[TRAVEL] Weekends in HCMC and Phonm Penh

In recent weeks, I have taken two weekend trips in the region – to Vietnam and Cambodia! I will have to write a post on Changi airport in the future, but Singapore is a great travel hub and it is so easy to escape the city for a weekend trip and explore South East Asia.

First up – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam! I have been to Vietnam a few times (once as a backpacker in 2011 and earlier this year to Hanoi to visit Lindsay and Eric), but I have not spent any time in HCMC, the capital and biggest city. My friends Jeremy and Rich were heading on a week-long trip through Vietnam, so I joined them for the first weekend of their trip. We had a great time exploring HCMC and taking day trips in the region.

Both Vietnam and Cambodia have devastating histories (in the not so distant past). In HCMC, remnants of the war are very visible. We took a guided tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, which were used as a base by Viet Cong soldiers in the Vietnam War. We crawled through some portions (which have already been enlarged for tourists) and spent a few minutes in some of the underground chambers. In just a short visit we were sweating and claustrophobic; we could hardly imagine spending any extended period underground. Right in the tunnel network you could see craters from bombs dropped and our guide told us that there are over 800,000 tons of unexploded ordnance in Vietnam (so we were careful to stay on the main paths!)

From HCMC, we also took a tour to the Mekong Delta region, where we rowed through some channels and had the opportunity to see communities in rural Vietnam.

The next weekend, Paola was working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, so I caught a flight to visit her (and take advantage of having a local tour guide and free place to stay). Cambodia has its own challenging past. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge (primarily active in the 1970s), approximately 25% of Cambodia’s population at the time was killed. In Phnom Penh, there are many memorials and museums to learn more about Cambodia’s past.

However, both Paola and I had visited these places before so we spent more of the weekend catching up, eating the local food, meeting some of her friends from work and even sampled a cocktail made for Jackie Kennedy on her visit to Phnom Penh at the iconic Raffles hotel.

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