Central Vietnam: Hue

Hue is a popular spot in the tourist guidebooks. They’ve all been here. Frommers, TripAdvisor, and of course Lonely Planet. How do I know? Every restaurant and guest house in town has their @mentions printed on a sign out front. That’s all well and good, especially if Hue delivered the goods. But in my mind, it just didn’t. Tourists have been coming here for a long time, and the local hawkers are skilled at drawing you in, monopolising your attention, and conning you into paying way too much for whatever it is they’re selling. Motorbike ride, taxi, pedalo, sunglasses, silk […]

Vietnam: Hoi An and An Bang

Hoi An was one of the “bucket list” stops on our travels through Vietnam. A busy trading port until the 19th century when the river silted up, the old town is a colourful warren of wooden trading houses whose designs were heavily influenced by the Chinese and Japanese merchants that set up shop here for centuries. Hoi An is a UNESCO heritage site for good reason. Brightly coloured lanterns are strung across every narrow lane, connecting saffron coloured buildings accented with the deep patina of centuries old teak wood. The ceilings in the old merchant houses are supported by enormous […]

Vietnam’s Central Highlands: Da Lat

Da Lat is a gorgeous highland town in central Vietnam, with a distinctly European feel. The climate stays a steady 23*C (74*F) year round, and gorgeous pink bougainvillea spill out over French Colonial buildings that stretch up onto the hills overlooking a tranquil town lake. In short, it’s utopia. It began life as a spa town for the French who wanted to escape the heat of Saigon, and quickly became popular with the Vietnamese as well. Adored across the country, it was pretty much spared from destruction during the civil war in an unspoken agreement between the North and South […]

A new way to travel: the Vietnam sleeper bus

And now, for an entirely new way to travel. We boarded the “sleeper bus” at 8:40 am for our seven hour trip to Da Lat in the central highlands of Vietnam. After the intensity of Saigon, I was desperate for somewhere less masochistic, and so we escaped to the mountains. Shortly out of town, we crossed the mighty Mekong river as it widened into its famous delta that has made this land fertile and productive for millennia. The river starts somewhere in Tibet, and crosses through six countries to end up here, in the East Vietnam sea (also known to […]

Ho Chi Minh City: Confronting the War

History is like a multi-faceted gemstone that reflects and refracts the light brilliantly from the many directions in which it faces. All too often, we are taught the story that shines the brightest from the direction we’re looking, and forget that from the other side, the view is dull and dark. We have a tendency to admire its brilliance from our own side, ignoring the other sides to the same story. But turn the gem a just a little and it shines again. This was never more apparent to me than in Saigon or as it’s now called, Ho Chi […]

Cambodia perspectives

I didn’t know if I’d write about this, but as a lay on a gurney at the side of a crowded Cambodian ER, I knew I had to. What I saw in that fluorescent lit room told the story of these people, and their history in a way that reading a book, watching a documentary, or touring around never could. The legs of an elderly man showed the scars of torture, his emaciated frame reflecting the years of starvation, disease and hard labour in intolerable conditions, and the “good years” of subsistence living. Lovingly cared for and made as comfortable […]

Hospitalised in Cambodia: the worst week

Medical inequality exists everywhere in the world, and I experienced it first hand in the Hopital Calmette in Phnom Penh.  Nothing against the hospital.  The staff were wonderful, but our experience proved that money can buy health — and we bought it. What just happened? I went from having an annoying little gastrointestinal issue to not being able to pick myself up from the bathroom floor, and falling further downhill rapidly, in just a matter of hours. I woke Mark at midnight to let him in on what had been occurring for the last two hours, and the look of […]

The Human Gallery: Finding a life’s passion in Battambang

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the resilient, beautiful humans of Cambodia. They are thriving, often through intensely creative outlets. Whether in spite of, or inspired by, their horrid modern history, and their rich and vibrant long term history, the result is is a profound statement of humanity. Angkor boasted more 1 million people when London was still a settlement of 50,000 on a moody river. They’ve been here a long time, fighting for their turf and their way of life. It shows in their eyes and on their faces. And we met one man who is capturing it […]

“I do” in Cambodia: Cultural lessons on the edge of sanity

The music started sometime around sundown in the little space between buildings. A marquee, brightly decorated with fairy lights, billowy silks, and an abundance of flowers was the scene for the nuptials and the raucous celebration that surrounded it. A massive set of mega-amplifiers generously shared the happy couple’s joy through music to all within at least a 1km radius. They partied until midnight on the first night, and started up again at dawn the next day. The Cambodian wedding was in full swing by 6:30 am, with more music, chanting, perhaps a sermon and more music. Then the auction […]

Going Local in Rural Cambodia

There are few places that give you a sense of a people and their culture than a local market. The sights and smells may be familiar or foreign, but from a market, you know what a community eats, how they flavour their food, the resources that are in abundance, the things they need for daily life, and the things they covet. Sellers attractively display their produce, vying to catch the eye of their next buyer. We visited the local market in Chameroun village early in the morning to get a glimpse into the heartbeat of this bustling community. The market […]