Binh Phuoc

I ran away from the Cambodian new year; I had already overstayed, and if I had let the new year celebrations grab me, I'd stay for another 4 or 5 days. I was glad to be back in Ho Chi Minh, and soon after on my way to Binh Phuoc.

A young vietnamese lady, Cherry, invited me and an English traveller to spend the weekend in her home town, a quiet village 3 hours north of Ho Chi Minh City. We stayed at her family's house, far from the center, in a sort of almost rural area - big gardens where people keep their own animals and grow their own vegetables and fruits. Apart from Cherry, no one Vietnamese I spoke to understood any English. I communicated the most with the little girl, who really didn't care if I understood her or not, and was not really worried that she couldn't understand the sounds I produced. Unfortunately, this was also the very first time I felt sorry for a cat - she seemed to love it alright, but had no idea it was crying because it was desperately trying to run away. Instead she thought it meant it liked it, and that she should squeeze the poor animal harder.

There was not much to see in the area, but it was quite interesting to share a couple of days with a local family. Of course, I tasted a few new flavours during those 2 days: watermelon seeds, boiled rooster head (brain included), duck blood soup and fried cicada, which they catch in their own garden - very nice. That, my friends, I recommend. When asked 'what does it taste like?', my only answer is 'like fried cicada'.

We ate those meals sitting on the ground, no table between us. After dinner, they cleaned that spot and prepared it for sleeping. Only the guests had mattresses - the rest of the family slept on the ground. The Grandmother had a folding bed in the kitchen, and they had a couple of hammocks which were tied to something that must be quite common, but I saw for the first time: a hammock holder that can easily be transported.

The town itself was quite nice, clean and spacious, with a beautiful and well lit park, which displays spotless, grand statues of communist heroes. The parks and squares were crowded until late, and the children played freely, not unlike Ho Chi Minh City.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Cherry told me that behind the wall that limits their garden, there are U.S. soldier graves. If we had been there 5 years earlier, we could have taken a walk, but since the wall was built, the field is left to grow and it's impossible to see through barbed wire and thick vegetation. The father said he had to hide in the tunnels during the conflict and the grandmother explained that her husband was not really in with the United Stateans - they threw her in jail, releasing her a week later, when her husband enlisted to fight against the North.

In practical terms, I am being led to the conclusion that there are only few minor differences between a socialist country and the rest, at least when it comes to everyday life. I've seen rich and poor and I've seen happy and hungry, but all that I have seen in each country. The main difference I see as a tourist between Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, as far as law and customs are concerned, is that roads are cleaner (not always, unfortunately) and prostitutes are less abundant in the country run by the communist party - whereas the Monarchies kinda stink and are filled with mildly aggressive hookers walking around exaggerated tourist areas. Many people also told me that the Vietnamese will try to rip you off at every turn, and charge you a lot more than what they should. My experience so far leads me to consider two possibilities: people were wrong, or they have become so good at it that I'm not even noticing. Whenever you buy something, anywhere, you are being ripped off. Coming from Brasil and then a period in Italy, you get really used to identifying those moments, and I honestly think I have had very few of them in Vietnam. And on top of that, all the Vietnamese people with whom I created the tiniest of bonds of friendship have offered me drinks, food, rides and even their full hospitality.