Tuesday, May 14, 2019


I travelled in Vietnam along the coast by ship and inland between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi with the Reunification Express Train. It is a slow, wonderful and historic 1,726 km overland journey. In addition to the lovely and varied scenery, I enjoyed very much the warmth of the people working on the train. Travelling the length of the country by rail I was happy to celebrate the indefatigable hope, courage and resilience of the Vietnamese People. The line was severely damaged by US bombing campaigns during the American War (referred to as the Vietnam War by imperialist Americans and their allies).  Following the Vietnam victory in 1975, in less than two years, over a thousand bridges and 27 tunnels were repaired. Once again the connection between North and South Vietnam was established and the free and unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam was proudly proclaimed.

  I arrived at Hanoi Train Station at 4:30 in the morning in the pouring rain.

Two seconds before pulling out of the station, and she made it!

Walking into the beautiful, bright yellow French colonial, Saigon Central Post Office, I was nearly certain that I had time-travelled back to when Ho Chi Minh himself might have posted a revolutionary message from this impressive building. The fact that it was a hallucinatory hot 42 degrees, likely helped create the fluid time-frame I was experiencing.

Everyone has a motorbike in Saigon. Until I figured out the steps to this urban dance, crossing the street felt terrifying and seemed impossible. I'd wait and wait for an opening in the traffic, but it never happened. All day. All night. The congestion never eased up. Traffic lights were simply ignored. A t-shirt said it succinctly: "Green Means Go. Amber Means Go. Red Means Go". Thing is, if you step off the sidewalk an amazing choreography begins. Without slowing down, the motorcyclists, like a massive school of herring, coalesce and drive around you as you make your way across the road. Whew!

Halong Bay. It is no wonder that this ethereal collection of some two thousand limestone karst islands has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Like giant Rorschach ink blots, one can easily project meanings onto the shapes. Evidently I'm not the only one who sees the kissing chickens from the boat, as this formation is in fact known locally as either Kissing Chickens, or less placidly, as Fighting Cocks. I prefer amorous fowl to angry birds - no matter how popular their video game cousins are!                                                                                                                                                               

In one Hanoi neighborhood, the train oddly travels within a metre of homes and shops. The train schedule is posted outside bars and caf├ęs so that fans of trainspotting can gather and toast the passing train.                                                                                                                                                          


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