Tam biet Saigon

Good bye Saigon! I never thought I would be so relieved for leaving a place as I was when the bus finally started to reach the outskirts of Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City Sunday a few days back. But let’s not start there but instead go back to the beginning of this journey – my first trip across the Cambodian border to a neighboring country (transfer in Thailand or Singapore doesn’t count) – before getting too deep into negative and bitter chatter about my neighboring fully communistic country’s most populous city.

Vietnam is located east and south of Cambodia and almost surrounds it with help from Lao in the north and Thailand in the north and west. From Cambodia and Phnom Penh it’s fairly easy to go to Vietnam, either by boat on the Mekong river or by bus. The ride to Saigon from Phnom Penh takes roughly six and a half hour including the border cross and therefore makes it an easy weekend trip for us expats (an of course also backpackers…) when the Cambodian coast or the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap isn’t satisfying enough and a few days out of town is wanted. Vietnam and Saigon really do (did…) sound like an interesting place to go – even though I’d heard some not very positive things from people entering Cambodia – when considering the history. Both the somewhat recent story of the Vietnam-USA war, and  the French colonial days when Saigon was known as The Pearl, or Paris of the Orient is an intriguing subject for lazy reading days.

Map of Viet Nam

The bus ride was alright, as good as a bus ride can be I guess. Not particularly nice but definitely not terrible, and it seemed a lot closer than somewhat more than six hours. Crossing the border went just fine even though it took almost an hour… however, sometimes it’s really nice being from Scandinavia in general, and Sweden in particular; we do not need a visa for visits up to 15 days. A certain american companion joining me for the weekend had to fork out 40 USD to enter. I’m not all certain of why this is for us Scandinavians but someone said that we helped and supported in building up the country after a western powers bombed the crap out of most of the region. The occurrence is most famously known as the Viet Nam War, in the west that is. In Viet Nam it is (of course) called the American War. The area along the Cambodian eastern and south eastern border was severely hit during this time since the Ho Chi Minh Trail passes through here… that is also why there are still so many unexploded bombs, mines and similar hiding in the forest. Actually, just a day after leaving Viet Nam and Saigon a few people died after finding old unexploded Viet Nam War shells just outside of Saigon.

So, Saigon in short:

  • The beer is called ‘Saigon’ instead of ‘Angkor’, the taste is more or less the same thou.
  • The traffic is not that bad but definitely worse than Phnom Penh, much more aggressive and mean and thousands and thousands of motos and cars.
  • The honking is constant, not at all like nice quiet Phnom Penh where you honk for a reason… the ‘honk till you die attitude’ did not suit me.
  • In general, the attitude of the Vietnamese I encountered just made me want to go back “home”…

The war museum was definitely worth a visit even though it wasn’t a fun experience – as all museums or sites showcasing killing, death and war. Weapons, tanks, helicopters and dozens of photos of victims from the war and Agent Orange. Terrible. On the edge of propaganda but not as bad as I would’ve thought.

Small temple in a park in Saigon

I didn’t have the chance to get a closer look at the reunification palace – bombed by the American “liberation forces” and rebuild after the war – but at least it showed itself from a distance and offered a view of what was considered good architecture in the 70’s. Big ugly buildings in communist countries are always somewhat fascinating.

The initial plan was to stay in Viet Nam until Monday the first of August but, as I guess you might have understood by now, we didn’t. The place was just not a great… sorry… I hope Hanoi have more to offer in terms of nice friendly people, interesting culture and meetings whenever I’ve got time to head up north.

I never thought it was going to feel that good leaving a place again. I’ve experienced it once before finding myself leaving Pisa in Italy after just a few hours.  Getting back to Cambodia was awesome! The small-town-feeling of Phnom Penh was great and super friendly. A city with personality and nice and happy people.

Tam biet Saigon!

Good bye Saigon!


More photos from Saigon, Viet Nam.

Hover the mouse over a photo for a descriptive text. Click the photo for a larger version.


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