After 6 months of living in Cambodia, my first impressions of Vietnam were that it was CLEAN.
Well, in comparison to Cambodia anyway!
The second thing I noticed was how different the Vietnamese looked and acted compared to the Khmers. It can be very easy, as an ignorant westerner, to lump all South East Asians into the same box, not noticing the subtle differences between them, but after becoming so familiar with the Khmers, the Vietnamese came as a shock to me.
First were the obvious physical differences. While the Khmers have thick black curly hair, flat noses and full lips, the Vietnamese have decidedly more “oriental” appearances, with fine hair, small eyes and more delicate features.
I also noticed a marked difference in how the Vietnamese acted. While there was no doubt that they were trying to swindle me out of money at every turn, on the whole they were a lot more smiley and polite than their abrupt counterparts across the border.
My first encounter with a local came at 10:30am. I’d just endured a 14 hour bus ride from Sihanoukville and my hostel wouldn’t let me check in until 2pm. Tired and irritated, I made my way to a sushi joint down the road and took a seat.
As I ate, I felt a man’s eyes on me. As I left, his dinner partner, a young, attractive businessman just like himself, followed me onto the street and explained that his boss was willing to pay 500USD to have sex with me. Needless to say, I declined.
In retrospect, I’m not so sure why I declined. Backpackers are notoriously broke, and I could have really used the money!
So, what else did I do in Ho Chi Minh besides be propositioned by seedy businessmen?
Well, I visited the War Remnants museum to learn all about the Vietnam War (or American war, as the Vietnamese call it), crawled through the Cu Chi tunnels to get a glimpse of what it was like for the people hiding underground during the war, sailed along the Mekong Delta and partied in Ho Chi Minh’s version of Khao San Road.
However, 5 nights in this city simply felt like too much.
Unlike Koh Rong, with its sprawling beaches, I felt as though there was nowhere to just sit back and relax when not off out on excursions. For this reason, I ended up spending a lot of time (and money!) in fast food joints, coffee shops and restaurants just to escape the hostel, and I just felt bored.
There is no doubting that Ho Chi Minh is an impressive city, and lightyears ahead of its neighbour Phnom Penh, but 5 nights was just too much.
Perhaps I’m missing something. After all, I was just a tourist, staying in a generic party hostel, without anybody that knew the city to show me around.
Does Ho Chi Minh have more to offer? You tell me!