Wednesday 28 November 2012


Posted one week after our return  

Our first temple Angkor Thom

Nights in Seam Reap

War Trophies in Saigon

Ha long Bay fishermen
 Sunday 18 November 2012:  It ends where it started, late of an evening in a BA lounge. We are munching our way through the first (perhaps second) glass of wine in two weeks. We are leaving Bangkok and heading home.
The most important thing is to reflect on the whole trip so it is not coloured by the last two days in BBK. Bangkok is the crossing point. It is the place you fly into to fly out of. As a city it has little to extol.
However, two weeks ago, we flew out of Bangkok into Cambodia.  Cambodia, where we visited temples and palaces on a scale and standard of craftsmanship and art to rival the Incas in Central America and Egypt’s Pharaonic Kingdoms. From the 1100’s through until 1600’s the Khmer Empire spanned this whole region. A realm founded on Hinduism and developed to embrace Buddhism.
Today Cambodia gently manages its tourist hoards with no signs of strain and seeks to modernise gently.
And onto Vietnam, here democratic socialism is embracing us travellers from the west. Its recent history is both a scar and a source of income.
Ho Chi Min City home to some grand hotel which became ‘bunkers’ of the 1950’s – 1970’s: The Rex, The Continental, The Caravelle. It was here that writers and military men hunched together and talked about War. Whilst at the same some 50 km down the road people were living underground to wage or shore up the conflict; fighting both the French and US interventions.
The big word on Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) is spend more time there. There is much to see. It is the only city I have been to where the main General Post Office is a revered tourist attraction.
North up through this country that on the map resembles a muscle sinew to Hanoi; billed by guidebooks as one of the most beautiful capital cities in Asia. This is a place on a river, The Red River, founded by royalty in the 1100’s, developed by craftsmen, redeveloped by the French in the late 1800’s. Hanoi is labyrinth of intimate streets and occupied by young people on motorcycles.
Hanoi is the gateway for most of us to Ha Long Bay. Translated Ha Long means "descending dragon bay" and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ha Long Bay a vast expanse of waterway, with its tour boats, floating villages and fishing boats that head out to the very edge of the China Sea. A stretch of water dotted by rocky outcrops, covered in trees, most of which are between two and four hundred meters high and appear to drift, iceberg-like, as the boats are almost stationary.
Vietnam is a country purposeful and in a hurry. Hopefully it will not, with their neighbours Cambodia go the way of Thailand and loose their singular soul and attraction.
The big word on Vietnam is a question, When can we go back?  
Our fourteen days of wonderment this November is here helplessly abridged in four hundred words.    

Monday 19 November 2012


We landed and found a taxi and followed the traffic jams into the city. 
It appears that Friday night is as bad as the traffic gets. We were waiting at one set of lights for seven minutes. Two hours later we were poured out of the cab into the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Hotel. Back in civilisation but not feeling very civil.
The Metropolitan is a zen-like establishment, everything ordered and in its place and there is little to distract. Everything is brown or the colour of stone. 

On a Saturday many of the guests had a off-duty yet still polished look, here for the weekend, the gym and the pool with someone else paying and determined to make the most of it.

In the morning I attended to work-related email and began this piece.  
In the afternoon we wandered out of the hotel and wandered aimlessly down Patpong Street and Silom Road and decided we really did not like Bangkok much, except that it was a good gateway to the rest of Asia, the great stepping off point. 

Sunday 18 November 2012


We left the boat around 1245 on Thursday and were deposited the Boat Terminus and then got on onto a bus for the four our journey back to Hanoi. 

 Bumpty bump, along roads of various states of disrepair with a coffee stop at another one of those Factory Outlets for handicrafts made by those disabled by the conflict.  As I sipped my coffee I made a drawing of the women and girls working on the hand embroideries and a flock gathered round to have a look at what I was about.
A quiet night in and the next morning we were up and packing for the flight south to Bangkok. I wandered round the old part of Hanoi where our 
hotel was situated: small streets and a constant stream of motorbikes, street sellers, with shops and their contents spilling out onto the pavement. Progress in any direction was best achieved by walking towards the on coming torrent of motorbikes.

Hanoi, an ancient city founded in AD 1010 and a settlement of craftsmen around the royal court in lead to the development of the Old Quarter with its guilds, at one time there were thirty-six distinct guilds and crafts people. Many of the streets take their names from the craft guilds they housed. We appeared to be in Silver Street, shop next to shop of silver and other jewellery, punctuated by places selling tour across the region of Vietnam.

The merchandise in some streets was more modern, there appeared to be Tee Shirt Street, and Luggage Street with is constant display of North Face and Nike merchandise.
We headed out to the airport at midday. Laying plans to come here again next year.

Saturday 17 November 2012


Thursday, posted Friday 
Almost imperceptibly we move through the water; our boat seemed at anchor and it was the rocky outcrops and islands that were drifting by, iceberg-like. A warm breeze skimmed across the water. We were now passing sites that were familiar, like the oil exploration rig, rising up like a small city, with its four towers and cranes and helipads.

We chugged on to our RVP with the bigger boat that would take us home.
Sun warming us, Sian dozes peacefully and Mr Chingh comes and sits next to me. He watches me start to draw again.

Conversation; How old am I? Family? Where from? You first time in Vietnam? The familiar interrogatory is played out.
Mr Chingh is originally from Haiphong, “like Liverpool” he tells me, He lives now in Cat Ba, we both have daughters, smiles are shared. Mr Chingh is forty-two and in 1978, aged eight I guess, he left on a small boat for Hong Kong. A journey of some four hundred and sixty nautical miles, equivalent of crossing the English Channel five times.
He is a small wiry man, with strength and agility. He was one of the refugees or boat people. This was a journey on which he nearly died and he rested up for a week on an island (he indicated the place on the map I carried in my book, ripped out of an inflight magazine four days prior).
Mr Chingh was interned in Hong Kong however he learnt English there. Returning to Vietnam in 1992 when the country was beginning to normalise (the US lifted its trade embargo in 1995). He must have married so after and started his family. His Uncle is in Boston and visits often.
“You call me if you come to Vietnam again” says Mr Chingh
As we board the bigger boat he shouts across from his “You bring family next time you come”