My tuk tuk came to a abrupt halt outside what had once been Chao Ponhea Yat High School – but came to the world’s attention as Tuol Sleng, or S-21, the notorious prison used by the Khmer Rouge.
“You sit here” the bus conductor screamed at me for the third time. His face snarling – he was even kind enough to spit on me a little. Our eyes met, and battle commenced.
Ha Giang province, 320 km north of Hanoi, conjures up images of the mystical. Towering mountain passes, endless valleys and wondrous colors depending on what time of the year you visit. The province shares a border with China, and is one of those ‘politically sensitive’ areas – making it relatively untouched by the sweep of mass tourism across the country. It has become known as Vietnam’s final frontier.
Simon and I thought it would be a marvellous idea to consume a whole chili after breakfast – followed by a swim. The results were predictably unpleasant – mainly involving staggering around the swimming pool; lurching between hysterical laughter and the very real possibility of vomiting in front of the worried looking family with small children.
I like trains. Not in geeky, pocket book, pen and camera kind of a way – you will not find me drooling over the 12.10 to Easton – it is the style of travel rather than the trains themselves. I would travel everywhere by train if it was possible.
I’m sure most will concur themselves – but the first half of by twenties felt like absolute chaos. Finishing university and attempting to join ‘real job’ club was greeted with mixed results.
Two important anniversaries seem to have converged at once. The first being that I reached a year in Vietnam. Itself an achievement as it’s the first time in over six years I have spent a year in one place. A sense of achievement mixed with a few jitters. But when I thought further back something seemed to be even more important.
The few times I have began to write about the roads in Hanoi, I have to stop myself after two pages or so of rabid rantings – usually concerning what I would like to do to Hanoi’s taxi drivers with a blow torch, a stern length of barb wire and a sledge hammer.
So before I know it, I’ve been here for six months. Sweaty, stifling October days when I arrived were replaced with months of uniform grey – which in turn have been replaced with sweaty April and now May. The temperature climbs and the rains fall.
The knock at the door wrenched my eyes open at an alarming speed. I let out a grunt in disgust and rolled over to check the time. 7.00am – completely unacceptable. The knock increased in volume, as I rolled out of bed – staggered backwards and forth putting on my trousers, and made my way to the door.