Au Revoir Cambodia. Hello Vietnam. It was a quarter to seven in the morning when the 31-car convoy of the ASEAN Rally rolled out of Hotel Cambodiana at Phnom Penh and drove to the Independence Monument for the official flag-off. As usual, there were thousands of children lined up on either side of the street to greet us. It seems like every child in Cambodia has seen the convoy pass.
It was seven-thirty in the morning when the convoy was flagged off, and we blasted through the blocked traffic escorted by police cars, like a VIP entourage, which I guess we are. No surprises at lunch today – Chicken, fish, seafood, the usual stuff. No crickets or spiders on the menu and not many photo-ops either.
We entered Vietnam at one in the afternoon. The border crossing was smooth and quick, thanks to all the work done by the team in CII and the external affairs ministry. No change of time zone, so we didn’t need to adjust our watches. And we continued to drive on the right side of the road. From the border, it’s a short 80km drive to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Again, we flew past the blocked traffic and crowds of people lining the streets in record time. The convoy drove straight to the Reunification Palace where there was a grand reception waiting for us.
Vietnamese singers and dancers really rocked the crowd of participants and schoolchildren who were gathered there. Watching the children’s energy and enthusiasm was heartening. Perhaps by the time they grow up, driving between India and the other ASEAN countries will be a routine affair. Before the participants checked into their rooms at Hotel Rex, they paid their floral tributes at the Presidential Square. Tomorrow, we re-enter Cambodia on our way to Laos where we halt for the night.