Vietnam

Hittin’ The Rails To Hội An

Here’s a good travel tip: When booking an early morning train trip in a foreign country, make sure you’re well caffeinated.

I arrived at the train station in Huế, Vietnam at about 7 a.m. to head to Da Nang. The plan was to book a first-class ticket on the Livitrans car ($17) for the two and a half hour train ride.

Not quite understanding the ticket agent (aside from the phrase “air-conditioned”) I wound up purchasing a $3 “soft-sleeper” ticket. Ooops.

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Making My Way To Huế

After three days amidst the mayhem that is Sài Gòn, it was time to head up to Huế. Huế is a short, one hour flight north of Sài Gòn. With a couple of lengthy flights in economy under my belt, I opted for business class this time around. It was pretty much a no-brainer. Economy was fifty bucks…first-class, a hundred.

The extra fifty doesn’t get you a whole lot…just a bit more room to stretch out and a couple of pretty decent sandwiches.

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Scarfing Street Snacks in Sài Gòn

Before heading off to Vietnam my goal was to experience as much of the local cuisine as possible. On my first day, after a somewhat hearty breakfast and a lengthy walkabout, it became painfully obvious that big eating was out of the question. The extreme humidity literally sucks away a great chunk of your appetite. That’s probably what accounts for the locals eating small, light meals  throughout the day. With that in mind I headed off to Ben Thanh Market for a nice, light snack.

Chợ Bến Thành (Bến Thành Market) is Sài Gòn’s main marketplace. Normally a vibrating hive of phrenetic energy, at 8 in the morning, not so much. Kind of perfect for someone who just wants to scope the place out without the onslaught of arm-tugging vendors.

After spying out a stall with some favorite items, I settled in for some refreshment.

One thing I’ve always been meaning to try is Young Coconut Juice. Actually, it’s green coconut water. The liquid is nature’s sports drink. Slightly sweet, mild-tasting and an excellent source of potassium. A great revitalizer in this climate.

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Breakfast in Sài Gòn

Sài Gòn is by far the craziest place I’ve ever seen. Having only travelled to the U.S. and Mexico, that isn’t saying much. But based on what I’ve seen the past couple of days, I can’t imagine a more amped-up, wild and woolly, free-for-all street scene. Thousands upon thousands of motorbikes and scooters drive by blithely flaunting virtually every traffic rule…sidewalks are expressways if your lane gets too clogged. An hour ago my taxi driver pulled a u-turn amidst several dozen bikers. No screaming, a bit of tooting…no big deal. It’s all very surreal. From afar it appears like utter chaos. When you’re in the midst of it (at least from the backseat of a chilly taxi) it’s almost serene.

The worst thing here, aside from the heat, the sheer amount of traffic and noise that comes with it, is the humidity. Being a rather big lad doesn’t help a bit (I’m on my third shirt and it’s not quite noon!). Just opening my hotel room door invites in a hot, muggy wave of moist air. The rooms, lobby and even the elevator are air-conditioned, just not the hallways. There is no respite at any time of day. On Day One I figured on an early start to beat the humidity. I took this shot of a street vendor’s brazier just before dawn. It’s not out of focus – just severely humidified.

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