Having run out of mainland, we took the inevitable flight across to Borneo: Malaysia’s less glamorous half. We lounged about for a few days, spending by far our most memorable couple of hours checking out the nearby Orang-utan sanctuary.
Three glorious weeks in Cambodia left little time for Laos. The visa price and wet season put us off further, so we headed straight for Thailand – hedonistic party central. Off the back of Cambodian wilderness, it felt good to lap up the vibe.
Any area of tropical rainforest in South East Asia is hopefully referred to by local touts as jungle. The rapid deforestation and human development however, has left most of these places as glorified woods, suitable for a casual tourist stroll, but little more. I was after the real deal and in Virachey National Park, I think I discovered it. The monstrous 3,325 square kilometres of dense forest is one of the largest jungles left on the mainland of S.E.A.
We hired a guide (Tomy) and set off for four of the most intense, humbling and wondrous days in my young 21 years. After crossing the river, Jack, Magda (a German girl we met a few days before) and I hopped aboard three rugged looking motorbikes, then headed down an even more rugged looking dirt track. While their drivers erred on the side of some caution, mine charged out in front, flying over potholes and skidding dangerously around obstacles. Even for a daring motorbike lover this was bordering on insanity, as we thundered over flimsy wooden bridges and semi-crashed a couple of times, all to the sound of casual laughter from my cigarette smoking driver.
Communism in its most literal form has proved a hopelessly tragic way of organising human society; the reign of Polpot from 1975-1979 and his Khumer Rouge army in Cambodia provides an alarmingly recent empirical example.
One of the greatest aspects of being on the road is meeting fellow travellers from a variety of countries. With a little practice, a person’s nationality can normally be figured out from merely their physical appearance and dress sense; if that fails you move onto accent.
Despite these differences, the ability to understand English is shared by all – as Europeans and Asians everywhere converse in the world’s de facto language. The Dutch and Scandinavians are phenomenal at it – to the extent that I suspect they are better than half our population; I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.
Having avoided the perils of motorbiking, we switched back to night bus and encountered a very different type of danger: Jack’s iPhone was stolen. Since it was a Sunday the city’s police station was closed. In our next destination they told us reporting it was invalid, as it wasn’t the location of the crime (I wonder why petty theft is so common in Vietnam).
More biking through the mountains, with less getting lost, on a more powerful semi-automatic once again proved fun. You just have to get used to raod rules being ignored; whoever has the biggest vehicle (or balls) usually has right of way.
Our last stop in ‘Nam was the rapidly expanding Ho Chi Minh city, now almost the size of London. The war museum displayed a thorough collection of mutilated victims from mine explosions and chemical weapons, looking like an all too realistic horror movie.
Despite being informative and moving, the constant use of propaganda irked me. The USA certainly cocked up big time, though the Vietnamese government was hardly innocent. American imperialism isn’t my cup of tea, but neither is a one sided account portraying a draconian aggressor and a peaceful victim. More research will be needed before long and intensive verbal jousts can be fully operational.
What the Vietnamese Communist Party endorsed in Cambodia however, was incomparably more gruesome. Goodnight Vietnam