Road trip – street art

As those who have followed us know, I have an interest in street art and wherever we’ve travelled, street art has provided us with an interesting insight into local life, its struggles, beliefs and hopes – its heartbeat. This road trip to Melbourne in early March has provided me with a feast from day one.

Just two hours after leaving home, we come across Moore Trailers warehouse in Pittsworth, SW of Toowoomba and their 100m long mural celebrating all things and people important to the region. Arthur Postle, born 1881, a professional runner nicknamed the “Crimson Flash”, who set 5 world records, died in Wynnum, the subburb next door to us, in 1965. Pittsworth confectionary, a family owned business. The 84 ANZACS born in Pittsworth, including too many sets of brothers and a father and son. And of course, all things related to farming, agriculture and life on the land.

Moore Trailers, Pittsworth, Qld

Moore Trailers, Pittsworth, Qld

Millmerran is a small town of approximately 1,500 inhabitants which lies on the flat, fertile black soil plains to the west of Toowoomba. The likely origin of the name is two local Aboriginal words – “meel” which is thought to mean “eye” and “merran” which is a verb “to look out”, probably referring to a nearby lookout which was used as a viewing point by the local Aborigines from the Keinjan language group. The first Europeans arrived in the area in 1841. It prospered in the 19th century through mainly wool and sheep, changed to dairying during the early 20th century which saw the development of 2 cheese and butter factories and today engages in mixed farming with sheep, cattle, cereal grains and cotton dominating.

The Millmerran water reservoir mural was commissioned in 1988 and celebrates its history and the early days of transporting water.

Millmerran water reservoir, Qld

Millmerran water reservoir, Qld

Onto Goondiwindi – pronounced ‘gundawindi’ – I love that name! But had never looked into it’s origin before. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1827, the area was occupied by the Bigambul Aboriginal people. One of the early settlers, who had arrived in the 1830s, named a property ‘Gundawinda’ which was a Bigambul Aboriginal word for “a resting place for the birds”. There are other authorities which claim the town’s name comes from “goona winnah” meaning “duck droppings “. Goondiwindi is now a small town of approximately 6,000 people, on the border between Queensland and NSW.

A cheeky take on Australia’s Coat of Arms, Goondiwindi, Qld

Australia Coat of Arms

Goondiwindi steel sculptures, Qld

The Macintyre River with its water birds, reeds and the bank at sunset, water tank, Goondiwindi

In 1956 Edward Vernon Redmond, engineer to Goondiwindi Council, submitted a flood prevention scheme for the town. He and his foreman Bill McNulty had survived the flood by boat – marking the height on trees. The levee banks that he designed have saved Goondiwindi from major flooding ever since.” Up until then, residents used to gather under this tree and exchange flood stories and speculate on the time the next flood would reach the town. The Tree of Knowledge sculpture was created in commemoration of this time.

Next stop, Dubbo. Evidence of habitation by Wiradjuri Indigenous Australians dates back over 40,000 years. Explorer and surveyor John Oxley was the first European to report on the area in 1818 then the first British colonist settler in the area, Robert Dulhunty, arrived after 1829 and chose grazing land which he named ‘Dubbo’. It is believed to be a Wiradjuri word meaning either “cap”, “head covering” or “red earth”.

Melbourne artist Matt Adnate was commisioned in 2016 to paint this magnificient 6 meter tall mural of Pearl Gibbs, a passionate Aboriginal activist, and Dakota, a local young child who symbolises a positive future. Pearl Gibbs lead a remarkable life campaigning for Aboriginal rights, her work too extensive to do it justice in just a few sentences here – have a read of this:

Pearl Gibbs by Adnate, Dubbo, NSW

Then we arrived in Hay, NSW. I fell in love with this small country town, population 2,500, not because of the surrounding beauty of the land, which is flat as far as the eye can see (or maybe because it reminds me of northern France where I grew up) but because the town instantly felt loved, cared for and proud. And we met Craig which added the all important human connection. We didn’t know anything about Hay when we arrived but decided to pull over and have a mid morning break and tea/coffee there before exploring. Every block was a visual and historical surprise. It is only when writing this blog entry that I discovered there is a documented heritage trail available online with 18 places of interest. Hay was named in October 1859 after a local squatter and politician, a Secretary of Lands and Works, named John Hay who was later knighted and became Sir John Hay. Because this post is primarily about street art, you will have to read up or better still, visit Hay yourself.

Messages from Hay, NSW

Foodworks, Hay, NSW

Four days after leaving Brisbane, we arrive at Sea Lake, Victoria, where my feast of street art truly begins.

Sea Lake, Vic

Stitch the dog, by DRapl and Zookeeper, Seal Lake

Great murals, but this is not what we came here for. I had heard of the Silo Art Trail in Victoria and seen pictures of the old grain silos but it is not until you get up close and personal that you truly comprehend the scale of this art. The Silo Art Trail is Australia’s largest outdoor gallery. The trail stretches over 200 kilometres, linking Brim with neighbouring towns Lascelles, Patchewollock, Rosebery, Rupanyup, Sheep Hills and Sea Lake. The art and concept of bringing life back to decommissioned grain silos became such a success after the first silo was painted in Brim in 2016, infusing the community with newfound energy and optimism, that the Silo Art Trail began.

We start with the latest addition to the Silo Art Trail. We were lucky that the owner of the accommodation I chose for the night in Sea Lake, Julie, was directly involved in the commisioning of the artists for this silo artwork and was happy to share its history with us. Brisbane based artists Travis Vinson (DRAPL) and Joel Fergie (The Zookeeper) wanted to capture the beauty and grandeur of the Mallee region, in particular Lake Tyrrell. But it was important to Julie and others to capture the Aboriginal connection to the area. The little girl on a mallee eucalyptus swing refects on her aboriginal heritage, looking towards Lake Tyrrell, moving between the past, present and the future.The Boorong Indigenous name ‘Tyrrell’ means ‘space opening to the sky’ – the Boorong People were known to have more knowledge of astronomy than any other tribe,

Julie also told us about a phone app on the silos – pity our mobiles didn’t have reception in those areas to make the most of the technology. The virtual reality app is called Wimmera Mallee Tourism.

Sea Lake Silo, Drapl and Zookeeper, Vic – can you spot me?

Sea Lake Silo, Drapl and Zookeeper, Vic

Sea Lake Silo

Anthony often bemoans how he keeps being told to reduce his waistline in no uncertain terms:

Anthony wishes they would stop going on about his waistline!

This Speed sign on our way to Patchewollock though brought a smile on our faces – a village named after us?!

Welcome to Speed!!

Brisbane artist Fintan Magee booked a room at the local pub to get to know the Patchewollock community. When he met local sheep and grain farmer Nick “Noodle” Hulland, Fintan Magee knew he had found the perfect subject for the 35 metre high canvas of the twin 1939 GrainCorp silos: he was the perfect rugged, lanky local who exemplified the no-nonsense, hardworking spirit of the region. I particularly love Hulland’s evocative expression which reflects the challenges of life on the land here, as he squints under the harsh Australian sun.

Patchewollock silo art

Nick Holland on Fintan Magee’s silo at Patchewollock

Like Fintan Magee, Melbourne-based artist Rone wanted to capture the true essence of Lascelles so spent time in this town of 100 people in mid 2017 before taking 2 weeks to transform the two 1939 decommissioned grain silos. He chose a local farming couple Geoff and Merrilyn Horman, part of a family that has lived and farmed in the area for four generations. Rone says that he “wanted the mural to portray his subjects as wise and knowing, nurturing the town’s future with their vast farming experience and longstanding connection to the area.” The peaceful, contemplative gaze depicted in this artwork moved me – I saw warmth, strength of character, wisdom and the fragility of life at the same time.

Lascelles silo art

Lascelles silo art

Merrilyn Horman on Rone’s silo art at Lascelles

Renowned Melbourne street artist Kaff-eine spent time with Rone when he was working on his Lascelles project. She too travelled around the area, meeting and connecting with local business and farmers before completing her silos in Rosebery in 2017. The character on the left represents today’s generation of young, strong female farmers. The one on the right represents a contemporary farmer showing the connection between him and his trusted companion.

Rosebery silo Kaff-eine

This is where the first silo was painted, before the concept of the Silo Art Trail was even contemplated. Guido van Helten was born in 1986 and raised in Brisbane. We first came across his work when we visited Reykjavik in 2018 and I was blown away by the quality of his artwork – so I was extremely excited to see his artwork on an even bigger scale here in Brim. Guido completed the artwork on the 30 meter tall silos in early 2016, with minimal funds. To this date, we do not know who those people are. Guido said in an interview that he wanted the mystery to remain as he wanted the artwork to be about the community and the Wimmera region as a whole rather individuals. He also feels that anonymity enables us to have our own connection to the work. I like that concept. It somehow made me look at each character in more detail. This work conveyed the harshness of life and of the environment on those people we rely on so much for our daily food.

Guido van Helten’s silo art at Brim, Vic

Brim silo close-up

Adnate spent 4 weeks in the community of Sheep Hills in 2016 to conceive and complete this silo. Adnate’s depiction of Wergaia Elder, Uncle Ron Marks, and Wotjobaluk Elder, Aunty Regina Hood, alongside two young children, Savannah Marks and Curtly McDonald celebrates the richness of the area’s Indigenous culture. The night sky represents elements of local dreaming and the overall image signifies the important exchange of wisdom, knowledge and customs from Elders to the next generation.

Sheep Hills silo Art by Adnate

Aunty Regina, Sheep Hills silo art cose-up

Savannah Marks, Sheep Hills silo art

Completed over several weeks in early 2017, Rupanyup’s mural celebrates the important and integral that sport plays in rural Australian communities. Russian mural artist, Julia Volchkova, vividly captures this spirit of community in the fresh faces of Rupanyup residents and local sporting team members, Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidemann. Fresh-faced and dressed in their sports attire (netball and Australian Rules football, respectively), Baker and Weidemann embody a youthful spirit of strength, hope and camaraderie. Such exquisite and extraordinary work and feeling.

Rupanyup silo art by Julia Volchkova

Ebony Baker, Rupanyup silo art

I’m interested in hearing what your favourite silo is and why. Ok, you can have 3 favourites because I have 3: Sea Lake, Lascelles and Sheep Hills. And I loved Patchewollock too. Oh, and Rupanyup! Is it because all those represent real people? And Brim was very special, maybe because it left so many questions unanswered. That makes it 6 out of 7 favourites!! Ok, back to my original question: which is your favourite and why?

At the end of day 4 of our little road trip, we get to St Arnaud, a small town rich in restored houses and street art, our last stop over for the night before getting to Melbourne.

St Arnaud, street celebrating local firefighter

St Arnaud, Vic

Melbourne is famous for its street art but our visit there is purely to catch up with a few friends before boarding a ferry to Tasmania to deliver the vehicle. We did get to see these though – in just an alleyway in Brunswick, Melbourne.

Brunswick, Melbourne, Vic

Street art on the ground, Brunswick, Melbourne

Street art in Melbourne changes regularly

There are so many silos and water tanks painted by different artists all over Australia, this was just a small introduction. When Covid-19 isolation is over, it would be great to go on another trip and discover some of Quensland water tanks. We’re so glad and grateful we managed to make this trip. Stay safe everyone!!

– Anne

Road Trip

Having signed off back in January, planning to sit back for the year and relax and hear of others’ travel stories in 2020, well me anyway, Anne having gone straight into a work opportunity for three months, why are we on a road trip in March?

The answer is three fold: first, Anne finished her contact early with the project being put on hold. Second, at the same time, friends wanted their 4×4 vehicle moved to Tasmania from Brisbane. We seized the opportunity to help our friends and to travel through central New South Wales (NSW), a region we have not explored in 32 years in Australia. Thirdly, it also gives us a chance to spend money in rural areas and while we are not travelling through any towns affected by the recent NSW and Victorian bushfires, we think that any spending on accommodation, fuel and food must be a benefit these communities often affected by droughts and floods. We also heard of a campaign to get people to take an empty esky or cooler box when visiting fire ravaged towns to buy goods there and help the local economies, what a good idea.

While COVID-19 is sadly playing havoc with most of our friends’ 2020 travel plans, we thought that the risk of travelling by car with a single domestic flight back was manageable and we could monitor the risk as we travelled. So far so good.

We are off, a fully loaded 4×4 with no space to spare as our friends have packed the vehicle to the max. Anne loves driving a 4×4 from all her years traveling in the bush across the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It is a good feeling, with the reassuring thump of the diesel engine in our ears, to be out on the road.  Anne has planned a route that will take in a number of points of interest and, hopefully for her, some camping.  Not so sure about that myself.

Ready to start the journey to Tassie

Our route takes us west from Brisbane and over the dividing range on the new Toowoomba bypass that opened during our last absence from Australia. Soon we are out in the country and come across recent fire damage and regrowth. Anne refers to them as “fuzzy trees” due to the new growth on the branches and trunks.  With all the regrowth, the fire damaged tree shapes are different to the undamaged ones, they could almost be different species.  We do find the flies seemed to have returned after the fires very successfully and swarm on us at every photo stop. We drive away with a cloud of flies in the 4×4 cab each time.

What the bushfires have done to southern Queensland
After the bushfire, life is returning

Green is definitely the colour, the roadside has tall grass waving in the breeze, the country is transformed from the drought ravaged brown, we have been used to seeing on TV since we returned, to a lush verdant landscape.  The rain and green also mean that kangaroos are no longer gathering at the roadside looking for the last remnants of moisture, which makes driving in the late afternoon a little more comfortable.  We also see no kangaroo carcasses on the roadside until we reach Victoria, courtesy of the rain. I was surprised how small the Murray river seemed when we crossed at Tooleybuc and the size of the multiple pipes in the river used for irrigation extraction. The Murray Darling basin water issues seem a little clearer to me now.

New Orchards with irrigation pipes under water,
500km from the ocean, is this rain about to get worse?

Goondiwindi, Narrabri, Dubbo, Narrandera, places that until now have just been names on a map or news article. We find that each has its own character and feel. There are people working to restore old buildings, add new attractions and provide services for visitors such as ourselves. As an example in Narrandera we stayed at the Historic Star Lodge, where we were hosted by Angel, who in addition to running the hotel, is in the process of renovating and expanding the hotel. She was superb and our experience was matched by others when you read their comments. 

Vast breakfast selection at the Historic Star Lodge, Narrandera
Art Deco Hotel in Narrabri
Old and new communications technology, Post Office building in Hay NSW

In Hay we met Craig, a grass watering local who had not taken out his Harley Davidson for some time. After talking for a while, the next day Craig was on his motorcycle and out on the road. It is great to connect with people as we travel and get a better insight into the local life.

The Siding Spring Observatory (SSO) is situated outside the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran in New South Wales, great names are they not? The location was chosen for its lack of ambient light. Situated on top of a mountain, a number of optical/infrared telescopes, Australian, Japanese and Korean, scan the southern hemisphere skies adding to our astronomical knowledge.  When we visited we saw no one apart from kangaroos, the 30 or so staff are probably all asleep since they have to work at night.

The 3.9m optical telescope, biggest in Australia
Inside the 3.9m optical telescope housing at Siding Springs
Spot the Kangaroo at Siding Springs Observatory

Having visited the home of the visible spectrum observatories, we more forward to discover what we can learn about the non-visible spectrum which is so much broader.  North of Parkes is home of Australia’s largest radio telescope, some 64 meters in diameter which became operational in 1961. Given its southern hemisphere location, it was used in conjunction with NASA for the Apollo Moon missions and various NASA and ESA deep space missions. In over 50 years, upgrades have made it 10,000 times more sensitive than when it was originally constructed.  You must turn off mobile phones to avoid potential interference, no mobile coverage here please

Main Radio Telescope dish at Parkes, NSW

We have always said that we believe that truck drivers are the some of the best and most helpful on the road.  Somewhere south of Forbes, an oncoming truck suddenly started flashing his lights at us, he had seen as I had, a car, two behind him, making an impossible overtaking manoeuvre, as I plan to detour into the field on my left, the errant car driver realises his mistake, pulls back in and normal service is resumed. Thank you truck driver.

Beautiful trees in the afternoon sun in North Western Victoria
Great food at the Royal Hotel, Sea Lake, Vic

We spend a couple of days in Western Victoria’s wheat belt, following the Silo trail which has amazing artwork painted on old silos.  Anne has written a separate blog as part of her  ‘Street Art Series’.

While in Melbourne we visited the Hotel Esplanade in St Kilda, known locally as “The Espy”, our Australian penchant for shortage words at play again. Originally opening in 1878, it was recently refurbished in 2018. The top floor hosts the cocktail bar “Ghost of Alfred Felton”. The bar reflects one of the hotel’s most famous guest, Alfred Felton who took up residence in 1891 and took over many rooms, knocking out walls, redecorating and changing lights and never checked out until his death in 1904. A business man who left half his wealth to women and children charities over 100 years ago. The other half of his bequest went to the National Gallery of Victoria which in 109 years has allowed the gallery to purchase some 15,000 works estimated today to be worth more than 2 billion Australian dollars.

Friends Gavan and Anna at the Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne
Anne trying a stylish pose!
Friends Rick and Jane in Melbourne

A weekend in Melbourne catching up with friends and then onto the “Spirit of Tasmania II” ferry for a very smooth sailing to Tasmania.

All aboard for Tasmania please

– Anthony

Winding down in Thailand and welcoming in 2020

After a hectic schedule over the last couple of months we were looking forward to taking it easy in the run-up to New Year’s Eve in Bangkok to welcome in 2020 with our friends Dave and Sky.

Chang Mai.  The last time we were here was on Streak and Storm in November 2014. Today we are flying in to spend a few days with our friends Micheal and Nuch. We first met Micheal in Myanmar in 2014.  They are waiting to wisk us across the city out to their new home in the countryside. They entertain us royally and we spend our time visiting some of the local sights and enjoying good food and company.  We even had an afternoon of food and music at a local cafe.  We had a diverse group of musicians, both Thai and some originally from as far away as Switzerland and Malaysia entertaining us with their renditions of good 60’s and 70’s hits.

Michael, Nuch and us in an Orchid Garden

Our visit with Micheal and Nuch is over all too quickly, but we need to get to ourselves down to Hua Hin before Christmas where friends have lent us a resort cottage. We plan to just veg and do nothing but relax, sleep and eat. Which we do. Apart from relaxing, we start on a list of activities that need to be undertaken when we get back to Brisbane.  By the time we leave the list has over 70 items on it.

Feet up over Christmas at the Spirt Resort Hua Hin

We are in Bangkok for new year to catch up with Sky, whom we knew in Manly but had returned to Bangkok to be with family. We and our friend Dave decided back in June 2019 that we would come and visit Sky for New Year.  Sky had organised a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River which was a great way to see the city at night.

Dave, Sky, Lek and us on the river in Bangkok
Rama VIII Bridge in Bangkok

The rest of the time was spent visiting eating out, visiting silk stores and admiring the communication network wiring that festoons every pole in the city.  Seems there is no plan and extra cable is just left coiled up for future use.  Perhaps Australia’s NBN program could have learnt a thing or two about keeping costs down.

Nature and technology can co-exist
Anyone got the network diagram?
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple Bangkok
Flower stall outside the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple
A small part of the Bangkok Skyline
The King Power MahaNakhon Building with glass bottomed skywalk
You see something new every day

We had a quiet New Yearks eve with Dave, we celebrated with fireworks and single malt. The proper way to see in a new decade.

Happy New Year for 2020 from both of us
Happy New Year 2020 from Bangkok

An overnight stop in Singapore to collect the other suitcases from six months of travelling give us a chance to see the Marina Bay Sands resort and nearby 101 hectare / 250 acre Garden by the Bay. Amazing to find such a park in somewhere so densely populated as Singapore.  We had heard that the newly opened Jewel at Changi airport was worth a visit with the world’s highest, 40 meter,  indoor waterfall  aptly named ‘Rain Vortex’ as the centrepiece.  It certainly is spectacular and worth the detour even if you are just transiting Singapore.

Walkway in the Garden by the Bay, Singapore
Marina Bay Sands Hotel and me
Waterfall at Jewel Centre Changi Airport
What a wonderful six months

So what will 2020 bring?  Many have asked us what’s next. Our answer is we have no idea, except that we will visit family in Europe sometime in the year. We would like to digest this adventure first before making plans for the future. Streak and Storm are still waiting for us in storage.

Latest News: Within days of our return Anne had secured a three month project management contract and started work immediately.  Well done Anne!  I will be working, slowly, through the list of now some 80 items we wrote up over Christmas in Hua Hin so that will keep me busy. 

Welcome home flowers from Anne’s sister
Getting used to domestic chores again

What about your adventures? We want to hear from family, friends and readers of their holiday adventures undertaken this year.  Keep well, be happy and travel safely.

– Anthony

The Many Faces of Vietnam’s Scooter Riders

Our drive from Hué to Hôì An via the Hai Van Pass and the My Son temple was short but very slow: 8 hours to cover 165 kms.  We went through numerous villages and small towns along the way and the scooter riders’ face masks and outfits provided me with great entertainment.  

When we were last in Vietnam, in 2003, there were bicycles everywhere – carrying families, bicycles being pushed overloaded with mattresses, furniture or live animals.  Now, it seems most of the Vietnamese population, of which the median age is 30,  is riding scooters.  There are more cars now than back in 2003 and very few bicycles in cities, although kids and older folk in the country still ride them.  

Cyclist in Thùy Thanh

According to figures by the Ministry of Transport, there are 45 million registered motorcycles. For a country with a population of 96 million, the 15th most populous nation on the planet, that’s close to one bike for every two people and 25% more than was forecast back in 2013. Also, 95% of householders own at least one scooter and interestingly, there are as many female as male riders,  a lot more equal than in our society.

Scooters in Hanoi

No room for pedestrians in Hué, Vietnam

Cars on the left, 2 or 3 wheels on the right

I love how how relaxed the passengers are, and elegant too when riding side saddle.

Scooter riders in Da Nang, Vietnam

Elegant scooter riders in Da Nang, Vietnam

So many Vietnamese wear face masks, not just scooter riders.  Apparently, it is not only for the pollution or to protect others from their germs as they do in Japan, but to protect and keep their skin pale.  Many ladies also wear elbow length gloves, hats and goggles. Masks seem to have become a bit of a fashion statement with the young ladies – some even have ponytail helmets! While helmets are required by law, not all wear them.  Being ATGATT proponents, “All The Gear All The Time”, it doesn’t make sense to us when we sometimes see just one rider wearing a helmet and not the other passengers.  Maybe it is because they get in the way when there are more than 2 passengers.   

He’s safe but she’s stylish

Smiley face mask

Another smiley 🙂

Hi there little guy!

Ponytail helmet!

Helmets designed to allow for ponytails, Vietnam

Vietnam has the same addiction with mobile phones as everywhere else it seems as another common sight is scooters riders concentrating on texting, even through intersections…

Texting addiction in Vietnam too

And of course, one can carry just about anything on scooters.

Space for a second cylinder anyone?

Hang onto that mirror lady!

There is no limit to what one carry

How can she carry all this let alone see where she’s going?

Scooter in Hué

Baby carrier built into scooter

It would be really enjoyable to ride around Vietnam on one of those scooters one day.  In 2014, we couldn’t take Streak and Storm due to the 175cc restriction, and the laws have changed numerous times since so I am not sure of the latest regulations.  At the speed at which most traffic moves at, 175cc is plenty and motorcycle rental is dirt cheap, so who knows, maybe one day??

– Anne

Vietnam, a week in the middle

We depart from Singapore’s Changi Terminal 4 for the first time. What an impressive terminal, spacious and airy with 6 moving sculptures with computer controlled programs and their movement set to music.  The departure level has dedicated areas where one can doze on couches with the light dimmed.  Those airports that seem to think we should not be able to lie down and sleep while in transit and design seating accordingly should take note. 

Changi Terminal 4 sculptures
Adult seating Terminal 4 Changi

Our flight Vietnam Airlines was uneventful but we did notice that during the usual announcements that three times they mentioned that any passenger opening an aeroplane door would be subject to a 20,000,000 Dong fine. Something that only happens in Vietnam?

A clever feature of our arrival at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport in Ho Chi Min City is the issuing of stickers to passengers connecting to a domestic flight which allows ground staff to help direct you to the baggage drop off, which is not obvious, and then onwards to the nearby domestic terminal. While waiting to board our flight we notice that each gate has one or more “gate change” whiteboards.  Their use becomes apparent as one is used to advise us our departure gate has changed from 15 to 8.  At our arrival at gate 8 there they are writing on another board that the flight from gate 8 has moved to gate 7!

Our destination is Da Nang, where we are spending a week in the region visiting both Huế and Hội An to see the historic sights that each has to offer. It seems a little strange as we head to our hotel by taxi to be surrounded by two wheeled vehicles and not be riding on one. We had decided that we were not in motorcycle riding mode. Without our usual protective gear and in a more relaxed frame of mind, we would stick to four wheels.

The last few years have seen regular reports on the progress of developing software and hardware   for driverless vehicles.  It stuck me in both Da Nang and Hué as I watched traffic merging seamlessly on roundabouts without priority or incident and the myriad of directions that mopeds, motorcycles, cars and other vehicles come from that perhaps the software developers could learn a thing or two here.  Having said that with 14,000 deaths on the road and over half on motorcycles, there is probably quite a way to go before we see full automation on the roads.

We are surprised at the number of Christmas decorations we have seen and shops playing Christmas Carols both in Da Nang and Hué.  They are not here for us westerners, but seem to be be for local middle class and popular with children based on the number of small Santa suits we see. Not what we expected.

Locals out to see the Christmas lights and decorations in Hué
Christmas deliveries via Amazon Prime?
The three wise men at Christmas

The “Renunciation Express” a term used for trains that travel between Ho Chi Min City and Hanoi are referred to is our transport from Da Nang to Hué. While the distance is less than 100km by road the train takes some three and a half hours to make its way along the coast northwards to our destination.  What a feat of engineering: we cross gorges with water pouring down towards the beaches below, dive into tunnels as the track snakes along the lush green covered steep sided hills that seem to just rise up from the sea. The track turns so tightly I cannot see the front of the train most of the time.

En route to Hue

We also learn something new at the start of the train journey apart from the stirring music played for our departure, do not fill an esky (cooler box) with locally made rice wine and then try to load it onto the overhead rack without enough assistance because when it falls off, it does leak. Luckily not over us!  Use bottles next time.

Hué was the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 and home of the 19th-century Đại Nội Citadel, another UNESCO world heritage site and contains the Vietnamese Imperial Palace and another “forbidden city” along the lines of that in Beijing. Wonderful to wander through what was once the centre of power in Vietnam without huge crowds of tourists. While the Imperial Palace fell into disrepair after the abdication of the Emperor in August 1945 who vacated the palace, much of the interior was destroyed by fighting in 1947 and 1968.  Restoration been undertaken since UNESCO listing in 1993.

Main Đại Nội Citadel entrance, Hué
Part of the Imperial Palace Hué.
Detail of the Imperial Palace Hué
Foundations of buildings destroyed inside the Imperial Palace Hué

We also travelled into the countryside from Hué to visit the covered Thanh Toan bridge in Thuy Thanh Commune.  Made of wood with a tile roof it was built in the mid 1700’s and it is unusual in that it was funded by the wife of a local Mandarin for the benefit of the local people crossing the river. 

Wooden construction Thanh Toan Bridge
Good place for a rest, Thanh Toan Bridge

One aspect of Vietnam we enjoyed last time was the food.  We found then as now a wide variety of tasty options and that the price range between regular and  top quality is not as pronounced as in other countries. Do take advantage of the opportunity to dine well as we did.

Dinner comes with own extractor fan

To get from Huế and Hội An we book a car to take us via Lập An lagoon, with its mountain backdrop, Hai Van Pass, a spectacular road highlighted in one of the “Top Gear” episodes, Marble Mountain and then on to Mỹ Sơn an old 4th-14th century ruined Hindu temple complex. Quite a day of exploration with our car replaced by an 18 seater minibus for two of us. The tour company did offer us a 50% discount on the price, but we would have preferred the car for taking photos while driving.

Fishing boats in Lập An lagoon
Local women collecting shellfish by hand in Lập An lagoon
Looking north from the top of Hai Van pass
The two of us on Hai van pass
Perhaps we can remodel the entry to accommodate this statue, Marble Mountain.
one of over 70 temples at Mỹ Sơn
Part of Group D buildings, Mỹ Sơn temple complex
Countryside around Mỹ Sơn temple complex

Hội An once a thriving commercial and trading port has become a major tourist destination with offers of food, massage and bespoke tailoring called out as we walk around the town.  A little overwhelming for us who prefer the quiet life. A day and two nights would have been enough for us.

Lanterns on Bash Dang street, Hội An
Hoi An lanterns
Picturesque Hội An
Statue of Polish archaeologist and architect Kazimierz Kwiatkowski who worked for 16 years on the restoration and development of Hội An and Hue
Anne overlooking old wharfs in Hội An

While sitting in Anne’s favourite coffee shop, the Hội An Roastery, in Hội An she remarks that the old city of Hội An reminded her of Khiva in Uzbekistan with merchant shops below and storage or living space above.  It changes my view of Hội An, for I realise that what I have perceived a tourist hot spot full of shops selling clothing and souvenirs is probably little different from 200 years ago when Hội An was a busy port with merchants selling their wares to buyers. The only differences are that the goods now come by road rather than sea and the customers are primarily tourists, both domestic and foreign, rather than regional buyers from central Vietnam. It puts Hội An in a completely different light, and although not somewhere I would revisit, I am glad we have been here.

Japanese bridge at night, Hội An
Closing up shop using wooden slats. Hội An

Our last port of call is Hanoi for an overnight stop en route to Thailand.  Anne finds a great restaurant called Essence and we recognise places we visited when here in 2003. A little trip down memory lane.

Hanoi Opera

All in all a great week, the people, the food and the scenery.  All I can say is “ cảm ơn,” or “thank you” to all those people whose paths we crossed and made our time enjoyable.

– Anthony