Thursday, 14 November 2013

Changes in a decade

So the last time I was in South East Asia it was over a decade ago in 2002. I spent a month or 5 weeks travelling post university with a friend.

So what's changed since then?

I can't really comment on Thailand - we didn't spend much time in the same places except the palace in Bangkok, which is exactly as I remembered.

I was expecting Cambodia to have changed a lot - mainly because its recent history. When I was there in 2002 they were building the road from the Vietnam border to Phnom Penh - we had to stop as a pot hole in a bridge was filled in before continuing and the use of mobile phones was rife as the Khmer Rouge had destroyed a lot of the telecommunications infrastructure.

Has it changed? Well in Phnom Penh there wasn't a nighttime curfew and there were no warnings about this helping to avoid drunk people who would fire off AK47s and other guns randomly...

Central Market in Phnom Penh - surprisingly not busy

The roads are still shit. I think this is because of two factors - one corruption, hardly any of the money donated by foreign aid gets to where it needs to be - there isn't much difference for public works, public servants need to make a living to fund their $50,000 cars some how.... 

And two is the recent floods in Cambodia - there were a lot more pot holes that our bus from Laos had to avoid in the dark - not a pleasant ride! But coupled with cost cutting because of corruption, then the roads are inferior and unlikely to respond well to bad weather, let alone two consecutive years of flooding.

In Siem Reap the town was hugely developed - I definitely don't remember the party town that it has become, Pub Street didn't exist back then!

Also we were warned not to stray off the beaten path at Angkor Wat and the further out temples because of Khmer Rouge landlines. The authorities (presumably with international help such as MAG) have cleared all of the landlines within the Angkor area. There is considerable pressure to do this when tourists spend $20m a year on entrance fees alone.... Not so much pressure when it's just the local farmers being hurt...

On to Vietnam where we arrived today - refreshingly different to Cambodia - Hi Chi Minh is more like a capital city than Phnom Penh! In fact Phnom Penh looks sleepy in comparison. Ho Chi Minh is full of life and about 10 times the amount of motorbikes - crossing the road can be an act of faith! I don't remember the neon lights that light up Ho Chi Minh like Oxford Circus - however the energy of the area is infectious.

Neon lights and branding everywhere in Ho Chi Minh

What I do recall from my last visit in 2002 where women in the traditional dress of long tunic and flowing trousers with conical hat on the back of a motorbike or bicycle. I haven't seen one lady in traditional dress yet :( there is still time as we have a month to go :)

One thing hasn't changed - I'm instantly a millionaire in Vietnamese Dong!

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