The former capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon) is a bustling developing urban center for the average adventure-driven traveler. Colonial structures and rugged buildings comprise the skyline. Motorbikes dominate the streets. Drivers speed through pedestrians and traffic lights. Nonetheless, tourists flock this city. I am not saying this little because of my Vietnam experience. :) With only a day to spare to tour the city, I can only say this much given the spots we went to.
The Kingdom of Cambodia is a popular adventure destination, especially for western visitors. Before, the only thing I knew about the old Kampuchea is Pol Pot’s communist guerrilla force and the Khmer Rouge carnage. When I was in high school, the end of conflict in Cambodia drove them slowly out of isolation and into an eventual membership in the ASEAN in 1999. On top of that, who does not remember Angelina Jolie’s (popularizing Lara Croft the Tomb Raider) action sequences in striking locations in the country?
Today, Cambodia advances in its economic development process and encourages tourism in the kingdom of wonder. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanouk are the top cities that showcase a treasure trove of Khmer culture and heritage.
With a limited schedule, my friends and I had time to visit only Phnom Penh. As the country’s capital, Phnom Penh is the economic and cultural center of Cambodia. As visualized by their French colonizers, the city looks like a scene straight from a provincial town in France (interestingly, I’ve read it used to be called the Paris of the East).
The city is very charming in its own way (albeit, dusty, hot and humid) with its old French-style structures and classic colonial village buildings dotting the main thoroughfare, the side streets and the riverfront. The lack of a McDonald’s or a Starbucks bears witness to their status as a fairly new urban center (they do have a KFC and a Gloria Jean’s). And like other third world cities, there are enterprising locals, speeding vehicles, and persistent touts. This rough change from the usual beach and green scenery might well be why western visitors troop to this Indochina destination ala-Lonely Planet style.