Friday, 29 April 2016

Ha Noi -> Cat Ba 20/4/2016

In the morning, my friend Lan arrived on an early flight from her home town of Da Nang, and promptly accosted my room for a quick sleep while I went out and got some coffee. A short while after we met one of her friends "Duong" (pronounced "Yung") on the outskirts of the Old Quarter who then drove us to his home town of Haiphong 60 miles west of Ha Noi, where along with his wife and young child we would be continuing our trip towards Ha Long the following morning. That night we ate food, drank beer and stayed in the opposing wings of a hotel that, from the inside at least was like The Adams family mansion. Stairs going off in all directions, with no logical layout of the rooms and floors.

The next morning started with rice, as it usually does for people in Asia, followed by a quick trip to Highland coffee for drinks to take with us before Duong drove us another 10 miles to Dinh Vu Ferry point, where we caught the hourly car ferry first across to the nearby island of Cat Hai, driving the short distance across island before then catching another ferry across to to the next island and then onto the harbour town of Cat Ba. Arriving there in the early afternoon before we were then taken by boat to a small, floating restaurant where we ate fish freshly raised and killed from the waters below, the head served in a soup, the rest eaten with yet more rice.

I like to experience new things and was willing to go along with the food that was being enjoyed by all, but at the same time I was starting to feel a little off colour. The last couple of meals had now consisted of fish and rice at which I had merely picked, making an effort to eat as much as not to offend appreciating the effort of those around that had brought me here, but at the same time it was impossible to ignore the signs that my body was now telling me that it needed something more. The feeling of nausea had started to creep in,

The afternoon consisted of a short trip around the picturesque bay, with its floating bars, restaurants and colourful houses set against the backdrop of still waters and jutting rock formations. When the light started to fall we watched the sun settle from a raised cliffside observation point with a couple of beers, the bays blanketed orange slipping off the edge as darkness fell. The evening meal consisted of chicken........and a bit more rice.

I finally cracked. After Duong and his family had retired for the evening and Lan and I sat enjoying a late night coffee, I ordered a cheese and ham sandwich to eat a little later on,  something to soak up the rice and give me a feeling of eating something of bulk. I needed to start feeling normal again quickly and I hoped this would help everything settle

Tomorrow we headed for "the bay".

The calmness of the air belied the weather conditions that the next day would spring upon us.

Hanoi 15/04/2016

I had been to Hanoi before, very briefly in November 2013 for an overnight stop as I escaped from the predicted path of Typhoon Haiyan. That typhoon had devastated the Philippines, and although when it did hit Vietnam the power had diminished from what had been previously forecast, at that time the city was in preparation for the worst with things being sured up and branches lopped to minimise the damage from the storm. I had seen little before my flight back then, but what I had I remembered clearly enough.

The general consensus that you hear from people (or sometimes read) is that people in the north of Vietnam are not as friendly as their southern counterparts, but I didn't find a coolness at all. At almost every point I was greeted warmly where ever I went, from the care and attention at the hotel when I first checked in to the multitude of street vendors and the student I talked to by the lake, all were perfectly helpful, polite, funny or charming. It leaves me to draw a weird conclusion that I must have lived for the last thirty years of my life in one of the more unfriendly places on earth, despite numerous pieces of propaganda that is now regularly put out by "The City of Bristol" telling you about it's proportted greatness in one area of another. I love my home "town" to be sure, but it certainly makes you think that maybe it's time we said our goodbyes when I return in a few days. I will have to see what develops from here.

The other thing of course is that even if I wanted to, I don't think I can afford to live there anyway unless I can get a better financial grasp of things......but that's a whole different can of worms which I can't be bothered to open right now.

Hoan Kien Lake lies just below Ha Noi's Old Quarter with it congested narrow streets, restaurants and night markets. Much has changed in the last few years, with more conventional cafe's, restaurants and ATM's prevalent throughout the area, but there remains enough traditional food stalls and shops along the sides of the roads to retain it's old unique feel and identity. The changes in Ha Noi feel smaller in comparison to those I saw in Saigon, where big building projects and contractual partnerships with other countries contractors look to be powering it into the 21st century at breakneck speed. Here it's not so much about a change in the construct of the city that's makes it feel different, more the convenience of things that we maybe take for granted in some parts of the world now being more widely available. The infrastructure rather than any large skyline changes.

The Roads to the south of the Lake are a stark contrast to those just that short distance away, it suddenly all gets very French again. The roads (think boulevards) are wide and lined with grand old colonial buildings that wouldn't be out of place in Paris itself, but the abundance of cars as well as the more familiar bikes now parked up on the often crumbling and/or uneven pavements mean that you end up walking on the road with the traffic more often than you would ideally like to. Many of the roads around this area are designated as one way which should of course make stepping out less haphazard, however as one way streets (and traffic light signals to the same extent) are still seen more as guidelines rather than rules by some drivers/riders, you can never be too careful if you want to avoid getting the mirror print of "Honda" imprinted on your bottom.

There's a misconception here amongst foreigners that everything just works as far as traffic goes, and whilst it's still awe inspiring to see so many vehicles travelling in so many directions seemingly without any incident, a quick look at the parked bikes along any stretch of road will tell you a slightly different story, with many sporting parts with the numbers still written upon them, replacements for those that have been damaged or broken. The lack of serious incidents in built up areas considering the amount of moving traffic in a confined space is still admirable though, with small bumps that would have anyone back home reaching for the insurance details given hardly any more thought as long as both parties can carry on their way.

This doesn't mean that roads in Vietnam are safe, far from it, but I can only assume that many of the more serious injuries and deaths occur on the faster larger roads rather than inner city areas.

I spent a few days in Hanoi trying to get the camera working for me again, visiting museums and reading up on the french colonial history and the struggle of the vietnamese people during this time under their rule, all the time sweltering in the higher humidity and low 30 degree heat that engulfed the capital city.  In the evening as i tried to get a night time shot of the lake and it's surroundings I was approached by a smartly dressed man who talked briefly about travel and where I was going before moving the conversation onto the subject of selling me drugs or some other vice. I politely declined as I always do, but I suspect that rather than any straight deal he was trying to make, he was more about trying to snare, entrap and then maybe extract more money from those that might not be that unsuspecting, or a little more gullible

I love a lot of Asia to bits, the cultures, the foods and for the most parts the people. But it's these other things, the darker sides, the exploitation or underhand nature where people seek to profit from others naivety or simple oneupmanship that after a while, really just starts to get on your tits.

Why can't we all just.......Get along?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Bangkok to Hanoi (the goods, the bad and the mugsme) 15/4/2016

There's definitely something to be said for the theory around the balance of pleasure and pain needing to be equal. What had been the one of the funniest, most enjoyable days I can remember became soured somewhat by the realisation that around 4000 Thai Baht had been lifted from my wallet at the hostel, but the second realisation that I was also no longer in possession of my trusted hard drive which had been with me since the start of the trip left me with the feeling of resigned defeat. Not only did this contain all my music and film files that I had been using to help me relax when such time was needed, but more importantly it also had stored on it a bunch if personal documents that are going to be difficult to replace, as well as my "raw" image files for all the pictures I had taken up until the end of Vietnam, having stored them all externally due to Apple being remarkably stingy with hard drive space on a machine that retails for 1250 gbp in the UK. But no matter how you look at it or who ever you try to blame, the fact of the matter is that while the loss of money is annoying, the pictures and 5 month of "work" irreplaceable, both are now gone and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

I can't tell you the amount of times I almost apologised for my own actions on not hiding these things better, stopping my self before (or sometimes just after) the words "it's my own fault I guess.." slipped through my lips. It's an attitude or thought that somehow we have allowed to become normal in the way we think or view

victims of crime, and I for one from now on refuse to take any of the blame. I can't be 100% sure that my hard drive was stolen, but with money going from my wallet as I took a shower in the morning , thoughts leads to the possibility that maybe it wasn't a one off. We're always told that we need to be careful with our possessions, keep things locked up  or hidden from view. I have a better idea. Why don't we try putting the ownness onto the people who stand to profit from their actions at the expense of someone else no complicit in the plan. Just a thought.

Until there is a directional shift in the understanding who is at fault, everything remains the same. we remain having the shit kicked out of us and then continually try to justify it to ourselves with the reflex start of  "it's my own fault I guess.."  

I continue to check with hotels and airlines from the last part of the trip in the minutest of hopes that it got lost somewhere in transit, but seeing as I recall seeing it at the hostel then unless that is a mistaken memory (not impossible with the amount I have moved around) the chances of that are slim to none. 

I'd love to be the better person here, to be able to turn the other cheek and say that the other persons need was greater than mine, but I just can't.  If you took my hard drive (a 1tb Toshiba hard drive in a clear plastic water tight bag) and my money, no matter the reason you think you can make for justifying it, I wish you severe personal injury, misfortune and a very painful and unpleasant death. You know nothing about me, what I have done or what I have been through, and you have absolutely no right to take anything away from me in the thought that you deserve it more. If you've taken it in error please return it. If you don't I won't hunt you, I will not find you and I doubt very much I would kill you. but all of the vitriolic language I spouted above will still very much apply.

Things don't get much depressing than taking a double kicking, or do they?

Well, challenging maybe.

Arriving at my destination in Hanoi it was soon apparent that my camera had finally given up the ghost, advancing somewhat from "glitching a little bit" that it had been the night before. The rear panel was now dead, a couple of buttons ceasing to work and then finally the electronic viewfinder also stopped  working, looking pretty much like it was finally game over.

The prognosis from the Camera shop was bad. What sounded to the western ear like "The main bolt is broken" turned out to be the much more expensive "The main board is broken", carrying with it a $500 to $600  estimated repair bill. I thought about it, trying to argue the for and against in my head while the man in the shop waited on the other end of the line for my response. I had been travelling for 5 months, had spent a lot of money that I would never recoup by photography sales (I've never sold one to date), but this this was more of a project anyway, and the thought of missing the last few weeks, especially in the part of the world I had been trying to get back to see for the last 2 and a half years was a strong point in favour of the repair, but the cost and the lack of funds now available made it hard to justify the expense, especially seeing as the potential for how and when I was going to be earning again when I get back to the UK is not yet clear. 

"Leave it" I finally blurted. It's too much really, leaving it an hour before I went to pick it's lifeless body back up from the camera morgue.

but I couldn't give up. I have a problem like that. Each time I switch the camera on I could feel it jolt, it wanted to live. I just needed to find out how to get it there.

Stopping in the electronic shop a little later I picked up a micro HDMI to HDMI cable and then went about plugging the camera up to the TV back at the hotel and turned both items on. The image from the camera burst onto the TV, which was more than I was expecting, and with this small breakthrough I was able to access the menu items and go about changing some of the items I thought could make a difference, setting the rear panel to off to try and force the image through the eye piece amongst other things.

It only bloody worked. 

Progress,slow, but progress.

I reassigned some more buttons in the menu to give me quick access to functions that I had lost due to further failure, and then I was all set to go and test. Auto focus was far from perfect initially, tracking was not so great, but the more I used it, the more the camera seemed to learn and adapt. Considering the overwhelming feeling of defeat that I had been feeling over  the previous couple of days, it was a small, but massive development.

I may have lost more than I would have liked in a short period of time, but at least I can now hopefully finish the picture project I started a little while ago, and this, at least mentally for me, is a absolutely huge turn of events.

It's been an epic journey of highs and lows. For now though I just need to get through this  next couple of weeks without anyone taking a fence.

Just wish everyone else would extend me the same courtesy.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Songkran (worlds biggest water fight?) - 13/4/2016

In the days leading up to the Songkran festival I had gone out and picked up the essentials. Firstly a fully waterproof bag (the type used in white water rafting and the like to keep your things 100% dry) to keep my camera, wallet and blood testing equipment out of harms way. The 11 litre bag (which could be folded down to fit the contents to stop things from bouncing around too much inside) was on offer at 555 Baht, an amount which wasn't as random as the price might first seem. Songkran is an opportunity for Thai people to unwind and have fun whilst welcoming the start of the new year and after I pointed out the price on the receipt to the shop assistant that served me, she started laughing before excitedly thrusting the recipe into the face of another member of staff. He started laughing too, but this time it was expressed more verbally than the girl, but both were obviously very tickled. "555" is, after all, the way that Thai people physically write down "Ha Ha Ha".

The second item I brought was a water pistol, although maybe "water assault rifle" might be a more appropriate description. I spent ages looking at the different options available, with the sole aim of getting the biggest, gnarliest looking weapon I could find. What I ended up with was a bright yellow  and red affair, with a pump at its base allowing you to increase the water pressure inside to man canon levels. Red and yellow were obviously chosen because they relate to the colours used in nature to other creatures that the creature sporting them is unpleasant in either nature or taste. It was in no way whatsoever because it was the only colour scheme I could lay my hands on.

So in the morning I pondered on my course of action, and slung my camera in my bag before heading out to the main street in Silom without my gun, leaving that behind as not to draw attention to myself. As I wanted to get some pictures of the coming days events, I wanted to see whether I could slip by the water fights unscathed, hopeful that i might be granted the same kind of special privileges or allowances that are often shown to war photographers in the field. At 11 am there wasn't much sign of the carnage I had been warned of, and I slipped down the road and into the Bon Au Pan at the corner of the Lumpini end of the street for a light breakfast and morning coffee, watching the opening parade of beauty queens in the air conditioned comfort, raised up slightly from the street below and safely shielded behind ceiling to floor glass.

After the ceremony had finished, I went outside to get a few quick pics, watching the people outside spray each other with the light mist that comes from the handheld bottles more often used for watering indoor plants. but this is where the dainty approach ended. Pretty soon carnage descended.
Under the BTS station, a Red Bull stage housed a DJ playing thumping tunes and girls dancing on stage. At certain points the crowd would shout and fire their pistols in the air, driven insane by the man on the decks and bouncing like crazy as the music dictated. Past here it was soon apparent that my non antagonistic approach wasn't making any difference to being a target for water, infact it was probably to the contrary. A 6ft 1 foreigner, unarmed? The only thing missing from me was a painted bullseye.

I made it up to the first junction, taking hits from all angles, from guns, hoses and small buckets before finally taking a pasting from a guy wearing a smile 3 sizes too big for his face. That was enough for me, and I put the camera away safely in the bag and headed back to the hostel to get armed. It wasn't going to stop me getting wet of course, but at least I would get the satisfaction of being able to give back as good as, or better than I was getting.

Back at the hostel, I tried to work out the mechanics of trying to wear my weapon to allow me to both carry and shield my camera from the elements and fire off both items at will when required. My gun strap got hoisted over my neck allowing my gun to hang to my left and be fired by my right thumb, leaving my right hand to be completely free to handle the camera which was set up to focus and lock onto the object which I pointed. Less time exposed, the less chance of damage to the camera but also the more spontaneous I was going to have to be when getting the picture. This was going to be a challenge.

I got soaked before I got back to the main street, but at least this time I could get a shot back, startling some with the power of the shot that was coming back their way, dissuading others that were eyeing me up when they saw me smiling back at them manically with my red nozzle pointing their direction. but still, the onslaught was almost relentless. Water came from ever direction as I searched for shelter and shade in the 40 degree heat, the only respite from both coming as I sat down to check my sugars and eat some food from a stall. The rest of the time I was firing, or being fired at. Soaking or being soaked. Laughing at, being laughed at or just laughing because. It was genuinely the most fun I have had for the longest time. I stayed out a couple of hours before I called it a day, retiring to the hostel to let my muscles seize up again. 

In the evening I attempted to get to the massage parlour I been a couple of night before, getting right to the door before a young lady appeared and just emptied small bottle of water down my top. Wetter than I had been 2 seconds before I made my way inside and indicated to the lady at the counter which parts of me were in pain so she could tell me what I needed. I was then led upstair, given a pair of giant waisted pyjama and left to get changed. holding up the pants defeatedly when the masseuse came up to begin my treatment. Amusedly she pointed out the string at the back of the bottoms, which should be at the front to enable them to be fastened. I spun them around, tightened them up and led down on the matt as directed, her english limited to just enough to be able to direct me accordingly. 

My thighs and calves were agony, especially when she applied anything other than the gentlest of presses, and this was obvious enough through my facial expression that she soon started pressing and working those areas more gently than she had done initially, after a little while she ordered me to turn over and set about working the back of my legs, pulling and moving them about and getting more movement out of them then they had been able to do for a while. At this point, feeling the immediate benefits of the magic she was working, I made the mistake of asking for an extra hour in order to maximise the benefits. being led on my front, I didn't realise the bar that ran directly above.
Gently she placed one foot on the back of my thigh, before placing the rest of her weight on her other and shifting her weight from side to side, in the same way a cat does when prepping your leg for a nap. She then proceeded to moved up and down my legs, onto my calves bringing such extreme pain that I pressed my head into the pillow to stop myself showing any signs of pain. I still have no idea how she was doing what she was doing, how she was pulling my leg up with one while still standing on the other still balancing on thigh, but despite the pain I could tell it was working. After my legs she proceed up my back, pressing down on my chest, standing lightly on my shoulders before stepping back and pressing down onto my chest again. It was starting to feel like a bit of work out.

Before I finished she sat me up and sat behind me, wrapping her leg around me one side, and then the other in between twisting and pulling me into angles my body has never been twisted and pulled. She was seemingly not worried about the multiple cracks a groans that my body gave out, and surprisingly neither was I, occasionally giving out a relieved laughter when it was apparent that after everything she was doing, I was still able to move. More than that though, immediately after she had finished and I had changed, I could feel just how much difference the last 2 hours had made. It was like being touched by a miracle worker.
You have to give credit where credit it due and in my time on this planet I have battled with and punches off people much bigger in size and weight than the diminutive frame that this lady possessed, but I have honestly never felt so much pure power from anyone, nothing has ever come close. Just absolutely awesome.

I left the hostel at way past 10pm and started heading back to the hostel, moving freer and easier than I had for a very long time. Surprisingly outside I managed to stay dry for about 4 steps before some saw fit to pour a bowl of water over my head, continuing to do so until I was soaked back through. At this point in time though, as weird as it sounds, I really didn't care too much.

I was amazed that I was able to walk

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Park Life - Bangkok 7/4/2016

Again into Bangkok.

I had booked myself into a different hostel than the one in which I had previously stayed, primarily tdue to the overwhelming tiredness I was now feeling and the close proximity of it to the Silom Sala Daeng BTS station which was easy to get to sing the train links from the Airport. I pre-booked a couple of nights there, intending to crash out before booking something away from the city for the last 3 weeks of the trip, but after struggling to decide on a suitable final destination over successive days, I decided to just stop here for a bit longer, take the pressure off that I placed on myself and hope that inspiration would strike given time. Another good reason for staying was that the 13th of April would signal the arrival of the Thai New Year, and bring with it the Songkran water festival which was one the things that I had jotted down on my list of "things to see and do" in the pre planning stages of the trip. Now I happened to find myself in the right area at the right time, something that doesn't usually happen.

I spent a few days walking around, trying out a few new things with the camera and seeking out shelter as temperatures soared from 34 degrees or so on the day I arrived, to 39 and 40 by afternoons 3 and four days later. In the evening when the temperature had eased to the upper mid 30's, I retired to Lumpini Park to enjoy a walk and see just how people used the park at the end of the working day. A full loop of the park is marked out on the wide paths as being 2.5 km and there were no shortage of people going around. Solo runners, solo walkers, pairs and groups,  family, friends, all consumed in their own personal challenges with a shared spirit providing energy to those whose legs needed it most, overlooked by those on pieces of gym equipment found at places along the route.

Elsewhere in the park music blared and people danced in workouts which could switch from disjointed mass movement into spontaneous synchronicity and back again with regular ease with people coming and going, a rotating mass of movement. There was nothing to segment those who wanted to join, all that was required was the willingness to participate, and the sense of energy is contagious.

My mind was finally starting to think starting to formulate plans of where I could head after here. I thought of Chaing Rai in Northern Thailand and other destinations in the South West, consulting with Vicky from afar as to what she thought of the areas in question, both positive and negative.  I would be lying if i said that the options I was thinking of didn't have any element of appeal, but I couldn't shake the feeling that my options were lacking that "and now I'm done" factor which would close this thing off. Each time I looked on how I would travel between certain points on a map, my mind would always come back to the same niggling thought. "What about Ha Long Bay?"

The potential problem here was that having just left Vietnam, I wasn't sure about the rules of re-entry, with different pieces of internet mis-information lending themselves to the possibility of my not being allowed to re-enter the country within 30 days of leaving. I decided to walk to the Vietnam embassy and see if I could get some clarification before risking booking some flights and I was informed that as my previous entry was covered by a full 1 month visa (that I had paid for), I would be able to go back for 15 days at no additional cost. I would just need  a flight booked out of the country within the permitted timescale to be allowed back in, opening up the possibility of the return my mind had been jostling with.

The following evening I returned to the park, eager to take advantage of the positive vibe I had picked up on the the evening before and join in with a run around it's perimeter. Having not done any meaningful exercise in more than 5 months and with the late afternoon heat still up at 36 degrees the idea seemed daft at the time, but I reasoned that if I could even just walk the circuit and perspire a little, it would be a significant mark in the continued recovery of my long standing foot injury. 30 minutes, 2 laps and 5km (3 miles) later I had sweated loads, drank as much and enjoyed a jog more than I ever thought possible. I usually passionately despise running because of it's plain monotony, but here it had been a completely different experience.  On my own I doubt I would have managed a quarter of that distance, let alone run the full lot.

So it's a little disheartening to hear that, at the same time I am discovering the benefits that exercise in a group environment can bring, in the UK a small council met, and decided by a 6 to 4 majority to place a charge on, and thus effectively end a organised event in one of it's parks designed to encourage just that. Spouting nonsense that it would be wrong for others in community to have to pay for the it's upkeep, but maybe forgetting that these spaces are there to be a benefit for all, and maybe just as importantly. the average uk citizen already gets stung for around 50% of their income on tax in one form or another. If you think about the amount of money actually accrued by the U.K government and various councils from the people of the country, more facilities should be being made available for people benefit from, not extra charges being levied. It's an embarrassment to see this sort of attitude again coming to the front in the UK, especially when I have witnessed so many countries, many of them poorer than mine back home, actively provide facilities for people to use in order to benefit different aspects of their peoples lives.

By the time I climbed the stairs back at the hostel, my legs were starting to stiffen up severely, calling into question the wisdom of my actions just a short time earlier. The truth is those first steps back on the mend are never going to be easy, and the discomfort in my legs was being kept a little bit at bay by the feeling of having (finally) come through a physical test that had resulted in only strong to moderate pain.

3 bottles of beer were playing their part in that too.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The baggage conundrum - 7/4/2016

At 7.30 a.m there came a faint tap on the hotel door, followed quickly by another as I panicked clumsily around the room trying to get some shorts and a t-shirt on in order save the person on the other side the ignominy of being sick first thing in the morning. I had told the guy on reception that I needed my washing early as I was going to have to leave about 10 in the morning in order to get to the airport in time for scheduled flight to Bangkok. Now, with his well timed delivery, I could get on and prepare.

For reasons I'm at a loss to explain, my baggage had been increasing in weight  in such a way seemingly disproportionate its various additions and deductions. For the last month or so with each item of clothing that had been added, I had been leaving it's retiree behind to keep the wight in check, occasionally leaving extra behind when the item was no longer needed. When I flew down to Vietnam from Hong Kong, my baggage allowance fell a good kilo under the 20 kg checked allowance, even with some of my heavier items also packed in. by the time I flew down to Da Lat, this weight had gone up to 22 kg not including the heavy stuff which had now been accommodated in a larger bag I was using for carry on. On this trip I was able to get away with it only because I was travelling with Lan, with the combined total for 2 people still falling below the maximum allowed.

For the next flight to Saigon though I was back on my own and that morning ended up being a little bit rushed as I went about selecting some non essentials to try and get the weight back down. At the airport weigh in my bag sneaked in at just under the 20kg mark, but now with gifts that Lan had given me to send me on my way ( which this time I was able to carry on as hand luggage), I knew that I would need to discard even more stuff before heading out of the country.  So at 7.30 am on the 7th April,  that task began ernest.

To make things a little bit trickier, I had purchased myself a little vietnamese coffee filter made from a light metal which would easily bend out of shape if I wasn't careful, and also some vietnamese coffee to go with it which was a solid as a stone in it's packet. I thought this would go nicely with a the cold turkey that I'm bound to get when I arrive back in the UK, I was away for Christmas after all. So the coffee and gifts were now the  essential baggage, with nearly everything else falling into the At Risk" category.

Pants, t-shirts, shirts and shorts all got selected in the initial cull, being that they were items that would be easily replaced if decide I needed some more. These were placed to one side of the room along with several items from my first aid kit, ensuring that I still kept hold of a handful of supplies incase of a real emergency. A plastic whistle I deemed essential, as in this part of the world it's easy to get caught up in an unexpected party at some random place and time.

By the end of the operation I had regained on a few items, deciding to keep hold until the time came that they definaately had to go. The gifts were all packed away safely and securely and my priceless coffee filter was padded inside and out with my freshly washed socks and therefor only incurred a minor loss of space over all.

My though felt like it weight a tonne, containing as it did my camera, lenses, laptop, tablet, spare batteries, battery charger and the like, but my main concern was the "Checked Luggage" weight as this was more likely to cause me a problem at the airport. It didn't though. My luggage had come back down to a more carrier and back friendly 19kg, but I'm sure I've chucked away almost as much as that in the last month alone.

As soon as I had settled in Bangkok, I went out and brought some new pants, because as mother never said, "You don't want to be rushed to hospital in rubbish underwear do you!!!"

It was on my mind that the last time I was here, that was exactly where I ended up being.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Ho Chi Gon City - 5/4/2016

As the Jetstar plane touched down at Ho Chi Minh Airport (SAI) in the Tuesday's evening air, the pilot in his closing speech thanked for travelling with the Airline and dropped the bomb that the temperature outside was 32 Degrees. A surreal doubt came over me as to whether I had heard the details correctly, suspecting my ears may have played tricks on me after the decent. I reasoned the statement in my head, considered the location and time and came to terms with the fact I was shortly going to roast.

I decided not to mess around. Upon collecting my bag from the spinner, I quickly made my way to the most obvious taxi desk and showed the lady my paperwork with the address of the hotel I was staying, which had printed alongside a "not so useful" map that had been printed using washed out tones so indistinguishable from each other that it was simply a single shaded block of grey. Luckily the organiser knew where it was.

The distance of about 7km took roughly half an hour as I watched on the map as my Taxi weaved around the side roads trying to avoid getting stuck, but as the price had been paid up front at the Airport I wasn't concerned about the timescales, just interested as to how a local driver tackles route as opposed to Google Maps. The difference, rather predictably was quite stark but thats just the nature of my mind. It likes to know things that have absolutely no bearing on anything else whatsoever.

The hotel in District 1 was located down a small street just away from one of the busy routes in the city. Far enough away as to not be able to hear any of the commotion it was also just a short 5 minute walk to the area I had stayed briefly before, which I knew housed plenty of good places to eat and a little bit of life. One of the benefits of this hotel however was that it was located on the same side as the Basilica, Post Office and Opera House where I was planning on taking a walk to during my time there,

With 2 nights booked I gathered a large bag of washing together and arranged with chap on reception to have it all cleaned and with me before I left early on Thursday then walked out into the night to go and find something to eat. As I left the small street back into normality, I was quickly reminded just how manic this city could be. Bikes and cars jostled for position on a kind of roundabout with staggered exit and entry points as pedestrians local and foreign attempted to cross safely infront the overlooking neon signs. The locals are the ones that are comfortable with it all, the foreigners, no matter how nonchalantly they may first appear, almost always stagger, pause, or give other visible hints that they aren't as happy as they would like you to believe. The trick though is easy, and I found it to be this;

Never make eye contact with driver of the vehicle that is coming towards you.

Doing this you don't panic, stall or alter your path. The owner of the car or bike assume that you are keeping your path and accommodate this in their manoeuvres. Of course it's never wise to just walk out there without checking for gaps, but once the choice is made, commit to it, and most importantly, ensure your insurance is bang up to date.

The walk around the city in the day was pleasant enough with the 30 odd degree heat far from unbearable, but still requiring the odd stop in order to take in fluids. The Church of Notre Dame still looks the same, but as before it was difficult to get any nice pictures of it without including the coaches and vans all parked infront. The Post Office provided similar frustrations with every possible angle for a nice photograph of it's interior obstructed by either a carefully misplaced stand or blatant acts of photo bombing. Still it was nice to have a quick chat with a few students here who asked me some questions based on my travels and my thoughts on Saigon whilst being filmed for the record on their digital SLR. I think I must now be one of the most filmed travellers in SE Asia.

A trip to the VinCom shopping centre just highlighted how quickly brands familiar to westerners are now being introduced into Vietnam. On my previous visit there were only a handful of recognisable brands scattered though out the city. but here, in the newly constructed Viacom Centre, brands such as Marks & Spencers, French Connection, Karen Millen, Accessorize and Warehouse, sat alongside, or even outnumbered the vietnamese shops in the same space. Things are changing quickly in Ho Chi Minh.

The Opera House, just a block further down had it's view to the centre blocked by construction boards and apparent activity, and a little internet search leads me to believe this may be the start of the proposed, and long awaited metro scheme that is planned for the city. It's amazing to see the amount of building work and change that is currently underway here, and you can only speculate just how fast and how far this is all going to go. Just like you can only guess where the hell your spectacles are when you realise they are missing from your pocket.

Luckily they had been handed in back at the Post Office.

On the way back to the hotel I decided to swing by the park that runs through the centre of District 1. It was here that I ended up talking to students on my last visit, and with a little bit of time to spare, I thought it would be a nice gesture to be able to help out again if anyone needed help. I was soon approached and sat down on a bench with one student keen to practice her english, and joined quickly by a few others keen to practise too, probably in the safety of a group. It was interesting to hear them talk and nice that they seem to be very well grounded in the way the world, and their country works with topics broached such as global pollution, American, Chinese and French influences past and present and what they wished for the future of their country, all I could add was that I hoped that as it evolves into the next stage of its inevitable growth, it doesn't forget what it fundamentally is. Ho Chi Minh is such a great place because of it's people, their friendliness, appetite to learn and develop, but also because it embroils the best of Vietnam, its people and it culture. No matter what changes occur in the future it needs to retain it's own identity despite the influx of it's newer influences.

I noticed here, as well as at the Post Office earlier that the students referred to their city as Saigon. You might think that as the name was changed in 1976, and well before any of these students were born that it would be a name more resonant with the older generation, but Saigon is the name the use and Prefer. I asked them why and the best I could get is that Saigon is what it is, with the feeling that they felt that Ho Chi Minh as a name was one had that had been designated rather than wanted. It was something that had puzzled me for a while, with the name Saigon still heavily used on public buildings and branded goods but commonly referred to by people from outside the city as Ho Chi Minh, I was never exactly sure exactly how I should refer to it.

But I guess though it's all fairly irrelevant, Ho Chi Minh or Saigon it doesn't really matter*. As a visitor I was enamoured by the place and it's people and not by the name, the ingredients more than the brand. I've just never been that big on labels.

*Unless of course it's the answer to a quiz a quiz that could ultimately win me a lot of money, or a bottle of Larue 

Friday, 8 April 2016

Lat Lat and double Da Lat 2/4/2016

The flight to Da Lat took just over one hour, and despite it being the smallest plane I have ever been on and the only time I have been on one driven by propeller, the ride was incredibly easy. The exit was down a handful of steps from a door near the back of the plane and the walk to the baggage collection area was only around 100 meter across the tarmac with the checked luggage appearing on the carousel at almost the same time we got there. Several suitcases, a holiday, a cuddly toy? I kept expecting Larry Grayson to appear. Shut that door.  Welcome to 1983

Whilst I watched dutifully for bags, Lan purchased a couple of tickets for transport into town where outside we were herded on onto the bus and crammed into the 2 front seats with the luggage  that they were unable to fit into the boot space then stacked up all around. Amazingly, it wasn't as uncomfortable as it sounds, mainly due the fact that Lan is tiny,  affording me that  little bit more space than maybe I would have had if I had been crammed in alongside someone bigger, giving me the means to stretch out my leg just enough little to halt any cramp as soon as I felt it starting to develop.

Lan told me 3 things about Da Lat on the way to the Hotel.
1. there is no Aircon in Da Lat as the temperature here is cool enough to not be needed.
2. There are no traffic lights, anywhere, so it's a run and gun kind of town.
3. Never, Never feed them after midnight,

Da Lat itself is relatively small, with roads to get lost in halfway across, a big lake and centrally located market, as well as several nearby streets that are closed off to traffic in the evening to make things a little safer for pedestrians. There are also plenty of coffee shops and restaurants for you to try at your leisure, but as far as the town itself goes, there is nothing so apparent or engrossing that is likely to hold your attention for a prolonged period of time.

Luckily, having a vietnamese friend with me paid dividends at this point, and for 800,000 VND per day, Lan arranged for us to have a car to shepherd us around to some of the sites a little further afield.

These days were a little tough, with the heat pounding down through the thin, high air and with me having to blow my nose into wet wipes in order to not rip it to shreds on sought tissue paper, you could sense the frustration of Lan with my tiredness, but with all credit to her she only complained about it constantly. Over the next 2 days we were taxied to a lot of places, some more interesting than others but all unique in their own way. The first day visiting sites near to the town, the second  to places a little farther afield.

The first stop was the former residence and grounds of the last king of Vietnam which is now open to the public to peruse was our first port of call. The inside furniture and decoration barely touched since the house was left empty, apart from being kept clean. The aged appearance of everything from beds to baths to railings lend this place a guide air of a house that time forgot.

Then there was the Clay village, where giant clay exhibits stand amongst carved clay streets and non clay people are free to roam. Da Lat university with it's unique french architecture completed in 1927 to educate French and wealthy Vietnamese students which is visually more reminiscent of a church than what you might expect from a designated place of learning. Da Lat Railway station houses the oldest steam locomotive the country, and people venture there to have their pictures taken on the picturesque tracks, listen to or play music and drink tea in the converted carriages that are now mini cafe's. Luckily the trains don't tend to come often enough to be that much of a safety concern.

The "Crazy House"which proudly states is one of the top ten strange buildings in the world is a mixture of an theme park styled oddity  and functioning hotel which, in its current state would never be permitted in the UK, with unfinished construction areas and dangerous drops with nothing but shin high barriers at the most preventing you falling to your death should unfortunately lose your balance. And finally the Flower Garden, where sinister disney inspired white gloved characters haunt you whether you look into their eyes or not. Some of them just don't have eyes.

Further away on the second day we were treated to a couple of jeep rides, first of all to reach the lofty peak of Lang Biang, an ascension that would otherwise have taken us hours to walk, and the second to take us down to a village that had no designated English name. First racing us down a winding dirt track at speed before then leaving the road and ploughing the rest of the journey through streams and mud banks. the kind of experience that leaves your heart in your mouth and a relieved smile on your face when you reach your destination unscathed, Lan translated the village name as "Stupid Village", because apparently a man built it in a remote location hoping that one day his lady wold come to him, so everyone thought he was stupid.

Of course, when she did come, everyone knew he was.

There were a couple more stops that were made that day, including an area known as the Golden Valley which really was quite stunning with its rolling hills and man made lakes next to a much larger natural lake in the middle of nowhere. There is a Golden Valley in Bristol too, but I can only assume that the name there is derived from the colour the mud dries on the arse of your jeans after you've slipped over several times on it's overgrown paths. I know this from past experience but I'm losing the point. All too soon our time in Da Lat was at an end. 

The next day after a frustratingly long wait for the bus, we finally made our way to the airport to head off on our separate ways, Lan back to her home in Da Nang and me down to Saigon for the last 2 nights before leaving the country. Saying goodbye to someone you know there is a good chance you will never see again is never a nice thing to do. When my ex girlfriend and I seperated several years ago, I remember carrying her bags out to the car for her to make sure that she had everything she needed for her immediate future, and stood there watching her drive away and ultimately disappear from my life. Whilst there is no where near the same history or circumstance here, It was still a painful experience as I watched Lan walking across the airfield towards the plane, and evoked feelings that I hoped I would never have to experience again.

It's one of the many reasons I have stayed single so long.

It's the absolute worst feeling in the world.

Well, that and losing your keys..

Da Nang and the HSBC shits - 31/03/2016

For the few days in Da Nang before we left for Da Lat, I was near enough holed up in the hotel or confined to the near vicinity. My cold had taken a strong grip on me since I had returned from Hue and the heat outside combined with the blinding daylight made every venture out more unpleasant that it should have been. To try and make things a little more interesting and to take advantage of the position of my room over looking a busy road I attempted to buy a new piece of software to enable me to compose a time lapse video compilation of some of the places I would be visiting during the remainder of the trip. The download dutifully failed.

I tried again, it failed again. 
I tried via the Macbook, which of course is never as easy as you'd want it to be, but after trying 3 separate browsers as well as repeated times directly to the camera, I checked my account settings on the sony website, only to see my transactions as having failed, and my debit card details as being "incorrect". 

The HSBC branch in Da Nang lay a 20 minute walk from the hotel, but knowing that there was going to be the best chance of finding out what was going on, I suffered to walk there with eyes streaming down from behind my sunglasses.  At the ATM outside the branch I took a photo of my card  fearing that the machine might take it before popping it in the slot and submitting a balance request,

The words "Transaction Cancelled" don't really tell you much, unless you have been through this before, but it's basically telling you that your account has been stopped. Once again through no fault of my own HSBC had landed me in the shit. The 2nd time in 2 months after being unable to use it at arrival in Taiwan and the 3rd time if you include the previous visit to Vietnam.  

Walking into the HSBC branch I was directed towards the young lady sat at the desk to my right and proceeded to give her the card with the slip of paper that had been printed out of the ATM. She indicated that the card has been blocked by my bank and gave the card back to me expecting me to leave. I asked politely if they could ring the helpline so I could get the card unblocked, a process which whilst still ultimately frustrating, would have seen the problem resolved in a matter of minutes. 
"No" she said,
"you are only an advance holder. We can only do that for Premier Accounts."
I started to see red, but tried to stay calm and just clarify the situation "So you won't ring? How am I supposed to get the access to my money?". Calmly she turned the card over and pointed to the number on the back of the card. "ring them" she said
"Can you just call?" I asked, indicating that I had no means to make the call myself.
"No" was their response. 
I think I forgot to say "thank you. 

On the way back to the hotel I started to rant on to HSBC on Twitter and Facebook, but with my vision not being up to scratch, I had to try again back at the hotel. The sim card I had in my possession could be used for data but not phone calls, and with no way to immediately get hold of extra cash, I was not really keen on spending more money that might be required to get food in a diabetic emergency in order to  hopefully get my card unblocked again and ready for use.

The twitter conversation continued, as did a reply from the Facebook account where I was invited to send them an email which I dutifully did explaining my frustrations. To that end they logged a complaint and told me that I would get a reply to their investigation in due course, but nothing to indicate that they were looking at unblocking my card.

Twitter was starting to yield better results, finally with the person dealing on the helpline understanding what a predicament they had put me in and giving me a number to call, reverse charge to get the card unblocked.

Now, from what i can gather, and this is the really frustrating part, is that the card had been stopped for unusual amounts going out on that card, with them failing to understand that the unusual amounts were actually very usual when converted into the currency of the ATM's in the locations that these amounts were being withdrawn, and besides, what the hell is an unusual amount anyway? 

Worse though is that on every occasion that my cards have been stopped, I have had no notification either by text or email that anything is amiss. Just frustration when you try to access your money that you need to access in a certain circumstances being unavailable as your account is being micromanaged by a bunch of over enthusiastic button pushers, with absolutely no concept of the avoidable predicament that they are putting a solo traveller with a potentially fatal medical condition in because they want to be seen as being in charge. It's mind blowingly messed up.

And of course, that's not forgetting the frustration and blood pressure peak that was caused by having an HSBC branch point blank refuse to help with the a problem from a HSBC customer, because I don't feel the need to have the word "Premier" plastered across my card or pay extra for the privilege, meaning that I am, in the eyes of HSBC a sub species of account holder not worthy of any of their time in getting a problem they caused, resolved. Once telephone contact had been made with the faceless HSBC fraud squad, the cards were unblocked in minutes, a fact I checked by going to an ATM much closer to the hotel, and praying the card didn't get eaten.

I will be closing all my accounts with HSBC when I return to the UK. I have had all manner of accounts with them over the last 20 years but in my eyes at the moment. They are just utter shits.

.......and I still haven't download the software I wanted.

So here's a picture of something else

a Hue days - 29-31/3/2015

The distance between Da Nang and Hue (whey) is just over 100k and the train between the 2 costs around 80000 dong, dependent on your choice of seat type. The soft seat provide ample space a comfort and the carriage itself remains cool once the train is in motion and the airflow is on. The ride itself, especially uphill sometimes borders on the pedestrian side of things, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing as many people choose this method of travel for the renowned coastal views and lush green mountains occasionally cloaked in mist. This didn't apply to the guy sat next to me. He was just on there to get some sleep (and rest his tiny little head on my giant shoulder), and I of course abused his trusting nature.

It takes maybe 15 minutes after the train departs before the views start to really come alive, when the first signs of the coast manage to breach through the obstructions in front and from there on in for the next hour or so the scenery is nothing short of exquisite. With the man still sleeping beside me, I grabbed my camera from my bag and headed back to see if I could get a clearer view. Landscape photography just isn't my thing, but as I experimented with different types of shots through the open window of the carriage door, I soon found myself worrying less and less about the occasional bad air from the toilet next to it, and more and more about admiring the scenery outside. The experience  only soured by the occasional bout of litter on an otherwise pristine countryside. When the passing scenery started to became less fascinating I retired back to my seat, greeted by the sight of the man still sleeping off to my right, and the sound of a poor lady with the snivels sitting directly behind, to whom I gave a spare packet of mints as I disembarked in the hope it might provide her a just a little bit of respite.

At the platform exit at Hue, a gathered gaggle of taxi drivers and bike riders all complete for your attention, some following you even after you say your just happy to walk. The distance to the "Sunny C" hotel where I was booked in for 2 nights was less than a 15 minute walk away, and with temperatures relatively cool and with only a small bag to carry, I was happy enough to take the stroll. People here seem to struggle with the concept that a tourist might like to walk, to take things in rather than just see things whizz by, but as my friend in Da Nang told me before, if all tourists were like me, then the taxi's would go out of business. I managed to walk past my hotel twice before realising that the name outside was the vietnamese name, and not the the one I had booked it under and in that time I had been propositioned by a drunk lady on a motorbike outside a close by Karaoke Bar (you're looking for something.....come closer) and a lady offering a massage with a gentleman stood close by. Once these small obstacles had been negated, I was early greeted into the hotel and shown my 380,000 dong air conditioned room, which consisted of 2 double beds, a large bathroom and city views. Really not bad at all.

Walking along the river I soon came across the Trang Tien bridge, so brightly light that I had to shield my eyes as I crossed over so as not to bump into anyone else on the path, at one point nearly stepping on a small child who was was sat down begging in a precarious area.I knew nothing of the bridge before I arrived, but after literarily stumbling over it in both directions, a quick bit of research turned up that it had been designed on commission by Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) and has straddled the Perfume river below since it's completion in 1899, although it has needed repairs over the course of time due to natural and unnatural damage. It's a bridge not necessarily famed outside of Vietnam, but within the country almost everyone you talk to, if the subject turns to Hue, they know about this bridge. 

The next day I headed of to "the citadel", a walled and moated complex and the site of the former Imperial Capital of Vietnam including the former Forbidden city, where only royalty were permitted to enter. Original consturcted in 1804, over the span of it's existence it suffered heavy damage in several wars with buildings being repaired and replaced up until 1968, where after it was captured by the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam war, fierce fighting resulted in only 10 of the original 160 buildings left remaining. The site took me all day to walk around, with great open spaces, small exhibits and beautiful architecture to examine and read up on, there is still plenty there to admire, Black and white photo's inside showing the imperial elephants on the bridge outside and reproductions of royal stamps with giant ornate sculptured gold handles go to show how over the top people can be when trying to emit the air of authority. Not surprisingly there is plenty of war damage to be see, from bullet holes tracing the path of fired bullets, to missing sections of walls, but amongst the signs of destruction are also well persevered elements which serve as a small but clear indicators as to the sites former glory.

A little bit more unwelcome was the attention I got as a tourist here. Having got used to the odd approach by taxi or motor bike whilst in Da Nang and Hoi An, it seemed that every other step I was being hassled and followed by someone wanting to take me for a ride, probably metaphorically as well as physically. It's a shame that in a country where the experience of dealing with most everyday people is nothing but positive, that you are also seen by an certain element as nothing more that cash on legs, to be tapped into at every possible opportunity. It's difficult to get this point across without putting a slant on Vietnam as a whole but it isn't meant in that way what so ever, it's just one of those less enjoyable parts of travel that irks me from time to time. I genuinely like to walk and have the experiences of talking to normal people, who aren't necessarily looking to gain from my perceived wealth (of which I have none). Maybe at this point, having been travelling for 5 months, without work or income and with funds diminishing all the time, I was just getting tired of having to politely decline again and again and again. Or maybe it was the cold I was starting to come down with that was making the simple things that little bit harder to enjoy, but when you get approached multiple times on a short walk on dimly lit streets by men offering transport, women and / or drugs when all you want is food and a bed, it's a real struggle to keep the British politeness going. Where's my bloody knighthood?

The next day I made it to the train station only to find that the only seats available on the 10:30 train were "hard", which meant wooden benches. With the next rain between the 2 not until late in the evening I brought the ticket and then sat  in the sun on the steps outside to consider whether I had any other options due to not feeling 100%. Even sat here I was approached several times about various business propositions and opportunities, only being left alone briefly as the next train drew into the station, and the aforementioned gaggle again crowded around the platform exit to attempt to confuse and snare fresh meat.

In contact with Lan back in Da Nang, she made some calls and organised a seat for me on a van between Hue and Da Nang, all air conditioned in leather seat comfort all for 180000 dong, taking just over an hour between the 2 destinations. The train trip was nice, but sometimes just shutting down is nicer.

You only have to sit back and watch ordinary people going about their daily routines to understand that the overwhelming majority of people are warm and friendly with a great sense of fun. That's my opinion in a nutshell, despite my frustrations with what is, after all, a very small minority .

And a bit of a cold.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Hoi An & My Son 22-27 /03/2016.

My recent idea was to take this blog up to 100 entries and then just walk away. It's been a lot of writing for not a lot of return and whilst I have mostly written these entries for myself, I have also written things up when i didn't really feel like it or was struggling for time in the slightest of hopes that someone out there might be enjoying it a bit more.  The idea of travelling this second time was to see if my body could cope with being forced into a climate it wasn't used to for almost 6 month, how I would deal with it not just physically but mentally as well. Far from being a holiday as some might expect, it's been tough and not always enjoyable partly down to the Type 1 diabetes I have as a travel buddy, but also in part just down to unfortunate circumstance. I think that probably comes across in what I have been writing, maybe in the tone more than the words themselves as I tend to just sit down and write off the cuff with my current emotion and mood impacting the flow and overall construction of the piece.

So with said, 91 posts have been written of varying quality (a couple not published because I feel the need to re-work them) and now I find myself with departure from Asia looming ever nearer which will draw to a close these series of "self" experiments. Unless things really kick up a gear it doesn't seem likely that I will hit the 100 mark, but I will plug away with this regardless and I guess it will be done, when it's done. If you have enjoyed reading anything I have thrown out over the last couple of years, I am genuinely thrilled but I am also sorry that I can't create every piece as engaging as the last, The non fun ones act more or a marker in the sand, to say I was there even after I have been forgotten. When nobody remembers who I was or what I did, hopefully this writing will still get the occasional read by somebody accidentally finding it whilst looking for a Monty Python sketch,

no.92. The Larch

On the 22nd March 2016 and for the 3rd time during my travels I ended up back at the Nhi Nhi hotel in Hoi An minus my credit cards that I had managed to leave in the safe at my previous stop. The really lucky thing about this was that the Nhi Nhi and the Orange hotel are hotels, and without much hassle at all the staff had arranged to send the cards on to me this afternoon in a car that was travelling between the 2. Of all the places I could have cocked up like that, I thank my lucky stars that it somewhere that the situation could be so easily resolved. Within a couple of hours my credit cards were back in my hands and the car going back the other way was in possession of the Orange Hotels laundry bag that I had pilfered in the rush before I left.

The reason for my return to Hoi An was primarily to experience the towns celebratory  Lunar festival where once a month the evening streets and river are lit predominately by candle, either fixed to the side or above, or floating down stream in the waters. It's a spectacle that draws big crowds and the streets congest as everyone hunts for a prime position to admire the spectacle amongst the swelled number of street sellers all looking to make good trade. In ordinary circumstances this would have been tough work for me, but with the headache I had been suffering with from a few hours before combined with my diminished ability to see  clearly in low level light made every move I made potentially hazerdous, often leading me to take "Baby Steps" in such areas where I suspected there may be a raised step or a drop present, but was unable to see anything of  the floor. Frustrated with my inability to walk safely and freely or photograph anything without messing something  up, retreated to a area a little further away, to get some sustenance and watch the procession of people passing by from my relative safety of the retracted seating area at the edge of the busy street. I've become a danger voyeur obsessed with watching how people cope and react to conditions alien to what they are used to.

My Son (pro Mee Son) lies a 1 hour coach trip  west of Hoi An and much like Ankor Wat in Cambodia is an architectural site that lay hidden from view for hundreds of years before the French rediscovered it.  Cham temples and structures were built here from 700 - 1600 A.D before the Champa eventually left the area, relocating to the Mekong Delta in order to avoid the Chinese and leaving the monuments to lay undisturbed until they were rediscovered in 1885 by French archaeologist Henri Parmentier.  By all accounts 71 of these structures remained in excellent condition all the way up until 1968 when President Richard Nixon, suspecting the the Vietcong were hiding out in the area, ordered it to be pummelled by 10 days of relentless bombing using B52 bombers, desecrating the site. Of the 71 structures that originally stood more than 50 were destroyed by age bombings and others heavily damaged. Some are still left in the state of disrepair, held up with supports and close to the craters of the bombs that brought their destruction. Other monuments have been recreated using a mixtures of original and new stones using techniques to try and adhere as closely as is possible to the original methods, with the help of Italian Scholars. This collaboration has resulted in full size reconstructions of the Roman Colosseum, Pantheon and Roman Baths all built from famous local red brick* .

It's worth noting that, although the structure were apparently in good condition before 1968, several of the states at the site were already missing body parts It seems that Mr Parmentiar, like many french in the past, had a thing about removing heads and in this case collected them for his private collection. To this date some of these heads are still kept in the Louvre in Paris, and despite repeated requested by the vietnamese to return these to the to their original homes, the French still refuse to do so. A situation I guess not too far removed from the British refusal to return the Elgin Marbles to the Greece, the country from which they were taken initially to preserve them. But maybe it's now time for us to stop playing mother.

Ok, back on My Son, The site isn't huge and the tour around the areas that are open to visit only takes a couple of hours to complete. As usual with these kind of tours you get led around the same places as everyone else and then try to get pictures of the same things at the same time as everyone else leading to an experience not conducive with the way I like to get a feel for place that I find myself, ultimately ending up with a bunch of pictures I'm not entirely happy about in their ability to convey the soul of a place. It's still worth the visit for sure if you like that kind of thing, which I usually do, but if you can do it under your own steam without being constrained by someone else's time frame, then you may find the experience more rewarding than maybe I did.

Unfortunately as the hours of walking literally wore on, the secondary reason for my trip to My Son relayed bad news. The uncomfortable feeling under the outstep of the left foot indicated that it still wasn't quite ready for a full days worth of trekking through the Vietnamese countryside, a tour I had been hoping to be able to do for the last couple of weeks for both the much needed exercise and the photographic opportunities it would have presented. Every cloud though and instead of rushing around for the next few days, I spent time just trying to let everything fix, posting a couple of gifts from the post office and eating food in in a place where, I am starting to conclude, may actually be the culinary centre the world.

Top end food at bottom table prices, in a beautiful town and a hotel where I'm lucky enough to be able to think of the staff as friends. I guess that there's plenty of worse places to be despite the obvious frustrations but these things despite my wishes take time. Thats life.

In the evening of the 26th I decided that I needed to get at least a one nice picture of Hoi An to make my stay there complete. I had nothing at all until the end of the evening, at just past 10 with the town preparing to sleep, I was lucky enough to capture the below picture. The following day I again returned to Da Nang to plan a short trip north to visit the Imperial City of Hue.

My final shot of Hoi An in 2016.

*utter lies