Thursday, December 21, 2006

Goodbye Vietnam

It seems a bit crazy to be writing this 200km up river on the Mekong, at the Vietnam / Cambodia border. But that's the miracle of modern technology - and the setting is out of this world (Victoria Hotel, Chau Doc). We woke at 5:45 this morning for a sunrise breakfast on a junk at Can Tho, and leave it looking out over the Bassac River in the Mekong Delta sunset.

Our guide, Thuy, has been fantastic - taking care of us in Saigon and around, traveling with us down through the Mekong Delta to Can Tho and on to the border. Absolute professionalism, great sense of humour and a fountain of knowledge. I'd recommend Vidotour as a great local tourism company that really look after you. Having said that, there's a definite feeling of guilt touring around like this as the lives of the locals continue on a couple of dollars a day, and the French-owned Victoria stands aloof and arrogant. It's been a weird day, seeing the best and worst of a developing country.

The best of Vietnam (a cliché) are its people - warm, generous, with open hearts. These kids saw us stop along the roadside and ran to investigate - offering their innocent, happy faces for a photograph; or when we waved back at startled teenagers from our car, shocked at our white, doll like faces (their dolls all have western features, so when they see a westerner they see a giant version of their own doll!), bursting into laughter at these crazy looking westerners!

But the draw of the city is strong in this, like any, developing country. Villagers leave their traditional working practices for the promise of the dollar, but lose the unquantifiable wealth of a social network, family unit and let go of the fabric that bonds them together.

So tomorrow we say goodbye to Vietnam and take a speedboat up the Mekong to Phnom Penh and I have to say we're both a little nervous but it's gotta be done, and Angkor beckons!

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