A Tale of Two (capital) Cities

February 10, 2013 - Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Gentleman: So it turns out that the sign "free wi-fi here" at hotels and hostels in Vietnam and Cambodia does not necessarily mean "free working wi-fi here". We've only had intermittent and unreliable Internet for about a week since our last post. Apologies for the delay, I'm sure you've all been on the edge of your seat...

Since we left you last time we have spent 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon to everyone except city officials), the capital city of Vietnam. Once again, as with our arrival at the airport in Hanoi, the 'capital of the North', we didn't get off to the best of starts. As I mentioned in my last post we were taking the overnight sleeping bus to Saigon which means that we arrived very early in the morning, which in turn meant that we couldn't check into our hotel for about 6 hrs. Unfortunately this time we didn't have a beach to go sit on or a sunrise to watch so we grabbed our bags and headed to the little park type area right across from the main backpacker street.

As I was sitting on my bench, reading my book, enjoying the shade and thinking how nice it was to find this quiet little green area in the middle of a hectic, bustling capital city, I happened to look up and notice a woman walking in front of me who glanced behind me and then at my bag sitting on the bench next to me. This in turn made me turn to look at my bag at which point I felt someone behind me. I quickly whipped my head round and there was a young guy about two steps behind me on the grass, creeping up with eyes only on my bag. He froze in mid-stride, straightened up, broke into a very nervous smile then walked past my bench onto the path, turned back on himself, and headed back over to a group of 6 or 7 guys who were sitting about 20 yards away on the path across the grass and who were now staring at us.

It was a lucky escape. Needless to say we packed up our stuff and moved after that. The bag they wanted to grab had our iPad, wallet, credit card, cash, our one remaining camera and my iPod and headphones in it. I like to think I'm fast enough to catch most regular people, but at 8 in the morning, me with flip flops, him with trainers and a probably a sizeable head start I'm not sure we'd have got it back and that really would have been an absolute NIGHTMARE!

Obviously the rest of our time in Saigon was a significant improvement from this inauspicious start. The city is a noisy, chaotic, messy blend of traditional Vietnam and the inevitable super modern-commercialisation of capital cities throughout the world. We spent our time wandering around the streets, finding ourselves completely lost due to our hotel's ridiculously inaccurate map, getting a rather graphic history lesson at the War Remnants Museum and eating our way through the many, many restaurants and food stalls, including fried garlic and butter frog (ALL of the frog) and some of the best Pho (traditional Vietnamese noodle soup) that we've had in all our time in Vietnam.

After our time in Saigon had come to an end, it was time to bid adieu to Vietnam and head into the fourth country of our trip - Cambodia. The first stop on our unfortunately very brief jaunt through Cambodia was the capital city of Phnom Penh.

As another Asian capital, Phnom Penh is perhaps unsurprisingly quite similar to the neighbouring Bangkok and Saigon. This being what we had both assumed, we decided to only stay for 2 nights before moving on. We didn't arrive into town until about 3pm and didn't get checked in and settled at our hotel until about 4pm so we relaxed for a bit before heading out. We passed the 'Chas Market' (yes, really!) and the Central Market as we wandered and found ourselves at the modern, air conditioned, indoor shopping mall. Air con is starting to become very important for us because the heat is becoming sweltering and very muggy, and if you ain't on a beach, well, there's just no need for it...

At this point we had eaten nothing but traditional Vietnamese or Asian food for the last week or so and The American's stomach was not happy with her about it so we decided tonight would be all about some good old Western food. Luckily the indoor mall we found ourselves at more than obliged so we started at the top (6th) floor and worked our way back down. We started with pizza and fanta, moved down and picked up some cheeseburgers and fries, then down again for some fried chicken and finally back to the ground floor for blueberry and white chocolate (separately that is) ice cream cones to walk home with. Yeah yeah yeah, that's not what you're supposed to do and no it's not why we came travelling BUT wwwhhhhoooaaa it was good!

Arriving late as we did meant that we only really had one day to explore what Phnom Penh had to offer. That being said I think we certainly made the most of our time - we got up early(ish) and we walked, and we walked and we walked. Then we walked a bit further. It's a funny thing about walking, it might seem a bit ridiculous that we have been walking everywhere and killing ourselves in the heat instead of taking a tuk tuk that would probably have taken us everywhere for $2. But not only is it saving us a lot of combined money and providing us with some good exercise, it also gives us the opportunity to meet local people and to see parts of cities that we wouldn't get to otherwise and I think this has given us a better feel for what these places and cities are really like for the people that live there.

Our first port of call was the Genocide Museum at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, also infamously known as the S21 Prison. I know that might seem quite a morbid and depressing choice but it would be bordering on sacrilege to come to Cambodia, especially to Phnom Penh, and not learn or acknowledge this terrible part of their history. The prison was infamously used in the late 1970's by communist leader Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge party to interrogate and torture Cambodians and foreigners deemed to be traitors. Approximately 20,000 people were sent to S21 in 4 years. There were 7 survivors. Seven. The prison has been left basically exactly as it was with just a few of the rooms turned into museum rooms with moving pictures and some pretty harrowing information. It is one of the creepiest, eeriest places I have ever been. And I mean properly creepy, not in a rubbish Ghost Hunters type of way. Walking down the hallways and corridors where 35 years ago the guards walked on their way to torture, maim and kill so many of their own countrymen moves you in a way you can't properly explain. If you ever come to Phnom Penh, make sure it's on your to-do list.

The prison was only supposed to be one of many stops but we ended up spending a large part of our day there. After we came out, we headed across town towards the river, taking in views of the Independence Monument, the National Museum, the Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace as the sun started to set. After this we strolled a bit further, stopped for some $2 beer pitchers (saved by walking everywhere ;-) ) and had Amok (Cambodian curry) for dinner on the riverfront.

And at the end of the night we walked it home...


Pictures from Saigon and Phnom Penh will be going up into 2 separate albums as you are reading this, if not already. Hope you enjoy, as always your thoughts and comments are appreciated and yeah, expected, so get on it :-)


Fruit trees in the little park we found
Shot of Bitexco Tower from the park
Little park thing where we almost lost the bag
Us checking out the Saigon nightlife on night 1


February 17, 2013
Very enjoyable read!We are heading to Cambodia on March 8 - Phnom Penh & Siem Reap. I'm really torn about going to the Killing Fields & the Genocide Museum. We were in Vietnam in 2011 and visited the War Remnants Museum and I'm not sure I could handle S21. Anyway, I have 3 more weeks of reading people's blogs to decide By the way, I'm old enough to remember reading about the horrors in Cambodia as they were happening. This was the first of your blog that I've read and very much look forward to reading it all. Enjoy every moment of your travels! Oh yes, my husband wants to know where we had $2 pitchers?!
The Gentleman:
February 18, 2013
Thanks for the feedback Dorien! Whether you choose to do The Killing Fields and S21 or not you will have a great time in Cambodia don't worry! The $2 pitchers were in Phnom Penh in a restaurant on the riverside right by the Royal Palace. There are numerous places that do them as well though so I'm sure you'll have no problem finding one!
Jonathan McArdle:
February 21, 2013
Bro just give me a paragraph not a frickin essay.
The Gentleman:
February 21, 2013
Ha you try fitting a week's travelling into a paragraph! I made the new one shorter for you! x
April 9, 2013

It was very interesting to read your blog. I have some questions regarding a hotel and attractions. I want to hear your opinion if that is ok. I am going to Cambodia on September this year. Besides Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam are also listed to be visited. But still I have a question about a hotel you might have seen during your visit in Siem Reap. I booked the following hotel: Tara Angkor Hotel. You know if it is a good hotel? I heard good stories about it. What are the best attractions to visit in Siem Reap and in the surrounding?
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