Vietnam/Cambodia – Final Thoughts on Trip

Now that I’m home, but awake in the middle of the night, I’ll share some final thoughts and cover a couple of miscellaneous points that never got into the previous posts.

Over the course of the past two weeks, I’ve covered 22,775 miles by air – the circumference of earth is 25,000 – and another couple of hundred by foot, bicycle, and tuk-tuk.  My time worked out about right.  I might have enjoyed the other day I was supposed to have in Hanoi, but everything else felt about right.

I might have over-packed a little bit.  I could have gone with one less undershirt, one less shirt, one less pair of socks, and without my Canon Elph, which I rarely used.  And, I didn’t need all the toiletries I took.  Maybe a few more protein bars might have been nice.

This trip allowed me to see what a third world country looks like but without the fear that would normally go along with that experience.  That was one of the things that impressed me about Cambodia.  Here is a country that is dirt poor and yet they were friendly, polite, and without seeming resentment.

Vietnam

Vietnam is already on the rise.  Vietnam won the war against the U.S. and unified the country in 1975 but remained isolated for years.  In 1986 they introduced a number of reforms – both poltical and economical – that started them on the path towards reintegration into the global economy.  The U.S. didn’t lift their embargo on Vietnam, a result of the war, until 1994.  By 2000, they had established diplomatic relations with most countries.

Since that time, they’ve been bringing a lot of outside investment into the county and have had one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world.  Their textiles business is a huge industry and if you check your clothing labels, you might be surprised how often they say “Made in Vietnam.”  You might also be surprised to know that they are the 13th most populous country in the world with about 90 million inhabitants.

Cambodia

Cambodia, on the other hand, is still grappling with poverty, infrastructure, and political issues.  I talked about the terrors of the Khmer Rouge regime that was in power from 1975 to 1979 but didn’t really talk about the fact that armed conflict continued for many more years.  It was not until 1997, only 17 years ago, that armed conflict ended in this country.  In 2013, they ranked 138th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index.

Political power is tightly controlled and there are some on-going tensions for both political motivations and economic ones.  The protests in Cambodia in the past month have been a bit overshadowed by the more volatile ones in Thailand during the same time frame.  While I was in Phnom Penh, I happened to be walking by the Royal Palace as they arrested one of the union leaders who has been protesting against the government’s handling of recent protests by garment workers.  Luckily, there was no violence in this one like the one a couple of weeks ago where four garment workers were killed by riot police.

What are the government workers protesting about?  They currently make $80 a month.  The government is proposing to give them a raise to $95 a month.  They want $160.  The fact that the government is the one who is setting the wage tells you a bit about the nature of their government.  They are nominally a parliamentary representative democracy but have been described as “vaguely communist free-market state with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruling over a superficial democracy.”

But, there have been signs of new growth in this country.  The Koreans are investing heavily in Cambodia, followed by Japan and China.  Let’s hope the current unrest doesn’t upset this positive direction for the Khmer people.

Motorbikes, Tuk-tuks, and Traffic

While I did talk about this several times in my posts, I was never able quick enough to get pictures of how many people and things can be crammed onto one vehicle.  I routinely saw four people on one motorbike and, twice, saw five people on one.  Two or three year olds were routinely hanging off a leg or standing on the cross bar at the front of the bike.  I can assure that I saw no infants in car seats.

The other talent they have is how much they can transport on one motorbike.  In Phnom Penh, I saw a couple of guys strapping a mid-size refrigerator to the back of one motorbike.  Ladders, 4’x8′ pieces of wood, live animals, you name it.. These pictures are not mine, but are indicative of what I saw..

Six on a motorbike?  No problem.

Six on a motorbike? No problem.

The family that sticks together..

The family that sticks together..

I have one delivery to make than I'll take Grandma home.

I have one delivery to make than I’ll take Grandma home.

Who needs a truck?

Who needs a truck?

It also seems they have some different regulations around seat belts.  While we can’t have kids ride in the back of the station wagon any longer, they don’t seem so concerned..

Everyone, pile in!

Everyone, pile in!

What to say?

What to say?

Yes, I realize that we really don’t have “station wagons” anymore.

It was a great trip and I’m glad to be home.  While much of it was “free,” the reality is that it wasn’t really free.  The cost of it was all the time I’ve spent on the road over the years on planes and in hotels.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  I feel very fortunate to be able to do a trip like this and my family is more than supportive.  The girls liked their exotic t-shirts and know that I’m not anxious to go on another trip like this for a good little while.

I hope you have enjoyed the reports.  Now, it is back to such exciting things as arguing about which is the best airline, whether a hotel was good value, and other earth-shattering insights that only roadies really care about.

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