Southeast Asia Journal 17: April 11, 2010

Journal April 11, 2010

Trash lines the streets everywhere in Cambodia -- all the way up to the Vietnam border

Since the late 1400’s, Cambodia has had quite a bad taste for the Thai people.  That’s about when they were overrun by the Kingdom of Thailand and forced to give over many of their national treasures.  However, there is a pretty bustling trade agreement, and since Thai Airways has been paying a sizeable, yearly bribe to the government-owned transportation department of Cambodia in an effort to keep air travel at an appealing plateau, the economy has a reasonable chance of making a turn for the better here.  But you’d never know it if you did ask.

Cambodia is quite literally the poorest and most desolate country I have ever seen.  I haven’t even seen commercials that try and guilt the 72-cents-per-day out of your pockets that even come close to what happens here.  I saw a man digging through the open sewage to find salable items.  Talk about a shit job!  Puns like “scraping at the bottom of the barrel,” and “don’t have a pot to piss in,” grip with an entirely new hold around here.

But all of this still doesn’t stop the impressive size that the magnitude of Angkor drenches over you once you get to the outskirts of Siem Reap.  Of course the sweat does an impressive job of drenching you also.  There is simply no escaping the deviant sun that seems to linger at such an angle as to always be right in your face no matter which direction your face happens to be (facing, angled, directed?  Which word do I use here that I haven’t already used in the previous sentence?)

After seeing the Tonle Sap people (river dwellers), the temples at Angkor, the craziest of crazy capitols, Phnom Phen I was finally headed over into Vietnam.

The border from Cambodia to Vietnam was my last reminder of the poverty there.  There were several markets that marked the customary symbol of

That's using your head

trade in the tiny nation.  There was all the buzz and commotion I have come to expect in the country.  There were some amazing things to be seen – most just sad and depressing, but amazing nonetheless.  Ladies were carrying baskets of fish and vegetables, snacks and fruits and many other things on their heads.  I liked seeing that throughout my time in Cambodia.  There were also people moving their things from place to place on whatever vehicles they had available to them at that particular time.  Most people chose a motorbike with a trailer.  But there was the occasional loaded-down bicycle or even hand-pulled carts.  Many people

Moving is hard to do

were just bringing things to the market at the border – the spot that marks the last chance to get cheapish Cambodian goods – before heading over into Vietnam.  Or I suppose it could also have been the first place that people could purchase goods once in the country from Vietnam.  In either case, it was good to have left it behind me for the better economy of the country that holds the longest coastline with the South China Sea.

Once in Vietnam (thankfully) I was surprised to see the sheer congestion of this place.  I was told that it was busy.  But I wasn’t told it would be elbow to elbow on motorcycles!  This is just madness.  But, even with all these people sweeping through the traffic in all directions, they seem to miss one another and glide right past as if it were orchestrated in some grand ballet on some  enormous

Packed to the brim

stage with an even bigger set.  Quite a production, indeed.

There are no close calls here, just normal driving conditions.  And through all of this, there are still pedestrians, bicycles, people pushing carts and people carrying bamboo sticks with baskets on each end.  I haven’t even seen so much as a dog get hit while running into the street.  It’s quite an amazing thing to watch.

Crazy traffic in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

And the horns: they have created their own form of communication here with the use of their horns.  But more about this in my next journal.  I am curious as to the honking patterns that I have noticed and I will keep an “ear” out for more information on this.

When I got on the bus in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, it was a dry, dusty place with lots of people and little recent infrastructure.  But when I exited the bus in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) I stepped out into a bustling, flashing,

Big, ugly dance bars line the streets and corners of Saigon

overpowering energy that is dizzying to the unprepared.  There are skyscrapers, huge walls of blocks upon blocks of lights, music and karaoke bars.  There are side shops with everything you could ever need.  From auto mechanics and restaurants to hotels and clothing depots – and they all squeeze their businesses into these shotgun-style buildings over-top of which they most likely live.  The businesses are generally run and managed by the family that lives in the establishment and I can’t figure out if it is because these people are very mistrusting of others or they just like to keep things simple – and save money.  But whatever the case, it is true that competition drives the market here.  If you don’t like what you see or the price of your item in one shop, there is another one just like it half a block down who may be willing to haggle a bit.

Mikoh, the Finish drooler

A note about the bus, though; this Finish guy name Mikoh took about five Xanax before the trip and passed out right in my lap.  There was no waking him up.  At several points during the trip, the bus driver slammed on his breaks sending Mikoh crashing face-first into the seat in front of him.  It quickly became the highlight of entertainment of those of us seated near the front of the bus… until he started drooling on me.  Then I had to grab him by the hair and pull him up.  Luckily, he tells me, he didn’t remember any of it.   He may have boasted of visiting five dozen countries or so, but his bus presence could still use a little work.

Rice workers slaved away in the fields along the roadside

All drool-pools aside, the trip was quite lovely.  We headed through some of nicest rural areas that I have yet seen on this trip.  We would pass rice fields; workers doing their morning planting and harvesting; far stretches of green floral symmetry would pass alongside the bus for miles; then there would be a flooded patch where bison would be feeding.  I could look out at almost any time and see the South China Sea to the east as the sun climbed into the sky overhead.  Along the banks and floodplains of rivers making their exits in mostly brackish, alluvial drain-pools leading into the ocean, there would be boat workers fishing and taking in the morning catches.  There was one man I saw in the distance using a long pipe as a boat from which to throw his nets into the water.  There would also be these strange nets suspended just above the water along the

Using a hollow tube, this fisherman sought the day's catch

ponds to the west side of the roadway.  I couldn’t figure out of they used these nets to store their fish until it was time to harvest them or to grow prawn or spawn other fish or something.  In either case, it was a nice addition to the long pastures and wavy fields of foliage and farmland.

Finally arriving in Hoi An, I didn’t really see much that I liked.  It looked a lot like a miniature version of Saigon.  So I decided to take the next trip on my open bus ticket to Hue (pronounced “Hway”).  There I found a much more agreeable and photogenic setting.

Though it’s been getting cooler and cooler the farther north I travel, I have still heard that the heat is coming to this side of the world to head up the summer season.  And since I have been sweating non-stop for about six months now, I welcomed the cooler climes.  I even figured I would take a dip.  The nearest body of water: the South China Sea.  It was nice.  And I had this theory about the global oceanic currents.  I thought that I read once that the colder one climbs northward along the Pacific Asian coastlines, rising to the benthic plateau from the bitter waters of the abyssal plane (characteristic of this coastline) and drawing with it cooler waters that would eventually meet up with the Arctic waters around Alaska.  I am not sure if I am completely correct on this note, but the water was the coolest, cleanest and most refreshing water I have felt since I left for Asia in December.  It was definitely a welcomed and refreshing treat.

But for that story, you will have to wait for the next journal.  I will be writing about my trip from Hue to Hanoi by Friday.  I should have plenty of new insights and photos to share by then.  Plus, I will finally be able to take care of the next big priority on my photography agenda: The Hill Tribes of Sapa.


2 thoughts on “Southeast Asia Journal 17: April 11, 2010

  1. Hey,

    I LOVE the pics of the street crossing. Great long exposure shot!!!! I wish I could have been on that bus ride with you too. That could have been some great youtube stuff!!

    • Truly insane! There’s GOT to be a Youtube video of this already.
      Oh, wait. Here we go:

      Okay, well it’s not Vietnam, there are very few motorbikes and it’s a LOT slower, but you get the picture.

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