A quiet Vietnamese visa run (part 2)  

One nice thing about both Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh is you don’t have to go far for shopping

A street in Cambodia. Photo: Stivi Cooke

>> A quiet Vietnamese visa run (part 1)

If you’ve gotta travel, you’ve gotta shop!

Finally got my nifty new visa without any fuss or bother but why, oh, why do the Cambodians and the Vietnamese feel the need to fill a whole page in a passport with a ridiculously overdesigned visa sticker? My ten-year passport now needs renewing and there’s still three years left on the passport’s validity!  

One nice thing about both Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh is you don’t have to go far for shopping. Another benefit is that both cities display far more civilized behavior about pedestrians. There’s none of the ‘run you down because I refuse to acknowledge your existence’ rubbish. The traffic actually stopped to let me pass when I was running late to cross the street!

I hate to say it, but I’ve mostly given up trying to buy clothes in Vietnam. It just seems as though Vietnam exports the good quality stuff and the locals deal with cheaper, poor quality clothes that just don’t last that long. Even basic T-shirts I’d purchase in Vietnam barely seem to last longer than four months.

Most of my shopping is done in Phnom Penh or Malaysia. High-end market shopping malls are sprouting up almost everywhere in Phnom Penh along with luxury-style apartment blocks. However it’s a mystery to me who, apart from the government elite, can afford to live in such splendor. So then…the shopping malls.

AEON, a Japanese operated mall (I think), is my choice for goodies. Not cheap and hosts most of the same brands you’ll find in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, yet unlike Vietnam, there’s simply more that’s better under one roof so less running around. Generally I buy a year’s supply of clothes and toys as I’m big manga and action movie fan. So it’s a few figurines from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and a book-sized model Millennium Falcon from Star Wars for me.

But that’s the thing isn’t it? Try wandering around Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi for shopping goodies – almost impossible, right? In both Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh, I found nearly everything I was looking for within a kilometer of my hotel; so it’s easy enough to reach on foot. Da Nang in my opinion is still in the ‘not quite there’ stage – there are some under-one-roof malls such as Vincom shopping mall and Metro, however the city truly lacks a real shopping district.

A bookstore in Cambodia. Photo: Stivi Cooke
A bookstore in Cambodia. Photo: Stivi Cooke

One scary new phenomenon is the Bitcoin craze I witnessed emblazed on a few Cambodian shopfronts. It’s now banned as a means of payment in Vietnam although people are still investing it. As an internet-based ‘cybercurrency’, Bitcoin is not backed by any real assets and is not a ‘currency’ because it isn’t supported by a government. It’s bad enough that people dreaming of getting rich fast (gamblers) are hooked on it; poorer Cambodia investors could be even more at risk. 

Only one thing stands out for me when traveling; buying books. Well-stocked Western language bookshops are extremely far and few between in Vietnam compared with many of its neighbors. I’m currently retired from teaching although I keep up an interest in education. I’m building up a collection of children’s literature and educational materials at home so I’m always bringing back stuff on each trip. Phnom Penh has quite a few international school book suppliers as well as Monument Bookshop and D’s bookshop which stocks extensive second-hand collections. Considering Vietnam’s infuriating book importing procedures and customs taxes, this is the easier option. Intriguingly, I was amazed at the number of Cambodians looking for Western books, particularly for kids – Vietnam’s narrow choices are robbing kids of the joy of reading as well as dragging them away from texting! Shame, Vietnam, shame!

One last thing, I do recommend if you have the money, fly. Annoyingly, you can’t fly direct from Da Nang. Probably to create that stop-over which makes you spend money in places you don’t want to visit! Phnom Penh’s airport is modern, spacious, and efficient and visas can be done on arrival within minutes. And there’s a book kiosk too!

It’s hard getting back to the cloudy chill of central Vietnam with all its noise and mayhem but it does beat the suffocating rules and politically correct madness of the Australian culture. Still, beer is about a dollar, cigarettes are the same, everyone said ‘hi’ when I got back and the fridge is re-stocked now. Ahhh…

And to think I’ll have to do this all again in three months’ time…I wonder what Taiwan’s like?

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