Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Traveling from Vietnam to Cambodia

I was shocked at the differences between Vietnam and Cambodia. Growing up in America, we were told of the evils and inefficiencies of communism (inefficiencies I certainly believe, especially having prior experience working in a position where incentives were quite skewed), but upon crossing the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, it became hard to justify communism can't do good things for its people. (just fyi, Vietnam is still considered communist while Cambodia is considered a constitutional monarchy - the latter I didn't know until getting here and according to the Washington Consensus, Cambodia has the foundation for a much stronger economy than Vietnam...oh how little economists (and I put myself in that category here too) really know...)

First of all, I was surprised at the rural differences between these two countries. It seemed like there were more deciduous trees and, in general, a more "temperate" climate in Vietnam than Cambodia. This flies in the face of all the movies we've seen about the area (ok, Tropic Thunder isn't meant to be an accurate representation, but you know...) Additionally, in Vietnam, the highway to the border was wide, very well paved (puts PA to shame lol), and seemed very unlike the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City. Conversely, in Cambodia, the road was paved, but narrower, noticeably rougher, there were a few sections that were under construction (thus had to drive on an unpaved road), and in one section we had to take a ferry rather than drive over a bridge.

Also, after crossing the border, there was a noticeable shift in the standard of living for those in rural Vietnam and rural Cambodia. Without going into too many gory details, it's heartbreaking to see why Cambodia is listed as the 8th "least developed" country (according to the IMF).

The trip from Ho Chi Minh to Siam Riep ended up taking a total of 13 hours by bus. We changed buses and had a half hour break in Phnom Penh, but it was quite the trip.

Overall, this trip has helped me appreciate Indonesia in a whole new way. I don't really know Indonesia outside of Jakarta (though Alison's place in Bali was pretty sweet) and so those two things are synonymous to me right now, and while this is an inappropriate comparison, it's all I can really think of now. Having seen Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh as well as what supports them, it seems like they are at the development stage behind Jakarta. Consequently, seeing the "roots" have helped me appreciate the incredible gains thus far and while there is still a long way to go and a lot of questions to answer, what country isn't facing those (hello some of America's problems regarding long-term sustainability of Social Security, how to deal with Chinese growth and infringement on IP, whether or not we should burn Korans in Florida...oh friends in America, I can't believe that was actually a story, cable news why do you give crazy people platforms from which to create international crises?!?)

This was a market near Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City. Pretty crazy inside, but it looks pretty cool!

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