Despite its wealth of historical monuments and glorious vistas, central Vietnam in May is an act of self-flagellating masochism.
But let me begin this account from the beginning, with everyone’s favourite travelling trope – a crazy bus story.
We took a sleeper bus from Dalat round the mountains down to Danang, with the rain pounding the windows and the night sky lit by lightning, like an epileptic’s nightmare.
During the night, the bus came to a halt on a twisting mountain road. Up ahead, vehicle floods lit a rabble of people inspecting some obstacle in the way. I needed to stretch my legs so I got out to have a nose at what was going on.
I wrote this in Bangkok airport as we were about to begin our voyage back to London, to dampen the misery of ending our trip. There are still a couple of entries to make – for central Vietnam, northern Thailand and Bangkok – but alas, I’ll be writing them from England…
So here, in no particular order, are a few things that make ending a six-month jaunt around Asia slightly more endurable.
1 – Sunshine
It might sound contradictory to miss Britain for the sunshine, having spent six months in south-east Asia during its summer months. But it’s a different kind of sunshine – the kind you can stand in for more than 10 minutes and feel it on your skin without peeling like a snake. The kind that makes you want to absorb it, not hide in the shadows.
Ho Chi Minh City is hectic – let’s just get that out there. The streets are a torrent of traffic, through which you pass like a miniature Moses; while the biblical plagues of rats and cockroaches will have you worrying after your first-born.
But I’ll pass over those minor details and skip to the chase: we were here to meet some mates.
The first was Robbo – that’s his name, not John, as he sometimes introduces himself; just Robbo – who I went to school with and have known for two, long, pun-filled decades. He is almost infuriatingly kind and generous and thoughtful – if that’s possible – and is as funny as his favourite joke:
“Why did the girl fall off the swing? – Because she had no arms.”
As I’ve mentioned before, Swarana and I are not very good at backpacking. No more evident is that fact than in our laborious exploration of Vietnam.
Most people pick a route: north to south or south to north. We essentially did laps.
We had pals to meet, you see; friends were coming over from the US, the UK and South Korea, not to mention a mate who actually lives in Vietnam. And in our endeavour to see them all, we went to Hue twice, Hoi An twice, Saigon twice and Hanoi THREE TIMES.
This makes a mockery of chronological blog-mongering.
So, in an effort to retain some semblance of form in this account, I’ll be merging all three visits to Hanoi in one post, despite many of the events book-ending either side our 45 days in the country.
The transition from Singapore to Cambodia’s sprawling capital city Phnom Penh feels a bit like Marty McFly travelling from the pristine future to a Biff-ravaged alternate 1985. There’s not as much on fire, and no one calls anyone a “butthead”, but the relative comparison is sound.
First thing’s first – transport form the airport. March straight past the taxis, with their air-con and English-speaking drivers, and head for the marginally cheaper tuk-tuks beyond – you’re a backpacker now, remember? You don’t get taxis. Continue reading Putting Phnom Penh to paper→
We descended from the highlands refreshed and reinvigorated, and reluctantly acclimatising to the renewed heat and humidity of the lowlands. Props to Mr Cameron, and that glorious quasi-English climate he discovered.
First impressions of Kuala Lumpur (or KL as it is commonly known) included: Ooh, look at all the tall buildings; Aah, what a lovely clean monorail; Hey, look, Petronas!; and, finally, Titty wangs are great!
After a month of island-hopping, we felt the need for something a bit different, and Georgetown promised to be exactly that.
Those of you with some knowledge of Malaysia will balk at my error: “But Georgetown IS on an island, you fool!” Yes, yes, I know, but it’s connected to the mainland by a big fat bridge, so it doesn’t count. Continue reading Spicy variety in Georgetown→
We left Koh Libong the way we had come, on a longtail with the locals, one of whom was having her scooter shipped over with us. It wobbled precariously on the deck in front of us, threatening to crash into my knees as the boat’s hull was thumped by each wave, in what might have been the world’s oddest traffic accident.
Thankfully, my shins remained unscathed and, with a belly-full of Imodium leading some guttural rebellion in my intestines, I was semi-confident our trip to Koh Lipe would be squit-free. Continue reading Quantum Lipe→