Turning the Camera the Other Way in Vietnam.
Surfing the Internet, browsing Pinterest or Instagram feeds, or the posts of fellow travellers it is all too easy to form the wrong view of a place. A totally idealistic view, where there are no crowds or heats, insects don't bite and queues simply don't happen.
Halong Bay is a perfect example. Sailing in at dawn - and against at dusk - through the islands and past the sandstone cliffs was truly magical. The town itself was, however, total chaos, with a veritable wall of spruikers and touts offering boat tours and selling their wares.
A trip to the Thein Cung Grotto entails piracy on the high seas, with boats virtually ramming each other to get the best mooring spot. The caves themselves were incredibly crowded, even on one of the last tours of the day. I'm glad I went - but be prepared to wait, and wait, for that perfect selfie with no one in the background.
Despite being a Buddhist country, monks are everywhere in Vietnam, distinctive in their saffron robes. In the bustle of Saigon, their temples are always an oasis of peace. The waft of incense, the sound of chanting, a place for quiet contemplation; always idyllic.
Yet monks are people too; wandering around one temple I took a wrong turn, and ended up in the living area. Washing stretched along the clothesline, drying on the sun. Even the tea-towel had saffron stripes.
A board was on a verandah, used for an outdoor classroom. Look closely to see the religious studies for the day:
To eat poorly in Vietnam is not to try. the food is amazing, whether it be something cooked fresh at a street stall, or in one of the many incredible restaurants. The French influence is unmistakable, yet the food is distinctly Vietnamese.
Part of the secret lies in the incredible freshness. I woke one morning to watch the fishermen at their work. As the world sleeps, they work incredibly hard to bring this delicious food to the markets by the break of day. They were almost mobbed by stall-holders and shoppers alike as they brought their catch to land. Everything is sold, and eaten fresh that day.