Saturday, 20 April 2019

Travelling On A Lost/Stolen BRP

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the trauma of losing a BRP in the UK just before we were due to go on holiday. The post got a lot of traffic and I received quite a few comments and emails. The information I offered helped a few people, which is great. Because I recently changed my domain name over to this new blog, links to the article that have been published elsewhere all broke. This re-blog of the original should fix that. To see comments left on the original post, some of which may be helpful, please click here

This is a public service announcement by the Mexile in association with an awful lost of frustration and angst. Roughly 24 hours before Mrs P and I were due to fly to Mexico for our two week holiday, there was what I shall refer to as an ‘incident’. I won’t bore you with the details of the ‘incident’. Just one of the consequences. The most pressing consequence. Mrs P was no longer in possession of her Biometric Residence Permit. This is the card that shows she has the right to be in the UK and it is what she needs to re-enter the UK at the end of a trip abroad.

Potential disaster loomed. What do we do now? I did not know the answer. So I did what I always do when I do not know the answer to something. I got straight on to the internet. Where I discovered that, if lost in the UK, a replacement can take up to six months to process. Yes, there is a priority service, at over £500, which will take a few days. Neither option worked for us. But you know what the internet can be like. You log on looking for a cure for a headache. Next thing you know, you have, apparently, got a bad case of Ebola.

If the BRP card lost abroad, then you can apply for a single use entry permit. It’s just £72. And will be with you in 14 days. Ish. Maybe. There is, again a priority service. In New York. Great, if you happen to be in the Big Apple. But this also clearly wouldn’t work for us. The internet basically told us just two things. Firstly, a BRP visa or replacement permit was necessary for re-entry to the UK in order to retain the correct immigration status. Secondly, we wouldn’t be able to get one in time.

 So I did what I do when the internet fails me. I speak to a human being. Or try to. Good luck with that if you also care to try. There is a Border Agency helpline you can call where, for an extortionate per minute charge, a disinterested sounding person will read off sections of the website that you read yourself just a few minutes ago. It all just began to turn into a major headache. Which, according to Google, was not Ebola but just a bad case of Homeofficeitis.

So there you have it. No BRP card, no re-entry on the correct immigration status. Which is a bad thing. Very bad. So says the internet. So says the disinterested man reading from the internet. So we gave up. Except at the last minute, we decided not to give up and to have one last throw of the dice. Grab bags, head to the airport and speak to a real human being from the UK Border Agency. Face to face.

Where we finally had a sensible conversation. Not face to face, as it happens. There’s no UKBA presence in the Arrivals hall. But there is a more general airport Help Desk on the ground floor, with a telephone that puts you through to someone in Immigration. We spoke to a cheerful young lady and briefly explained our predicament. I can relate the remainder of the conversation almost word for word…

UKBA Lady: Where is your wife from?

Me: Mexico.

UKBA Lady: Does she have the passport she used when applying for the BRP?

Me: Yes, she does.

UKBA Lady: That’s fine then. Enjoy your holiday.

Me: Really?

UKBA Lady: Yes, no problem. They’ll just check her passport against the BRP database on her return.

Me: Really?

Hours and hours of research on the internet, wasted. A two minute conversation with someone on the shop floor – priceless. The bottom line here was that Mrs P comes from a country that does not require a visa to visit the UK. If that were the case then she would have been refused travel by the airline on the way back. And it also helped that she had a passport that the UKBA have a record of in relation to her immigration status, although I am not convinced that this was the most important factor of the two.

So if you have found yourself in a similar predicament, then all may not be lost. Of course, it must be stressed that I am not a UKBA approved spokesperson, nor am I an expert immigration lawyer. Your circumstances may differ, or rules may have changed since this was written. But there is hope. Maybe. And it’s a good thing to share experiences.

Whilst I did come across a couple of potentially positive posts on forums, I rather wish I had found something a bit more detailed during my internet search. Something like what I have just written, perhaps. But we did make it to Mexico and, more to the point, we made it back again. The UKBA agent took no more than 2 minutes to pop into the back office to do the necessary check. It couldn’t have been easier.

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.

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.  

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Hanoi and the Three Ps

One notices the difference between north and south immediately upon landing at Hanoi airport. There is a marked change of climate. Hanoi is cooler and more prone to rain than Saigon. Hanoi is also noticeably poorer than its southern brother. My first impression was that Hanoi was a bit like Delhi but with pavements. But this was a grossly unfair comparison as it turned out. And there is a sudden abundance of pho joints. There is, apparently, a saying in Vietnam - dress like a southerner, eat like a northerner. The food, we were promised, is the tops here.

But precipitation, poverty and pho are not the Three Ps than are the subject of this post. I had another three words in mind. Population, plastics, pollution. They are a feature all across Vietnam, but nowhere more so than in Hanoi. The population of Vietnam is the 14th largest in the world and rapidly hurtling towards 100 million, with a sizeable chunk of them packed into Saigon and Hanoi. Saigon is the bigger and more densely populated city, but Hanoi felt more claustrophobic. Perhaps it's the narrower streets. Perhaps it was the part of town we stayed in.

Hanoi felt far more polluted than Saigon. A little bit of research shows that this is indeed the case. Our chests felt heavy, my eyes were stinging and we gradually began to feel a little unwell. This was a shame, because it took some of the shine off what is a fabulous and fascinating city. The food was as good as promised, the pedestrianisation around the lake made for pleasant evening walks and the numerous temples and pagodas were a joy to see.

We've left the people and pollution of Hanoi behind us. But there is that third problem - plastics. The stuff is everywhere. It's a hot topic in the UK and there are huge efforts being made to reduce the existence of single use plastics, to recycle it where possible and to properly dispose of it when it cannot be used again. Alas, the ongoing environmental catastrophe that is being caused by plastic does not seem to have registered with either the authorities or the public in Asia. This is more than just a shame. It's a tragedy. With an unhappy ending.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Tea and Coffee

Let me introduce you to two 'Must Have' beverages that are found all over Vietnam. Must have, but for different reasons. Shall we start with the egg coffee? I know. Eggs and coffee. It doesn't sound quite right. But once upon a long ago, I remember thinking the same about chocolate and chilli. Yet I left Mexico with a deep love for enchiladas with a thick, generous, indulgent coating of mole. Would egg coffee leave me similarly entranced?

Egg coffee is, essentially, war food. An improvised Vietnamese creation made from what was available. The country didn't have much in the way of fresh milk. But they had a ton of chicken eggs. At some point, someone who clearly disliked black coffee decided to give it a go. Mrs P and I went to Giang Cafe in Hanoi to sample the stuff at the most famous place of them all. They claim that egg coffee was invented there. The Metropole Hotel in Hanoi claims otherwise. Either way, egg coffee has found its place in modern Vietnam's cuisine. It's iconic, even. A 'must have' that all visitors should try while in the neighbourhood..

We took to our teeny tiny plastic seats, with matching teeny tiny plastic table. Myself looking even more like a giant than normal in Vietnam. Which is saying something, given my lofty proportions in a land of short people. We put the cups to our lips and sipped. I pondered for a moment. Had another sip. So. What does egg coffee taste like? It tastes of coffee. Sweet, strong coffee. A really creamy, but lightly textured, coffee. And then as you finish the last of it off, there is just the slightest hint of egg in the aftertaste. But it is just a hint,  largely drowned out by the strength of the coffee.

It was quite pleasant. It's worth trying. I went on to have a couple more. Will I try and recreate this delicacy back home? Probably not. Although I have bought a can of evaporated milk to substitute for my normal milk, which is the more common variety of Vietnamese coffee. Just for a sensory reminder of our vacation when, on a rainy day in England, I need a little pick me up.

You have to seek out and order egg coffee. Not so Tra Da. This iced tea will seek you out. It's nigh on impossible to take a seat in a restaurant or coffee shop and not have a glass of this stuff thrust in front of you. It's almost always free of charge. And chances are, you'll be thirsty - Vietnam has a warm climate - so you'll drink it. It's a 'must have' whether you like it or not. 

I have to confess, I still haven't decided whether I actually like it or not. I must  have gotten through pints of the stuff, but my tastebud jury is still out. It's a little bit of an acquired taste, perhaps. I was reminded of my first experience with olives. Not that the flavours are in any way comparable. But when I first tried a few olives, they didn't really taste particularly nice. But there was just something there that forced me to keep putting them in my mouth. Tra Da provided a similar experience. 

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Au Revoir Hoi An

Time stands still for no man. I'd hoped the exception to this rule would be found in Hoi An, a timeless slice of the orient. Alas, the dates flicked over on my digital calendar just the same as in any other town. After five wonderful nights, it was time to move on. Farewell Hoi An, and your delightful little lantern lit streets. Next stop, Hanoi...

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Sun World

I have mixed feelings as to how I should describe the Golden Bridge. It has been a viral phenomenon on social and traditional media for the last six months. The spectacular drone footage hooked us in to taking a day trip to the Ba Na Hills. Yet I'm tempted to run the headline 'Some Things Actually Don't Look Better In The Flesh'. But that would possibly be unfair. Maybe I should go with 'Some Things Really Need Good Weather To Be Appreciated'. We didn't get good weather. It wasn't bad - it was dry. But there was just a wee bit of cloud cover. And by 'wee', I mean thick, all enveloping cloud cover.

We arrived at the Golden Bridge, more than 3,000 feet up in the mountains, at about 9am. Along with a lot of other people. Including a surprising number of couples dressed up in their wedding day finery. Ideally, one would arrive in time for the first cable car up which departs at 7am. But that would have meant catching a taxi from Hoi An at 5am. The very idea of waking up that early when on holiday was utterly preposterous, so we sacrificed a few moments of solitude on the Golden Bridge for an hour longer in bed.

The cable car is, to my mind, is the number one reason for making the two hour trek up into the Ba Na Hills. I'm told it's the longest cable car ride in the world. I haven't attempted to check this, but it strikes me as a believable claim. The ride takes over 25 minutes, and it's a glorious trip even in cloudy weather.

The Golden Bridge is just one of a number of attractions in Sun World, Vietnam's rather peculiar answer to Disney World. Maybe. Sort of. There are rides, gardens and a recreated French Village. Complete with a black London taxi cab and a Japanese pagoda. What sort of self respecting French village would be without a London taxi and a Japanese pagoda?

Sun World doesn't make for a particularly cheap day out. Our taxi (Hoi An Cars again) cost a million dong, plus an further 200,000 dong for extra waiting time - two hours on top of the three hours included with the standard price. Entry to the park is 700,000 dong per person, although that does include cable car, rides et al. That worked out at about £100 for the pair of us. Hardly an outrageous financial extravagance by  western standards. But easily the most expensive day of our fortnight in Vietnam.

Was it all worth it? Should you go to the Ba Na Hills and enjoy all that Sun World has to offer? That's a tough question. We did have a great day, even though the clouds obstructed our view of the hills from the Golden Bridge. And we wish we'd arranged to spend longer there - five hours wasn't quite enough. But it is a long way to go and a lot of money to spend when there are so many other things to do that are closer and cheaper.

I guess that, ultimately, every tourist has to answer this question themselves. If you have all the time and money in the world, then why not. If you had to choose between Sun World and the My Son Sanctuary? My Son wins, easily.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

My Son 360

The quality of photo stitching in Google's Streetview app has gotten extremely impressive.You have to look pretty hard to spot any breaks.Those that exist don't detract from the viewing experience at all, in my opinion. But alas, there is a problem. It's a known and long standing problem, but Google do not appear to be very concerned at resolving it. 

What is the problem? If you try to search for this image in Google Maps, you will not find it. Nor any of the 360 photos I've taken and published since last September. They have all been rejected, because the image size is under 7.5mp. It's a bug that afflicts the iPhone XS and its Max sibling, and it's a little frustrating. But still, you can see the image here just fine. Wave to Mrs P as you go past.

Monday, 8 April 2019

My Son Sanctuary

We woke early for our taxi to My Son. We could have joined an organised tour, but they are surprisingly expensive. It cost little more to hire a taxi with Hoi An Cars and travel in the luxury of a brand new Mazda CX5. The cost was 700,000 dong, we could get there before the crowds and better still, we didn't have to listen to the inane chatter of other people.

My Son Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to the Champa and is an intruiging combination of local culture mixed with Hinduism from India. The origins of the place stretch all the way back to the 4th century. But if you really want to know the full story of My Son, then the UNESCO webpage will do a better job of it than I.

What you see in the photo above is a ruined temple and a large crater. Is there a link between the two? Of course there is. An American B52 carpet bombed My Son in the war, destroying or severely damaging 50 of the 70 buildings. There is a good deal of ongoing work, tastefully restoring and protecting the buildings that remain though. Which is good news.

And just for once on my travels abroad, it was nice to be British. We had nothing to do with the Vietnam war, it's never been a British colony and the British Museum in London does not contain the best bits of Vietnam's antiquity, obtained through dubious means. What a refreshing change this made.

I gave this some extra thought, though. Could it be true that the British army has really never been into Vietnam? I certainly hadn't read of any such venture. But there have been so many foreign incursions, it's just impossible to keep up with them all. So I looked it up. And now I rather wished I hadn't. Because of course the British have been through. At the end of the Second World War, the British entered Saigon to remove the defeated Japanese units still there and restore order.

And by 'restore order', I mean  'kicked off conflict with the communist Viet Minh, reinstalled the French, and having effectively started the Vietnam War, scarpered off to cause problems elsewhere'. Who knew? Not me. Am I hugely surprised? Sadly, no. But I enjoyed our visit to My Son all the more thanks to my blissful ignorance.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Sit A While

Hey there, come pull up a seat and sit with me a while. I'm sipping on a delicious Vietnamese iced coffee with coconut and ice creme, watching the world pass by. Or at least the part of the world that might wander down this particular street in Hoi An. I'm alone with my thoughts. So no talking please, just enjoy the moment. You can read my thoughts, anyway. What about Mrs P, you ask? Don't worry, she's off shopping. She could be quite some time. She's always busy doing something, Mrs P. She never stops. But I like to stop now and again. Just to enjoy the moment. And a nice coffee and a comfortable chair help me to do just that. Are you sitting comfortably? Here's a little video, just to help you settle in and live the moment with me.

People generally rush about too much, you know. You can sometimes have too much fun, and if you don't stop a moment here and there, you'll never truly appreciate life. Who knows what the future holds? I know that in little more than a weeks time I'll be back at work in a train station in wet and windy England. Maybe next month ill health will strike. I could be unemployed in a year. Homeless and divorced by the time I'm fifty. Dead before I have a chance to retire. One day, the universe will likely end one way or another and everyone and everything will be gone. Nothing that ever happened will ever matter. It'll be like nothing ever happened at all, in fact.

Now don't start getting depressed with all this talk of doom. I'm not moping. I'm not the anxious sort, really. Quite the opposite, I'd say. Maybe you're just missing my point. No one knows what the future holds. But right now, I'm happy. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. I'm sitting in a pretty street, drinking a delicious iced coconut coffee with ice cream in it. I can hear cheerful chatter and bird song. I have a fortnight free of work. The world can be a beautiful place. And right here, right now, everything is pretty much perfect. So I like to just stop and enjoy the moment, appreciate the wonder of life, marvel at the grand stroke of luck I've been blessed with. Make the most of what I have while it lasts.

Now, what drink did you order? You really should have tried the iced coffee with coconut and ice cream...

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Banh Mi and Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain swore that the banh mi served at Banh Mi Phuong are just the best banh mi that money can buy. And as we were in the area, it seemed sensible to give them a try. So we did. Twice. Firstly on a food tour, then a couple of days later when we happened to pass by. What is a banh mi? It's a small French baguette, with a choice of fillings. There's no mistaking that this is the place Bourdain had his banh mi. There's the photographic proof on the wall. And on the tables. And on every single paper bag that the banh mis are served in. I wasn't brave enough to use the loo, but I bet there's a photo of Tony tucking into a banh mi in there too. Oh, and there's the exceptionally long queue of Anthony Bourdain foodies waiting their turn for Vietnam's most famous sandwich.

Are they any good though? Or has fame and fortune led to a decline in standards at Banh Mi Phuong? I must confess my first sandwich was a little bit 'meh'. I chose pork, which in hindsight probably wasn't a wise choice. It was stuffed with a mix of sliced and chopped processed meat of dubious quality. Some of which was 'spit-out' meat. The bread itself was nice, but overall I was sufficiently unimpressed that a return visit seemed unlikely. But as I said, a couple of days later, we happened to be passing. And we were hungry. So Banh Mi Phuong got a second chance.

I went for a tuna banh mi second time round. Mrs P copied me. And it was a huge improvement over the first experience. Much tastier. We didn't need to spit bits out, which is always a good thing. But here's my final verdict. I couldn't tell you if Banh Mi Phuong makes the best banh mi in Hoi An, or Vietnam for that matter. Because it was the only place we had banh mi. At a guess, it's probably at least as good as anywhere else. But I'm sorry to say that I think you'll dine on 80% hype and 20% filled baguette. Honestly, I could make a better sandwich at home. 

Friday, 5 April 2019

Hoi An's Big Ticket

There are plenty of small towns around the world that could be referred to as one big museum. Hoi An is one such town, but they have taken the concept one step further. In theory, you need an entrance ticket for Hoi An's historic old town. In practice, you probably don't. At no point were we asked to show our ticket when walking around. I've read that people on walking/food tours are sometimes stopped by ticket enforcement agents, but I suspect even this is probably rare. Mrs P and I did a food tour without incident. 

Not that we had anything to fear - we had bought a ticket each. They aren't expensive at £4/$5 ish per person. They also allow you entry into five places of entry, which makes the ticket a bargain if you visit a few temples/museums/houses. You only need to buy the one ticket for your stay, unless you intend to visit more that five sites. Probably the most popular of the sites that you can use the ticket for is the 16th century Japanese Bridge, as shown in the photo above. We also went to see a rather bizarre folklore show which presented the audience with traditional dance to western classical music and finished off with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Hoi An

As wonderful as Saigon is, we must move on. Three nights was just about right to see what we wanted to see, although I would not have struggled to fill three weeks. Or even three months. But we don't have the luxury of that sort of free time, so move on we must. Mrs P and I caught a flight to our next destination, technically Danang. Only very briefly though. A taxi met us at the airport to whisk us 45 minutes down the coast to the town of Hoi An.

You've never heard of Hoi An? Perhaps a brief description will help. It sits at the mouth of a river halfway up the thin sliver of a country that is Vietnam. It's an old trading port, once very wealthy, doing deals with the Egyptians, Europeans and others. It can trace its history back well over a thousand years, was home to the Champa people, escaped the ravages of the 20th century wars and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Oh, and it's become something of a tourist Mecca, particularly famous these days for the thousands of lanterns that hand from every pole, beam and hook that can be found. Which makes it quite the sight at night.

If you were to ask me which place was my favourite in Vietnam, well this is it. I could happily spend quite some time here. Could one retire here? I wouldn't entirely rule it out. It certainly has huge charm, and I felt it is the sort of charm that has staying power. It's in a quiet-ish part of the country, but conveniently located close to a city of decent size with an airport that serves both Hanoi and Saigon with frequent, cheap flights. 

One of the great delights of Hoi An is that for much of the day and late into the evening, the entire historical centre is made a no-go zone for cars and the plagues of scooters. Pedestrians rule. The roads are peaceful walking routes. The air is breathable. Your ears find respite from the din of traffic. You can hear clearly the chatter and laughter of local sellers and their prey, the tourist. It is wonderful. Your senses are assaulted only by things you'd like them to be assaulted by. And I think I could happily spend many, many days, weeks, months here. 

We spent five nights here, the longest stop of our whirlwind tour. Mrs P initially had her doubts that I'd planned this correctly, that we should be moving on again, a little sooner. But we both agreed at journey's end, that actually, perhaps, maybe, one more night in Hoi An would have been a better plan.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

The Scooterist

The number of cars on the streets is growing, but the scooter still rules in Vietnam. When fleets of scooters are not parked en masse on pavements, blogging the progress of a pedestrian on what should be his or her home territory, they flow down the roads like a marching army of ants, rarely obeying traffic lights, always missing pedestrians by the slimmest of whiskers. Crossing a street is something of an art, but with a little practice you soon master it. Assuming you survive the first few attempts. The trick is to just walk and pretend you're the only person alive. Do not make eye contact with a scooterist. It just leads to confusion, and confusion leads to accidents. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Notre Dame, Saigon

The French left behind a legacy of injustice, impoverishment and grand architecture. This is the legacy of all empires, is it not? All three can still be found on the streets of Saigon. But it's the architecture that stands out to the casual tourist. It's the cathedrals, opera houses and monuments that draw the crowds. This is Notre Dame. The other Notre Dame. In Saigon, not Paris. It was closed for renovation when we were in the city. We had to make do with admiring the exterior. 

Monday, 1 April 2019

Post Map

Each post on this blog that has an identifiable location is recorded on the map below. Just to give a visual representation of the blog. Just because I like to look at maps. Just because. Perhaps, one day, if I have the inclination, I'll add some material from past travels. Just to pad it out a bit quicker.

Mekong Delta OneTrip Tour

Mrs P and I had watched numerous episodes of the Best Ever Food Review Show, sponsored by Onetrip. So when we were looking for tours to the Mekong Delta and we noticed Onetrip ran one, we signed up.  It wasn't the cheapest tour, by a long shot. Or the longest tour. Or the tour with most exclamation marks in their literature. But they were the trusted tour operator. That's how entertainment and sponsorship packages are supposed to work, right? 

It was the right choice, probably. Given that we paid over £120 for the two of us, I'd like to think so, although as it was the only Mekong Delta tour that we took, I have nothing to compare it to. But like everything in Vietnam, it ran like clockwork. From our collection at our hotel right through to drop off, every part of the tour ran just like it said it would on the tin. Apart from breakfast, which had been promoted as 'delicious'. It wasn't. But other than that, it was just as described on the tin.

The Mekong Delta isn't necessarily a place where you will be swamped in areas of outstanding natural beauty. It's a working river, with a life of its own. That's what you primarily go to see. But the tour includes a ride down some of the canals that lead off the main river. If you yearn for some natural beauty, you won't be entirely disappointed. 

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