Saigon streets

Why You Shouldn’t Overstay Your Vietnamese Visa

March 21, 2014 | Vietnam | 55 Comments

“Please come this way.”

The young immigration officer ushered me towards an open door, his immaculately-polished shoes squeaking slightly on the waxed airport floor.

“Is there a problem?” I asked, as innocently as possible.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” The officer’s face gave nothing away, but I already suspected that my afternoon was about to get a whole lot worse.

A few minutes later, it did.

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Hoi An at dusk

The Friday Photo #165 – Dusk in Hoi An

I’m in Hoi An at the moment, easily my favourite town in Vietnam. The combination of incredible food, beautifully restored buildings and a pristine nearby beach are almost impossible to beat.

For me the best time to be out exploring is at dusk. The sun starts to disappear, and with it the scorching heat of the day. All around the old town the lights come on, lanterns glowing softly outside the riverside restaurants and bars in an attempt to lure me inside.

I’ll admit, it usually works.

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Longtails at U Minh Thuong national park

Riding the Mekong Delta: rivers, ruts and a very long ride

January 28, 2013 | Travel, Vietnam | 2 Comments

The riding in the Delta so far had been good, not great, and I wasn’t sure we would get anything better as we turned and headed for Saigon. I needn’t have worried.

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Stork, Back Lieu bird sanctuary

Riding the Mekong Delta: weddings, words and water

January 23, 2013 | Travel, Vietnam | 0 Comments

After the disappointing lack of airborne activity over the previous two days, you’d think we’d have known better than to head out to a bird sanctuary weeks after most of the wildlife had migrated.

Still, when you’re in Bac Lieu, your entertainment options are limited. It seems that you have two options: get married, or visit the bird sanctuary. Stuart and I had formed a close bond over the previous week, but not quite that close, so marriage was off the cards. Not that we could have found a spare timeslot for the ceremony anyway, between the eleven weddings that were being held at our hotel that weekend.

No joke. Eleven. Probably more, actually, since we didn’t arrive until lunchtime – there had undoubtedly been several others since breakfast.

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Boarding a river ferry at sunset

Riding the Mekong Delta: birds, boats, bats and bad roads

January 14, 2013 | Travel, Vietnam | 2 Comments

Even after the first couple of days, I was already noticing some differences between this trip in the Mekong Delta and our ride in northern Thailand earlier in the year. We were generally travelling less than half the distance each day, for instance – yet didn’t seem to be getting to our destinations any faster.

Why? A combination of bad roads, low speed limits and great coffee available at roadside stalls every ten minutes. The geography of the area didn’t help much either – roads regularly gave way to river ferries, often several times per day.

Those crumbling vessels made for pretty photos and fun interactions with locals, but were not a recipe for doing anything in a hurry. Most of the time that didn’t matter in the slightest … but occasionally, well, it did.

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Rickety bridge, Mekong Delta

Riding the Mekong Delta: A Road Less Travelled

January 10, 2013 | Travel, Vietnam | 18 Comments

I blame Top Gear.

That episode where Clarkson, May and Hammond buy clapped-out scooters and ride from Saigon to Hanoi has made the whole ‘riding a motorbike in Vietnam’ thing a bit passé. I mean, sure, there’s stunning scenery, beautiful people, amazing food and a fairly high chance of being wiped out by an oncoming truck every five minutes,but … well … it’s just that since that show came out, it seems like everyone’s doing it.

Although perhaps not always in flamboyant suits with a model sailing ship on the back.

I rode the section of road between Hoi An and Hue a couple of years ago (yeah, the bit that includes the gorgeous Hai Van pass) and it was truly incredible – but even back then I came across several other travellers taking the same route.

After seeing few other Westerners during our Thailand road trip at the start of the year, Stuart, Lauren and I were hoping to find something similar for our time in Vietnam last month. The main highway north was unlikely to provide it – not to mention a good chance of rain and flooding in the centre of the country that time of year.

So, instead, we decided to head south. For 10 days, we’d swap mountains and highways for rice paddies and river ferries in a part of the country that is largely ignored by visitors. What would we find? We didn’t really know … and that was kinda the point.

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Snails and beer in Saigon

Snails, seafood and soup in Saigon

December 31, 2012 | Travel, Vietnam | 6 Comments

I love Saigon.

I also love street food.

Match made in heaven? You bet.

Perhaps even more than the rest of South East Asia, street food is everywhere in Saigon. In most neighbourhoods you can’t walk five metres without seeing a little banh mi stall on wheels or stepping around someone slurping a steaming bowl of pho on a little plastic chair.

Smoke billows from chicken on charcoal grills, vendors walk past offering chewy dried squid, cooked ducks hang inside glass boxes … and those are just the things I can identify.

Eating is a serious business in Saigon, and more often than not, it’s done on the streets.

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Sunset in the Delta

The Friday Photo #142 – Sunset in the Delta

It had been a hell of a long afternoon.

We were a couple of days into our road trip around the Mekong Delta, and had left Ben Tre a little later than planned. As usual we opted for the longer, more scenic route, involving multiple ferry crossings and more rutted dirt roads than you could shake a stick at.

Rapidly running out of light and trying to balance the need for speed with the need to not be thrown off the bikes by invisible potholes, nobody was voicing the concern that the last ferry of the day might not either (a) exist or (b) still be running. The idea of returning half an hour back down that road in the dark was simply not one we wanted to entertain.

Luckily for everyone, the ferry was waiting when we finally turned up. Bumping our way onboard, we found somewhere to park the bikes, jumped off and brushed the worst of the road dust from our faces.

Until that moment, I hadn’t even noticed the gorgeous sunset happening out over the river.

Finally, it was time for a photo.

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