jungle to witness the many tunnels, gadjets and weapons used by the Vietnamese communist guerillas, the Viet Cong in their war against their enemies. Visitors have the opportunity to experience the tunnel-treking, which fit just for 1 person, view the underground hide-outs that have built-in kitchens, medical and ward rooms, administration rooms and gadgets/weapons processing rooms. Range of weapons and gadjets were also displayed. The most interesting part was that, visitors are allowed to try out shooting at the shooting range within the vicinity of the jungle near the exit point and also to try the tapioca with crushed peanut and sugar, which had been they way of life for the communists during the war time. You can also take a closer look at the different sizes of the black hardened rubber sandals worn by the communists in the jungle during their struggle. After a good several hours of jungle tour, it was time to head back to the city. It was a very interesting and wortwhile trip.
My last day in Ho Chi Minh city. After breakfast, I set off to the Binh Tay Market in Chinatown on a motorbike taxi for the second time to get some Vietnamese souveniers. Today, it was a day of free and easy. I had more time to enjoy myself in the market as compared to the time I visited this market on tour. I bought some shirts, several packets of the Vietnamese tea as well as Vietnamese sweets and snacks. This market is very big with varieties of goods being sold. You want it, you have it here. And if you're really into real shopping, this is the place for shoppaholics. It's a shopping heaven. I then proceeded to another market, the Ben Thanh Market. Compare to Binh Tay, Ben Thanh was smaller with only 1 storey while Bin Thay with 2. Just like Binh Thay, Ben Thanh has its fair share of great items being sold. You can also find nice Vietnamese food for breakfast at the ood stall sections and get some aromatic Vietnamese coffee beans and the rice spring roll wrapper here. After done with shopping, it was time to get a good massage. The shiatsu massage cost USD6 for 1 hour. Compare to the Thai massage, this is more expensive but the masseurs were equally good if not better. There were not many massage centres in Ho Chi Minh or probably throughout Vietnam, thus it isn't as robust as compared to the Thai massage business, which could explain why the costlier charge. At night, took walk at the nearby park across the street of Pham Ngu Lao. Here, you can see the locals mingling around, play badminton and kicking a type of tiny ball with fur. Witnessing such activities brought a nostalgic feelings in my mind. When I grew up in my country as a kid, such activities were just as thriving as what can bee seen in HCM during the 80s in Malaysia.
Time to say goodbye Vietnam and hello again Cambodia. Departed for Phnom Penh by bus at 9am. The journey took 6 hours and I reached Phnom Penh at 3pm and checked into the guesthouse. Took a motodop to the Central Market. This market has everything that you would want to buy. From jewellery, watches, garments, footwear, sportswear, shirts, kitchenware, souveniers, you name it you have it all in one place. Bought several t-shirts for USD2 a pice. Very good bargain.
Engaged the tuk-tuk for the city tour. The first place that I visited was the Royal Palace. Next to this place is the Silver Pagoda. Entrance fee to these 2 places was USD3 with camera, you have to pay USD2. The main palace building was located at the middle of the palace compound surrounded by several other royal houses and guard houses. Towards the right side of the palace was the Silver Pagoda. No photograph is allowed in the Silver Pagoda. Visitors were only allowed to take photos outside the Pagoda. Next stop was the Wat Phnom. To access the Wat, you would have to climb up the stairs as it was built up the hill. At the bottom of this Wat was a round shape park where many beggers can be seen plying their trade here as well as the stairs leading to the Wat. Entrance for this Wat is USD1. After Wat Phnom, went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This museum was formerly a high school building before it was converted to a prison by the Khmer Rouge Regime. There were 4 buildings in these former prison with building A being used as torture rooms. the torture beds were still being displayed in each rooms on the ground floor of the building. Building B, formerly where the interrogation rooms were located is now being used to display the photographs of victims being captured, tortured and killed at the Tuol Sleng Prison. Building C was where the prison cells were while building D was used as administration office. As I toured each of the buildings, it gave me the eerie feelings of being in a haunted place where innocent people were being killed in a senseless way. Looking at the victims photos gave you the sense of sorry and pity for these people and how heartless and inhumane it could be for the Khmer Rouge to have done such unforgiveable sins. My last stop was at the Russian Market. This market specialises in Cambodian Silk garments as well as many other goods available at the Central Market but was apparently smaller in size compared to the latter. The silk garments were cheap between USD 3 to USD5 a piece. If you're into shopping I would recommend that you must include Russian Market & Central Market in your itineraries. You can get whole loads of affordable, nice goodies here. Practically, everything you need and want. In HCM city, do not missed out on Binh Tay Market & Ben Thanh Market. These two places also offer you plenty of goods & services that you'll not resist. Take your time to shop at these markets and you'll definitely find something interesting.
Overall, this have been a great trip and I wouldn't mind to get back to both countries for another fantastic holidays.