The border control will be closed at 5.30 pm. We rushed through for about 2 hours. It was pity to such in a hurry as the countryside was stunningly unique. This place is where they paddy grows; the paddy fields are everywhere and laid before us as long as the eyes can see. We went through so many villages and towns as I wondered the magnitude of human calamity must be so huge during the last war some 40 years ago. The border town was very busy and as we pushed through the traffics I was gradually ( in a complete subtlety) brought back to civilizations. The day was getting dark when we arrived at the immigration office. For one USD we stamped our passport out of Cambodia and said farewell to our nice host Ustaz Loh and his family. We lug our bags over to the other side as we entered Vietnam. For one USD we stamped the passport and entered the country. The tour guide was there to take us to the hotel. The bus ride to the city of Saigon took about two hours and during the time we were so engrossed with the tour guide telling us about the history of this place and what has brought him there.
The first thing that I noticed about this place is how everything has been more organized and in order. No doubt it is more modern and advanced compared to Cambodia. The highway is bigger and they have special lanes for motorbikes. Noticeably big portion of the highway is dedicated to motorbike users. Very nice. The red flags are everywhere to remind everyone that this is still a communist country with socialist government. But we were told not to worry that the war was over and Vietnam is so eager to bring its people to taste modernity and prosperity. The business is booming, the tourists are coming and life seems so normal. Although I have reservations regarding all these, I really wanted to know the culture and people of this “new” Vietnam. It is very interesting to finally be here, to the place where we used to know some time ago the origin of all evils. The Vietnam War in the 70s. I was still in my primary school when the war broke out—must be about 10 or 11 years old. The waves of desperate people landing on our beaches to escape the atrocity of the war. They were finally housed at an island called Pulau Bidong. The pictures came back little by little as we approached the city center of Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. It was late when we finally arrived at the hotel and the rain started to pour heavily but the night life of Ho Chi Minh City was definitely inviting.
The morning revealed the more exciting life of the city. The buildings were colonial from the French era I think and the famous market of Ban Than was just in walking distance. People seemed nice but since I don’t speak the language not much I could say about their hospitality. Surprisingly many can speak my language—Bahasa Malaysia in my kelantanese dialect. Very interesting indeed. We dropped by the National Library and tried to find some books on culture and history of Vietnam. Although not many books were in English, due to some government policy, the library assistants there were very helpful to locate the books that we requested. Spent the whole morning there and we discovered the long history of Champa Empire, Khmer Empire and dynasties in Vietnam dated all the way in the 12th/13thcentury. There was even a PhD viva in the year 1200s during the height of Champa Empire. But the empires collapsed and disintegrated. The people scattered in the region and trickled down to the ethnic groups where they live in the remote villages. But it was an exciting experience to see how their villages are and the state of life they are living. The life in the afternoon seemed busy as we crossed the city to search for an art museum.
I don’t understand art very much but I think the artworks were fabulous and unique. And of course, a visit to this city would not be complete without a day out in the marketplace Ban Than. I could never imagine a marketplace can be so attractive to a tourist like me. I think we should learn a thing or two from these people. The market was not a pish posh shopping center; it was a regular market where you go every morning to get your house needs. It was acceptably clean where you can go in and do not feel irky or anything. No smelly fish or dead rats. It was okay and quite comfortable. It was like our pasar but cleaner. By 6.30 pm it will be closed for the day. I ordered a suit for less than 200 ringgit, delivered on time at 11 am the next morning—it suits me perfectly.