Showing posts from 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 th…

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 opp…

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.

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. Perh…

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 regre…

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 sce…

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 re…

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 pop…

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 cuisi…

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...

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 …

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.

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…

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 littl…

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 …

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 i…

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…

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.

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.

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…