Tag Archives: trains

“Mum! FEET!!!”

30 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It is amazing how fast children adapt to and internalise the conventions, taboos, the social norms and etiquette of another culture.

And not just by eating crickets, as the nine year old is doing in his charming self-portrait below.

Self-portrait of Z with cricket in hand, approaching mouth.

Shown not entirely to scale...

We are in Thailand right now. An etiquette minefield. One moment one is torn between sheer admiration for the enviable phsyique of the hot young thing who has popped into chat to the novice monks of Wat Suan Dok wearing tight white spaghetti vest top, denim hotpants and no bra (honestly, none required), and a sense of unappealing smugness at having remembered to cover one’s own, perhaps rather less, erm, enlightening, shoulders, legs, et al.

The next, one is innocuously sat in a tuk-tuk, those cutesy petrol-powered three-wheelers that are so emblematic of swathes of Asia that miniature versions sell in night markets from Chiang Mai to Kandy, when one’s spawn taps one irritably on the thigh and adjures, sternly, “Mum!!!! FEET!!!” Continue reading

The Red Queen

30 May

The Red Queen from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Shot in Vietnam, most likely.

It’s the weekend on Cat Ba island, not to mention the Vietnamese summer, which means there’s a vibe on the beach I can best characterize as Spring Break meets Butlins meets the coach tour from hell.

I am watching a stream of cheerleaders doing their schtick to Avril Lavigne on our tranquil beach as hogs roast in the background and thinking, of all things, how much we English and the Vietnamese have in common.

There’s the tendency to invade neighbouring nations and pretend they were part of us in the first place. There’s the general talent-show lack of irony (think child rappers in sequined suits that up the viewing ante from disturbing to frankly traumatic), coupled with a fervent belief in the national sense of humour.

There’s the utter bloody rudeness, surreally combined with an eye-gouging sensitivity to courtesy (or respec’) from others. And getting on a bus in Hanoi involves the kind of vigorous elbow action that would put the London rush hour to shame.

But, my god, when it comes to tourist scams, these guys sooooo totally kick our flaccid Western arse. Continue reading

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

Bangkok (Not Very) Dangerous

27 Mar

Z in driving seat of train, Thanaleng, Laos

No hands. The engine was running...

Honestly. Why take the bus when you can take the train?!

Even in second class, the night train from Nong Khai to Bangkok is a real joy, particularly after our Lao bus experience the night before. Fold out, curtained bunks with clean sheets which are prepared for you at bedtime, allowing you a seat before. Decent food delivered, with table, from the buffet car. Woken by hot coffee vendors in the morning…

So we are in Bangkok, and rested. Despite the alarums in the international press, this is clearly not a city in the grips of civil strife. In fact, the Red Shirt rallies provide the chance to earn a few hundred baht. Five hundred, to be precise. Continue reading

Best Train Journey Ever? #1: The Bamboo Train

23 Feb

Z making a faceZ will contentedly nap on motorbikes, ride the tailgate on pickups, sit on the edge of a boat and stand up in the back of anything that will have him.

But Battambang’s Bamboo Train, which leaps and rattles a few inches above rails so warped that they wobble into the distance like a child’s first attempt at perspective, is officially “quite scary”.

Cambodia’s railways are in about the state you’d expect after decades of civil war and a peace dominated by the endemic corruption known in the old days as bonjour. No passenger services. The very occasional freight train.

And one of the world’s great train rides in the form of the Bamboo Train. Continue reading