Friday, 19 April 2019

Goodbye Vietnam

All good things must come to an end. Including my holiday to Vietnam. At the time of writing, the holiday has been over for nearly a month. I hope you enjoyed the run of posts. The written content was, most of the time, really just an excuse to publish the photographic content. It would have been nice to close this journey with a recording of Robin Williams screaming 'Goodbye Vietnam', but that wasn't the catchphrase, and he's no longer with us in order for a custom recording to be commisioned. Instead, I offer a short video. Made with Apple Photos, a collage of some of my better shots from what was a wonderful, fascinating, unforgettable fortnight.

I'll finish with a few final observations. I've never felt as safe anywhere in the world as I did in Vietnam. I rarely saw a uniformed policeman. How about police and security services not in uniform? They are awfully discreet if there were any of those milling about. The atmosphere was not oppresive, quite the opposite. Communism? I didn't notice. People are busy. Vietnam is busy. They are learning how to be a modern deeveloping country. They look like fast learners to me. We'll be back, one day.
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Thursday, 18 April 2019

Train Street

I liked travelling solo, in the days before there was a Mrs P. There's a freedom in going solo. One can do as one pleases. Travelling as one half of a couple means compromises must be made. The trip must work for both people. But still, I enjoy travelling with Mrs P too. Despite the compromises. I would have liked to ride the Reunification Express all the way from Saigon to Hanoi in a sleeper carriage. Mrs P did not wish to do any such thing. I suspect the trauma of my Indian train travel in 2017 has put her off international train travel for life. Mrs P won this argument, and we flew instead.

I did want to see the train chugging its way down Train Street in Hanoi, however. It's become quite the item on the tourist 'to do' list. Mrs P wasn't quite so interested. But I won this argument, and we strolled along in good time to see the train pass through. Our railway compromise worked for both of us satisfactorily enough.  
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Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Notre Dame

Let's pause from my tales of Vietnam for a moment. A momentous and tragic event is Paris has occurred, and it seems to be obligatory for all social media users - bloggers included - to post a photo from the archives of the finest cathedral the French have to offer. Who am I to buck the trend? It's also the done thing to share a few words about how wondrous and meaningful Notre Dame was during that trip a few years back. Hmmm. Perhaps I shall be a bit 'au contraire' after all.

I was underwhelmed by Notre Dame. I don't entirely know why. It's tough to put my finger on it. I mean, it is a magnificent cathedral. It is terribly old. And yet I was terribly underwhelmed. Perhaps it was the weather. Perhaps it was my mood. Perhaps my ignorance of it's history and importance in western culture played a part. Perhaps because it was so well looked after, it looked almost new. Perhaps the grand expections derived from its reputation had a certain negative effect. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. It was 'just' another cathedral. One of many that I have visited.

How underwhelmed was I exactly? Would you believe that I don't have a single photo of the exterior.  Not a one. I just wasn't sufficiently inspired to reach for my camera. And I have only a few from the interior, including the one shown. Is it a photo of Our Lady? I couldn't tell you.

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Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Tam Coc

Tam Coc, we were told, translates as 'Three Caves'. This makes perfect sense. The tour took us down the very still waters of the river through three caves. No need to alert Trading Standards about any misleading literature regarding this tour.

The boats are mostly paddled by women. Who use their feet to row the boat. It's a little bizarre, but it clearly works. Our lady rowed like an absolute demon, overtaking other boats as we steamed up through the caves then back again. If this were a competitive sport, I'm pretty sure she'd have won. And then failed the drugs test...

You could get to Hoa Lua by public transport and rent a boat and oarsman/woman yourself. But the tours are pretty competitively priced, so it didn't seem worth the agro of a do-it-yourself day out. We paid about $38 each, which included the hour long drive down to Ninh Binh, a pretty decent buffet lunch, a visit to a temple and the main attraction - the boat ride.

Do Mrs P and I have any regrets about our trip to Vietnam? Yes, and it is here in Ninh Binh. The countryside is simply magnificent. We'd have loved to stay here a few days exploring. But time was limited and a two night cruise in Halong Bay beckoned. So a day trip had to suffice. 

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Monday, 15 April 2019

Temple of Literature

Hanoi is home to a plethora of temples. This is but one of them. Albeit an important one, the Temple of Literature. Have a good look around, courtesy of another pretty decent Google Streetview 360 photo.

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Halong Bay

Halong Bay, just off the north eastern coast of Vietnam. Pick a cruise that suits you, and visit another world. Most people seemed to pick a one night cruise. We went for a two night cruise. I felt the place would be special enough to justify the time and cost.

Pick a spot on the deck of your chosen boat. Any spot will do. Once you're into the bay, the views will surround you. You can't escape them. You wouldn't want to escape them. They are why one comes here. For the view. Which cruise boat did we choose? Seeing as you asked, we plumped for the Signature Royal.

We picked that particular cruise for a number of reasons, but particularly because they send you off on a day trip into the less populated Bai Tu bay. Mrs P sat on the deck, listening to the theme tune of one of her favourite films, the Painted Veil. If you've seen the movie, you'll understand why she thought of it. If you'd heard the tune, you'll probably appreciate how well it fits with the scenery.

We were afloat for two and a half days in the bay. But the sun broke through the clouds for just a few minutes on the final morning, just after dawn. And then disappeared, not to be seen again. Not by us, anyway. The sun stayed just long enough for me to capture the photo above. It would have been nice to have had some more sun. But the sea mists, at dawn and dusk especially, added their own magic to the spectacular karsts, rising out of the Gulf of Tonkin.

Was the decision to go cruising for two nights a good call? I thought so. I think Mrs P agrees. It was a relaxing few days. Tranquil. Peaceful. Restful. Words that one would not associate with the other stops on our two week tour of Vietnam. It was not just a pleasant respite from the fumes, din and pace of Hanoi. It was a necessary respite. And Halong Bay delivered that in buckets.
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Sunday, 14 April 2019

It's Chinese

Tourism is flourishing in Vietnam, with visitors making their way to the country from all over the world. But no one sends more tourists than China. They are everywhere. Now, you might wonder how you tell a Vietnamese and a Chinese apart. They all look the same right? Oooh. Bit racist. But moving on...I can tell you, it's very easy to tell the difference. No degrees in geneaology required. Did it just hawk up a deep-lung grolly and spit it on the restaurant floor? It's Chinese. Is it chomping on its food with mouth wide open, bits of chewed stuff going all over the place? It's Chinese.

Did it literally just loudly fart and belch in front of everyone? It's Chinese. Did it just push you out of the way rather than saying 'excuse me?' It's Chinese. Is it shouting at the tour group through a loudspeaker, deafening everyone within 100 metres? It's Chinese. Is that a slice of endangered species on its plate that it is tucking into? It's Chinese. Did it really just chuck all those used plastic bottles over the side of the boat? It's Chinese. 

Mrs P and I took a boat trip into Halong bay. Just the two of us and the crew. And four Chinese. We settled down in chairs at the far end of the boat, intent on avoiding as much foul mannered bodily functions as possible. In the afternoon, we all went kayaking. The Chinese grounded themselves on a beach that was completely unsuitable for a landing. Then capsized trying to get out. We chuckled and paddled safely away. I may have  sung a quiet rendition of 'Rule Britannia'. I may have explained to Mrs P, 'this is how we won the Opium Wars...'

The day came to an end. But just before disembarking, one of the Chinese chaps came over to us, smiling. He'd taken a photo of Mrs P and I kayaking. Would I like it? Well, yes. Please. That's really great. Thanks. We chatted a while. He was a really nice chap, very friendly. His English was pretty good. I liked the chap, I really did.

Yes, I know. You don't need to tell me. I am a terrible human being. I am ashamed of myself, you're quite right. One moment I'm using 'it' instead of 'him/her' and was just a moral step away from UKIP membership. The next moment, I'm all please and thank you. An unforgiveable combination prejudice and hypocrisy. Please forgive me.
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