Tag Archives: saigon

The Reunification Express

26 May

Balloons and the iconic pagoda in Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hoan Kiem lake: the calm heart of Hanoi, Vietnam.

We flew from Manila into Saigon last week, the day after Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, and rode the Reunification Express 1600km or so upcountry to Hanoi to pick up our journey through mainland South-East Asia from the north.

Vietnam is one of Z’s favourite countries. And not just for the pho (we had our first bowl outside Saigon railway station at 3am after our midnight flight…). He likes the combination of very traditional, slow-paced rural life with big, modern, turbocharged cities.

Me? I loved Saigon, and the everyday people we met. But I found the aggressively entrepreneurial spirit, not to say constant scams and ripoffs, on the tourist trail oppressive. So I got on the plane with slightly mixed feelings.

Last time round, our plan still was to cover three continents and sixteen countries in a single year. This left us, as you might imagine, rather short on time. So we only made it as far north as the nineteenth-century capital, Hue, before cutting west cross-country and into Laos. And we took the bus, not the train.

A big mistake… Because the poignantly-named Reunification Express, which runs from Saigon to Hanoi, is a wonderful way to travel. Continue reading

Our Friend Pho

8 Mar

Red kindergarten table and chairs on pavement, Vietnam

Clearly a Good Place to Eat

Vietnamese is now officially Z’s favourite cuisine — second only to Italian, ahead of Thai and English — and, as noodle soup obsessives, we will really miss our (almost) daily pho.

Pho is one of those dishes, like the classic English fry-up, that only seems to work when served in a grubby, streetside place lined with red plastic kindergarten chairs and populated by troughing locals.

Pho comes in three main varieties. Pork (heo), well-done beef (bo) and rare beef (bo tai), though they will make it with anything in the tourist joints. Most places do one type of meat per day, full stop. Continue reading

Ladybird Hats

28 Feb

Z Wearing a Helmet above the Tonle San RiverIn South-East Asia, we’ve been spending a lot of time on the back of bikes. Call them motos, xe om or motorbike taxis, they’re generally the cheapest and always the quickest way of getting around. And, put it this way, I wouldn’t drive anything smaller than a tank in Saigon traffic.

The safety laws in Vietnam are an improvement on those in Cambodia. Everyone has to have a license, although to the untutored eye it would be hard to tell. Continue reading

The Unwilling Soldier

27 Feb

The Cu Chi tunnels, twenty miles or so outside Saigon, make the trenches of Flanders look like R&R in Bangkok. More than 200 kilometres of them wind their way through laterite clay which sets as hard as concrete. Continue reading