Anyway, to the story. I had to leave and the easiest trip one can make is to hop on a bus to Ho Chi Minh City. The night before I dutifully went to Sihanouk Street where there are about at least five bus companies going to Saigon. They route takes about six hours even though you would think it would be a lot faster considering the distance is only 278 kilometers. However the road is only two lane and very crowded. My bus just took the outside lane and did not deviate for a second. Oncoming traffic was forced to the side of the road and I saw many motorcycles go careening into the woods by the side of the road to avoid being killed, or at least that is what I imagined before I closed my eyes when I saw oncoming traffic.
Having said that, I took the Samco line for $10 and had terrifically comfortable seats with leg rests, fine leather and the whole nine yards. It was marvelous if you did not look out the window! My advice is to take a book to read and never look up and while you are at it it may as well be my book, It All Started in Mandalay.
Ho Chi MInh revisited
I used to live in Saigon and I thought I was very familiar with the city. but then I was working and living in district 11. This time I was visiting and living in a hotel in the heart of the city in district one. What a difference. This area of the city is hopping, let me tell you. The buildings are modern, you can buy anything you want, and I I mean anything! There are expensive bars and restaurants, massage places by the dozen, coffee houses and bakeries and fancy shops and convenience stores. What surprised me, maybe in comparison to Phnom Penh, were the lights and sounds. First of all, everyone in Saigon honks, whether it is necessary or not. They would rather honk then say hello, in contrast to Phnom Penh where mopeds will be going the wrong way on a one way street and no one would toot. Secondly there are bright neon lights. If you closed your eyes for a moment, you might think you are in New York City. Maybe it is just the difference in population, over six million for Ho Chi Minh City and just over a million for Phnom Penh, but I do not think that is the only reason.
Phom Penh versus Ho Chi MInh
Phnom Penh is like a provincial backwater of the French colonial era. Anywhere you walk, you will find some incredible colonial style house surrounded by a high fence with perhaps a guard sitting outside., although they are generally useless. As a joke I went up to Hun Sen's house to knock and no one even questioned what I was doing. At least at the house of the American Ambassador the lady guard at least came out of her guard house to question me, or perhaps it was me questioning her as to her who lived there.
In a quaint way, Phnom Penh is elegant although dated. One of the more popular places on the River is the Foreign Correspondents Club and sitting there looking over the river you can easily imagine being there in the last century. I think even the furniture is the same as it was then !
You could not find this ambiance in Ho Chi Minh. Clearly this is twenty first century city in every way, from the elegant hosts and hostesses at every restaurant and nightclub to the modern architecture and the manicured public gardens. There are no such things as gardens that I can see in Phnom Penh, although perhaps I have not been here long enough to find them.
Anyway you have your choice....if you want modern go to Saigon and if you want to be transported back to a kinder, more gentle era, head for Phnom Penh OR why not do both????