Monthly Archives: March 2012

Vietnam’s endless development – ruin or redemption?

The road from Nha Trang is awash with litter from endless construction sites. Down to the water, rickety cranes swing huge concrete blocks into place. New golf courses and spas abound. This is wild west capitalism, where quick buildings and a fast buck have become the dominant feature of a nation in a desperate to hurry to keep pace with insatiable demand.

It’s not just on this stretch of coast either. The vast sandy beaches between Da Nang and Cua Dai are being sold off and developed at a rate of knots. Beaches that were once the R and R playgrounds of battle fatigued GIs are quickly becoming insulated playpens for those who want sun and sand without the local culture.

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Hoi An – on Vietnam’s street food trail

Street food treats are impossible to miss here in Vietnam. Not to mention the fact that if you pick smartly, they’re also the best and cheapest way to eat too.

We’ve been spoilt since arriving three weeks ago. 20000 VND Pho in Hanoi was a chili-infused dream, with the added bonus of blasting out my Sapa-induced head cold. Rice, greens and fried shrimp on a filthy sidestreet in Hue’s Dong Ba market was also a culinary delight, costing less than $2 between us.

Yet it was Hoi An where Vietnam’s sensational street offerings went above and beyond what we’d come to expect. For many coming here, places to eat begin and end with the seafood and bargain beer joints along the riverfront. And there’s no shame in that, what with gorgeous views of the UNESCO supported town and squid and shrimp at bargain prices.

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Sapa – how Vietnam’s trekking hotspot has become a byword for unsustainable tourism

The fog clung hard to the hills as we made our way out of Lao Cai and towards Sapa, Northern Vietnam’s prime destination for those after hilly treks and tribal encounters. Having not managed to reach this town and its surrounding villages on my last visit to Vietnam nine years ago, I was excited and intrigued to take in the views and see how the people dealt with an endless influx of tourists.

It became clear very quickly that the answer to the last question would be both complex and leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. Both about how this area has been affected by the hundreds of tourists who take the overnight train here from Hanoi every day and the agencies which arrange these trips. As our bus made its first stop, it was surrounded by local women, dressed in a mix of ethnic headgear and counterfeit sportswear. They smiled as they shouted, “Looking, shopping,” at the tired and bewildered batch of foreigners on board.

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The Z20 from Xian to Beijing West

Incessant tinny Tannoy announcements and the nagging nip of toy dogs at the nearby airport shop suggested we’d made a terrible mistake. Guilin airport, and China’s domestic flying scene, were and are a total nightmare. When Paul Theroux eulogised the joys of Chinese train travel in Riding The Iron Rooster, I thought he was perhaps overindulging his never ending distaste for flying. In fact, he was spot on. Taking short hops across this vast country is an awkward nightmare of expensive transfers, tedious waits and inflight food that would make a pet dog heave.

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Xian’s Muslim Quarter – reviving China’s culinary reputation

The red lanterns that hang from the eves in Xian’s Muslim Quarter are caked in a thick layer of grey dirt. Much like the rest of this ancient city, the streets of this minority area can’t escape the pollution and filth that hang in the air of most Chinese towns. But while the regular highways and byways of Xian offer a very modern take on Chinese progress, with the aforementioned pollution inescapable, the Muslim quarter rises above everything thanks to truly stunning street food.

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