Crossing three nations Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia in this corner of Asia, one after another, allows me to experience more easily the differences and the similitudes of these different lands.
I not only perceived different landscapes and experiences, but also different beauties, characters, ways of living and ways of approaching the foreigners by the locals of these three countries.
If you have the chance to exchange few words with an inhabitant of Bangkok, as soon as you tell hit or her that you are going to visit Vietnam, you’ll hear this simple sentence, over and over again: “Same Same… but different!”
It has become automatic and natural for them to define themselves “same same but different”, in fact this sentence has turned to be a funny slogan I found on many shirts in the local markets in Bangkok.
A Thai guy I met in the street told me he was “same same” to a Vietnamese but also different. Do not ask me what he was different for as he just told me this sentence, without going deeper.
After traveling in Thai, Cambodia and Vietnam I understand why he said that, by myself!
These three countries differ for their history, habits and approaches towards the external world. They apparently have different economies, construction industry and somatic features. I learned to distinguish these features little by little, probably because I started to relate them to their respective cultures.
Maybe because of my personality, probably because of my profession, I am used to look straight into the people’s eyes. I like observing how they move in the world. Thanks to that, I noticed many things during this trip.
Firstly, I believe Thai people have facial features more pronounced but less definite than Vietnamese people.
Vietnamese have a particular eye cut, more neat. Unfortunately, it clearly reminds me the image of the soldiers during the Viet Cong war.
The war has strongly marked this population and its land, on one hand. On the other hand, beyond the devastating disruption, I do believe the war paradoxically allowed people from Vietnam and their land to reinvent themselves and evolve more quickly than the bordering countries.
The construction industry, the economy, the services and the openminded-ness towards the different make the Vietnamese more similar to the Cambodians. In the last 10 years, Cambodia has lived the tourism boom, ranking second among the most visited place in the world with the Angkor Wat archeological site. Here the economy is growing very quickly. Just consider they use the double exchange in their trade: the riel and the dollar, in an exchangeable way.
Cambodians seemed to me more cheerful and open-minded compared to their neighbours in Thailand or in Vietnam. As far as I am concerned, they look nicer as they always smile, unconditionally!
With no doubt at all, the ability to get used to the modern services and to the tourism in a such quick way is the peculiarity among the three countries. This ability is far more immediate than ours, people from the West!
I am a frenetic European person and it has been surprising for me to realize that their job comes after their respect for life and the daily rest. Work is a simple way of sustenance. For this reason, it is common to see them lying on a hammok (which are EVERYWHERE, even in the most impossible places) at all the time, even during business hours.
Their relationship with food captured my attention as well: they eat for necessity more than for pleasure. People from that part of Asia eat frequently together, spartanly, sitting down, on textiles found wherever, barefoot (Thai people), on small little chairs (Vietnamese and Cambodians).
…I could keep listing my reflections about this fascinating populations, but I’d prefer invite you to discover and experience on your owns!
Different or not, similar or same same, one thing is sure: this part of Asia and these populations gave me many good moments, forced me to call myself into question and, why not, to change a bit.