(K is for Khmer Rouge)
Ho Chi Minh, or Saigon to almost everyone there, would have been a frantic whirlwind of chaos were it not for us now being old hats. Streets wider, buildings taller, hawkers far more insistent. Winding downtown alleys, the smell of street noodles more intense. Grand boulevards below the sky tower, more open, more parisian than anything yet seen. Yet relaxing, calm and balmy – beers still downed on a curb side, museums still refuges for the air con addict and traffic still a blitz of noise. But not so much that nerves unwind or hearts forget to beat. Aclimatising to the heat and relaxing into the backpack Saigon feels safe and cosmopolitan. A new city, desperate to cast aside the shadow of its destruction, of the hellish cesspit it became for war. Now, Apocalypse Now is a hip nightclub (‘Aypo’), lurking beneath high rise Sofitels and Marriotts, but close enough to the Old Quarter to still feel seedy, uncouth – like anything could be happening in the alleyways around. But I sit, trying to tighten my heart to the groups of children, so small, who tap you on the arm with chewing gum to sell, not allowed a bed time until the basket’s empty. A reminder that cities all too often mask the harsh reality, the hard knock life.
ATMs have caused a dichotomy of laughter and stress. Absolutely everywhere. Driving through the back and beyond, a medieval world of horse and plough, hut and hurt. Then you see it, the windows shining, a modern, giant and branded-to-the-nines cash machine, loaded with dollar. They’re everywhere, like those Doctor Who boxes – what are they really and what do they want from us? …. Our cash! The transition to penny-pinching transaction fee maniac is complete. Walking past 20 of them to find the cheapest one. Insane.
Cu Chi Tunnels. Sombre and fascinating. Nic discovered his athletic twin and lept underground to crawl through the holes of VC and guerilla. Has been suffering from sore legs since, but the heat and inhuman smallness of where these people lay their heads is almost unbelievable. Another reminder of the living history that seems a 1000 years old.
Saigon – Phnom Penh. PP – Siem Reap. Then Bangkok. Buses, albeit the finest/pricest two nervous British types can find have proven to be the adventure one imagines. You rock, bump and grind forward. Cambodian roads are terrible. One understands, but still. Bump, grind, forward. Crunch, jolt, sideways. 7 hours to do 300km. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Phnom Penh. The Genocide museum. The country that imploded and brutally destroyed a a quarter (or more) of its population. A museum of torture and the story of a ideological dream utterly corrupted by the human temper in power and command. Not very nice. But fascinating – Khmer Rouge seniors are still here, under trial. Not very long ago at all and yet, despite kodak stills of decaying corpses found in the abandoned prison, ex high school, the only way of coping is to place it much further back in history.
CNN. The greatest news channel on the planet. Since we arrived in Kuala Lumpur the days’ highlight has been to return back to our room’s TV and discover that absolutely no developments have been made in the search for MH370, the only story that the 24 hour channel has been discussing since, it feels, the birth of Christ became old news, yet to witness their ability to talk about nothing for so many continuous hours is truly a marvel.
Breaking news – planes are still searching the ocean 900 miles from Perth. No luck just yet, but stay tuned for our panel of experts who will spend the next 5 hours dissecting and speculating when the real story is why mainstream media insists on fuelling our fearful obsession with catastrophic death.
Angor Wat tomorrow.