BLOG: Phnom Penh vs Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 12 › view all entries

We arrived from Siem Reap into Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh City) into rainy weather which had hung around for three whole days prior to our arrival. Tan Son Nhat International Airport certainly reflects the history of the place with hundreds of semi-circular small concrete hangars for jet fighters, plus many old Russian helis and planes.

We've been very lucky because we've had very nice cool (as far as the tropics go) dry weather for the duration of our stay.

We spent our first day exploring the city ... a very charming city indeed with well maintained old colonial buildings and manicured parks. In the main areas around Dong Khoi, I say it beats Bangkok or Hong Kong for the combination of shopping and charm. However, other areas would rank similar to those two cities in terms of 'roughness'.

Here's a few comparisons between Phnom Penh and Saigon:

  • You see a few more agent orange deformed people as beggars here, whereas in Phnom Penh it is mainly landmine victims.

  • Roads in Vietnam are much better, even in the rural areas. Compare this to Phnom Penh where only some main streets are sealed, and the others full of potholes, red dust and water.

  • Petrol stations here are ordinary whereas in Cambodia the Caltex Starmarts put the ones in NZ to shame. I guess only the wealthy can afford cars or bikes in Cambodia whereas the number of bikes here are beyond belief! It is Saturday night now and the streets are absolutely jam-packed with Honda Cubs.

  • Things here are much cheaper than Cambodia as we can eat and spend like the locals. In Cambodia, anything acceptable to us (eg. not likely to cause Delhi-belly) is at foreigner prices. We've somewhat taken the approach to eat well here in exquisite surroundings (at NZ foodcourt prices) rather than skimp (at NZ0.30 per bowl of noodle). Let's save skimping for home where things are expensive by comparison. I reckon most backpackers have got it all wrong! Skimping here then partying up large in London or at home.

As for the things we've done here:

  • Went to the Mekong Delta to see traditional lifestyle.

  • Went to the War Museum (the "American War" rather than the "Vietnam War").  It is good to hear their side of the story and some of the effects of war are rather horrific.

  • Went to the Cu Chi tunnels (built by the Viet Cong guerillas) to see the system of tunnels which span over 200km around the Saigon area, including into US camps!  It was pretty hardwork going through the tunnels. Also on show were a variety of traps used against the US troops. All based on spikes both metal and bamboo was like 101 ways to make American satay.

We've been lucky with our guide for both our day trips. He used to work for the American side and gave lots of real life insight into the war. He had to spend three years in "re-education" subsequent to the US withdrawal.

We also met an American man (and his wife who looks like Marge Simpson's sister ... yes, those twins). He has been back every year since Vietnam opened up. He didn't look that twisted but we suspect things may not be quite right.


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