Back in France – Lake Annecy

27-08-18

Having had a great couple of days by Lake Geneva, it was time to move on and head back into France. We took a road that followed the south shoreline for quite some time and passed through some cute little towns, including Evian Les Bains. Famous for its spring and bottled water, Evian seemed like a lovely town with a gorgeous promenade and lots of pretty shops. Unfortunately we couldn’t find motorhome parking so had to push through and promise ourselves it would be a place we return to if possible.

Taking time to stock up on supplies at a supermarket, we passed through the border without even noticing and arrived at our next campsite in Annecy in the afternoon. Annecy is a gorgeous, alpine town sat on a stunning lake renowned for its clear and pure water. It has a beautiful medieval old centre with cobbled lanes, canals and pastel houses.

We woke up the next morning with a whole day to explore the area. It was really chilly and grey looking and for the first time on our European trip, we had to get the jumpers out. We hopped on our bikes and took the insanely steep lanes down to the town center. It was a real hive of activity with an arts and crafts market on one side of town and an antiques market on the other. I loved browsing the stalls that were selling all sorts of random curiosities but much to Gary’s relief we couldn’t fit any new items in the van.

The town has a wonderful old charm with period properties and traditional buildings but has embraced modern art, with installations dotted all around. We spotted at least five on the trail including a great metal cut out of the lake and all its tributaries. The town is clearly well looked after, with gorgeous flowers everywhere and pretty green spaces.

Despite being in France, Annecy has a real Swiss vibe to it which is reflected in the menus of many of the restaurants. We found a great alpine style restaurant and orders tartiflette which is a potato dish covered in onions, lardons and local cheese and a slow cooked pork casserole served with creamy polenta. These dishes were a huge leap away from the Mediterranean food and salads we’ve been eating in Italy but with the cold weather it felt comforting to have something a bit more hearty.

After lunch we hopped back on the bikes and took the shoreline cycle lane out of town. The lake is 42km in its circumference and can be tackled in a day by bike but we weren’t quite up for that. We planned to cycle 5km to the next town, but once we got there we continued on, incentivised by the stunning scenery. We ended up doing about 28km in total and loved it. The cycle lane was flat and wide and delivered gorgeous views of the stunning mountain ranges and glassy lake. We passed families out for walks, rock climbers, farmers harvesting and little fishing boats bobbing on the water. We found a huge field of cows, all of whom were sporting the classic Swiss cowbells which created a racket. I also dared Gary to see if the fence was electric….it was.

Once we returned to town with cold hands and windswept hair we decided that we had earned a cup of tea and fancy cake. I had my eye on a particularly fancy patisserie and we stocked up and took our goodies to the park to enjoy. Gary had a ‘Mont Blanc’ which consisted of layered meringue and raspberry coulis and mousse. I plumped for a mocha torte with hazelnut edging. Both were delicious and devoured in minutes. The sun finally decided to make an appearance just as we cycled back up to the campsite. We had a warm shower and made the most of the short-lived signal that we were receiving on the satellite and watched some good old British TV before bed. Another great day exploring.

The names Balbianello, Villa Balbianello.

Any James Bond fans reading this? Remember the scene in Casino Royale where Bond is recuperating in the garden of a hospital? Vesper is there and the swiss banker arrives by boat to get the code.

That “hospital” is Villa Balbianello, overlooking lake Como and it’s an absolute stunner.

We bussed it the 15 minutes from our campsite, La Fornace to Bellagio and spent another 15 minutes deciphering the overly complicated ferry timetable. Both Garda and Como ferry services have been poorly designed and chaotic to say the least. Eventually we found the right pier and piled on a ferry to Lenno.

As luck would have it, it was market day in Lenno. I needed some new sports socks. 6 for €4, bagged. That’s how I roll.

The entrance to the Villa was all the way around the pretty harbour which was lined with small speed boats and the occasional sail boat.

If we lived somewhere like this we would defo have a little boat to pootle around the lake. Maybe go say hi to George and Amal.

Villa Balbianello stands on a steep promontory jutting out into the west side of lake Como. The villa was left by the Italian exporer, Guido Monzino, to the Italian National Trust when he died in 1988. We watched a 30 minute video about his life and exploration accomplishments that culminated in saying Balbianello was his ultimate legacy. Some legacy.

It was a 20 minute woodland walk to get up and over the hill from the ferry terminal at Lenno to the villa entrance. It had a totally private and secluded location that gave it a sense of exclusivity. We were grateful of the shade as once again the lakes had delivered a scorcher.

Entrance was €10 each for the garden or €20 for garden and guided tour of the villa. We opted to make the most of the sunshine and nail the gardens.

From the moment we entered we were blown away by the immaculate gardens and the stunning views across the lake.

The gardens are landscaped over multiple levels which added to the drama. We could see why this was used as a location for Casino Royal and Star War II: Attack of the Clones.

Exposed on three sides, the villa had beautiful terraces with sweeping views of the water. It even had its own private jetty for boat access.

There was a separate outhouse which formed a private study and library and had an incredible double balcony with ivy trained up the walls and pillars.

Everything about the property and gardens was ornately designed and immaculately presented with wonderful bursts of colour.

Being a tourist was thirsty work. We grabbed a quick drink and ice cream whilst waiting for the ferry in Lenno.

Once back in Bellagio we found a lovely little trattoria with a cool table right outside in the cobble stone street.

We finished off the day with tasty pasta dish and a few games of Uno. Emily is on a winning streak. Time to think of some different strategies me thinks 🤔.

we arrived back to the campsite to catch a pretty cool sunset sky.

Modena

The next big hitter after Florence was due to be Venice but we thought it a shame to miss out on some nearby smaller cities. Distance wise, Bologna was a perfect half way point but the lack of campsites nearby and bad reviews for Sostas put us off. It’s a real shame as I would have loved to take a tour of the Ducati factory. I ride a Triump Street Triple R back home but would jump at the chance ride a Ducati Monster or 959 Panigale. Another time hopefully.

Instead we opted to stay the night in a sosta about 4km outside of Modena with a friendly tree lined cycle path right into the heart of the city.

The car lovers out there will no doubt already know that Modena is home to many of the top Italian car makers. Ferarri, Lambourghini and Maserati the most notable. Indeed the Ferrari 360 Modena was named after the city.

We also learned that Modena has a prestigious University traditionally strong in economics, medicine and law. As luck would have it lots of students were celebrating graduating with bottles of rum taped to their hands and laurel wreaths around their head. This made for entertaining people watching.

We visited 2 Unesco world heritage sites. The Cathedral and the Piazza Grande.

Famous Modenesi include operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari and the Queen consort of England and Scotland, Mary of Modena. Despite all these highlights the biggest draw for me was that it is home home to Osteria Francescana. A year ago I watched a netflix original called Chefs Table featuring the eccentric Massimo Bottura.

I was captivated by his story, creating a restaurant from scratch, Osteria Francescana, and building it in to the world’s best restaurant. As one can imagine not without it’s trials and tribulations. “Nothing easy is worth the ride.”

https://www.theworlds50best.com/The-List-2018/1-10/Osteria-Francescana.html

I wish I could say we managed to get a table to eat there but the waiting list is 6 months.

The next day we attempted to visit Parma for an afternoon explore. We were spooked by the total lack of campers in the dodgy looking sosta and the surrounding car park full of transits selling hooky goods.

We decided to abandon our plans (genuinely the first time we’ve had to forgo a destination due to safety concerns) and head to Verona instead. The drive was not without its tribulations, with terribly poor roads full of potholes and loose tarmac that shook and rattled the motorhome. Our satnav also took us to closed roads and sent us on bizarre diversions but this did afford us views of the incredible scenery.

We drove on another two hours to Verona only to find that sosta completly full of campers. Boom or bust it would seem. Exercising patience is not my usual forte but on this occaision it was necessary. We waited about an hour for somone to leave and gracefully ‘jumped in their grave’.

Picture Perfect Portofino

19-07-18

Having been spoilt by the beautiful scenery and gorgeous towns on the St Tropez gulf, the Italian Riviera had a lot to live up to and we weren’t sure what to expect. We haven’t done much boat travel during the European leg of the trip so decided to visit the nearby attractions by ferry, buying a hop-on hop-off pass.

We cycled to the port in Rapallo for the first departure at 10am and already we could feel the burn from the sun.

The busy road into town was narrow and full of stop-start traffic which made progress difficult. In comparison to France, drivers are less accommodating of cyclists here and overtake in the tightest of places which is unnerving. Almost all the parked cars have major dents and scratches on them which tells you everything.

We took the ferry to San Fruttuoso, the furthest point away on our itinerary and massively enjoyed the journey. We passed quaint lighthouses and majestic villas perched precariously upon craggy hilltops.

San Fruttuoso is tucked away from sight in a tiny inlet and is blissfully isolated. It’s only accessible by foot or boat and is a tiny gem hidden along the coast.

San Fruttuoso is no more than a small pebbly beach, a Benedictine abbey and a couple of restaurants but it is picture perfect.

We wandered along the coastal path to get lovely views of the hamlet and beach below and Gary dived into the inviting aqua sea for a refreshing dip.

Our next stop was Portofino, a famous destination for jet setters in super yachts. As we approached the harbour the views of colourful buildings and pure blue sky were simply stunning.

The fancy boutiques and romantic bistros lining the harbour front gleaned in the sun and oozed effortless chic. We strolled around the town which was buzzing with activity and had a beautiful lunch overlooking the beach.

Portofino is undeniably exquisitely handsome and classy but is extremely compact and in comparison to Saint Tropez has slightly less character in my opinion.

We were surprised by the huge amount of trompe l’oeil painted on all the buildings that gave the town an almost too perfect facade. It was really interesting to visit a place of such fame though and see it for ourselves.

We hopped back on the ferry in the late afternoon, headed for our final seaside spot of the day. Santa Margherita is wonderfully charming with a lovely promenade, pastel coloured buildings and manicured gardens and fountains. We were so hot and tired from the last leg of the journey that we headed straight to the beach and into the sea. It’s so nice to see so many people enjoying the weather and the beach was crammed with families having a ball. We fell asleep on the pebble shoreline within seconds of coming out of the sea and laying down to dry off. It was either the sun or the bottle of wine we shared over lunch but thankfully we woke up with enough time to scramble our stuff together and catch the last ferry back to Rapallo. Relieved to find our bikes still where we left them we cycled back to the campsite weary but happy travellers.

Sainte Maxime, the Patron Saint of Thunder?

We woke to an ominous sky for our last day in the St Tropez area. We decided to enjoy a lazy morning and watch Love Island. Yes we are both obsessed. We finally managed to finish the 1st series. No, we can’t even remember who won but it’s fascinating entertainment.

By the afternoon things didn’t look much better with the sky but we were getting cabin fever so we decided to brave it, pack our cagoules and cycle the 3km to Sainte Maxime. It sits across the gulf from Saint Tropez and I would hazzard a guess that a large proportion of the worlds fanciest and most expensive yachts have anchored off its shores.
Sainte Maxime seemed to be a more family orientated town and recent developments include a new cultural centre built with a cinema and activities for both children and adults. The new road from Le Muy to Sainte Maxime has made the whole area more accessible and it is increasingly attractive as a holiday destination. The largest source of revenue for Sainte Maxime is the summer tourist industry but the city is very much alive all year round with approximately 14,000 local residents. Property is being built along the coastline and restaurants and bars with music are springing up everywhere. However, the town retains its local traditions and there are several festivals throughout the year in celebration of its history.

Unfortunatley for us about 5 minutes after we arrived the heavens opened, the sky lit up and thunder rumbled so loud it shook the shop windows. We ran into a post office to send some postcards to our parents (let us know when you get them please) and then waited under a facade for the storm to fizzle out.

After about 20 mins the rain had subsided enough for us to at least wander around and find somewhere to have a warm drink. We settled upon Maison Du Chocolat as I really felt like a hot chocolate and Emily needed a cake. Yes needed.

Feeling refreshed and realising the rain was not going to stop we dragged ourselves out of the Chocolate shop and wandered the town in our very stylish get up – we really embodied the South of France chic.

Who would have thought that we would find an Artisan Boulangerie with yet more iresistable sweet stuff that we needed. We reasoned (fooled ourselves) that we must try the local speciality of tarte tropezienne.

Oh my they were good. Like little fluffy clouds made of cream. I wish I didn’t have such a sweet tooth. With our bellies full of sugar we peddled extra fast along the empty cycle path back to Harvey for some more Love Island. Losers…

Aix-en-Provence

For those who don’t already know, take a guess as to how to pronounce “Aix”. I would love to hear my Mum’s guess. Maybe some of you thought as I did it was a three sylable “aey-eye-ex”. As it turns out the correct way is much simpler and cooler, you simply have to say “X-en-Provence”.

Using our Camperstop App we found a random overnighter about 2km out of “X”.

The entrance looked promising.

However that was next door. This was our place.

Upon arrival at the correct place I was greeted by a very friendly Frenchman in the skimpiest of skimps. Emily actually guffawed at how ludicrous they were. Monsieur Smuggler showed me our pitch and gave me some useful information about the site and where to get the bus into X. Although super basic the pitch was side on to the most beautiful example of a wild flower border. Eat your heart out June and Mon x.

We sorted Harvey out with his awning, floor matt and chairs and headed for the bus into X. The bus was about a 5 minute walk down a steep hill to Pont L’arc. Mr Smuggler told us to take bus number 10 but as it happens bus 51 turned up first and an old man told us in French to jump on for centre ville. If this was a year ago we would have ignored him and waited for bus 10. Now we kinda just go with the flow and trust random strangers and know it will work out. Indeed, number 51 took us the 2km uphill to the bus station right in the middle of this pocket of left-bank Parisian chic.

X is all class: its leafy boulevards and public squares are lined with 17th- and 18th-century mansions, punctuated by gurgling moss-covered fountains. Haughty stone lions guard its grandest avenue, cafe-laced cours Mirabeau, where fashionable Aixois pose on polished pavement terraces, sipping espresso.

We spent an hour wandering the streets for the perfect place to have some lunch and people watch.

Who can resist a little bit of lemon drizzle cake or a coffee macaron?

We walked off all those calories through narrow polished stone streets from cool squares to the amazing cathedral.

We also needed to catch up on some blog writing as we have been traveling so much it has been hard to keep up. It wasn’t hard to find a suitable place to have a beer and knuckle down.

We even managed to find our French names up in writing.

And for Emily. Strictly speaking it should have been Le Porcelet.

After hard day being a tourist we were tempted by the onsite pool.

But decided it looked more like a swingers hangout so opted to binge watch “Love Island” on the free WiFi.

Exploring Castles and Vineyards in France

09-06-18

Having survived our first few nights camping out in Les Andelys, we started to make our way south. We have a deadline to be in Barcelona by the 13th which means we are travelling at a click but we’ll have a lot more time to leisurely explore after that.

On Monday we headed down to the Loire valley. Keen to see as many chateaus and vineyards as possible we chose Amboise as our base for a couple of nights. We said to ourselves that we’d leave at 9am but we haven’t quite got our packing up routine down pat yet and we kept remembering things we needed to do before we left like empty our waste water, take in new water, put the awning away and tidy up anything likely to fly around in transit. Even the little jobs like turning off the gas and closing all windows get forgotten but practice makes perfect. Another thing we are getting used to is a much slower pace of travel in Harvey. We can go at 80mph but it’s hugely inefficient so we tend to pootle along at 60mph, dramatically slowing down for the numerous roundabouts to avoid tipping or careering into incoming traffic. Needless to say that when Google maps tells us it will take 3 hours to travel the 187 mile journey, it’s much more like 4.5.

Home to Leonardo di Vinci in his final days, Amboise is a wonderfully quaint town on the Loire river, with royal castles and cobbled lanes. It’s genuinely like something from a fairy tale. It’s been preserved so well and has such grandeur and finesse.

The next day we explored Chenonceau Chateau which was breathtaking. This castle is built on a majestic bridge and comes complete with rapunzel style turrets and picture perfect gardens. We had a lovely time strolling through the grounds and seeing the chateau from all angles.

The grounds were equally gorgeous, with tree-lined avenues, mazes and vegetable gardens.

In the afternoon we came home via a local vineyard where we had a tour and tasting with one of the owners. Plou et Fil produce 900,000 bottles a year which is incredible given how small a vineyard they are. The owner was so friendly and personable and generously invited us to taste over 10 wines for free, all of which were beautiful. We planned to buy a couple and ended up with 7 bottles because they tasted so good and were so reasonably priced at 6 euros a pop.

We’d have loved more time to explore the Loire valley and have been inspired to buy bicycles and come back for further adventures. We left and headed south again for a mammoth journey to Saint Emilion, just outside of Bordeaux. We left in ridiculously heavy rain and steel grey clouds and it remained this way for the rest of the day. We arrived absolutely pooped and considerably lighter in the pocket, having been stung 50euros for toll roads. Unfortunately avoiding toll roads would add huge mileage and time onto travel days so it’s something we need to suck up in France. We had a BBQ in our new digs and went to bed after watching Love Island (I know it’s the worst but it’s addictive).

The next day dawned much brighter and we got a shuttle bus into the beautiful town of Saint Emilion. This place is so charming and authentic, despite the huge swathes of tourists that visit daily. The lookout points from the church bell tower offered wonderful views over the chocolate box town. All the buildings are built from the limestone quarried locally and they look so traditional and quaint. We wandered down steep cobbled streets and browsed in boutique shops. It wasn’t long before we sniffed out a wonderful little vineyard producing some tasty fizz, produced in the same style as champagne. We ordered a bottle and a cute picnic hamper that they made up for us and we devoured it in their garden in the warm sunshine.

We walked back to our campsite in blistering afternoon sunshine. Vineyards unfolded before us, as far as the eye could see.

We gave ourselves a day of rest to catch up on admin and washing before heading further south again towards Toulouse. The campsite had a lovely pool and lake area so it was nice to enjoy that and relax. We even made friends with the locals.

The 200mile drive to Carcassonne just east of Toulouse was straight forward and we managed to leave by 9am. We seem to be getting the hang of travel days now, and whilst we are currently doing about 70 miles more than we’d like per day, we have plenty of podcasts to keep us going. Carcassonne is a hilltop town, famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications.

We thought that the chateaus in the Loire were impressive but this is epic. The sheer scale of this formidable building is unlike anything we’ve seen. There was a temporary modern art installation on the fortress which is part of a new initiative to create a dialogue between contemporary art and heritage sites. When stood in the right spot, the seemingly independent fractions of shapes come together to from a circular perspective. The bright yellow was alarming at first but once we knew it was temporary, we thought it was really interesting.

We spent the afternoon wandering through the impossibly picturesque streets in the old city and sampling continental beers before tucking into our first dinner out of the trip. We’ve been really happy with cooking our own food in the motorhome (which is handy considering how expensive food and drink is in France), but it is nice to have the odd treat. I was super keen to try the local dish of cassoulet which included confit duck leg and Toulouse sausage which was delicious. The diet starts tomorrow!

Two days in Glorious Ninh Binh

20-04-18

We’ve been using Hanoi as a base for day trips and having returned from Ha Long, we crashed one more night before setting off to Ninh Binh. Located 100km south of Hanoi, the Ninh Binh province is a rural idyll filled with limestone scenery and often referred to as Ha Long Bay on land.

We caught the train from Hanoi and trundled through the city before breaking out into the countryside with wonderfully green fields all around. The train was super easy to catch, comfortable enough and very cheap. The journey took about 2 hours and we hopped in a taxi to take us to our guesthouse for the next couple of nights. With plenty to see, we hired a scooter for the afternoon and hit the road immediately.

It only took 5 minutes to get out of town before we were immersed in farmland and countryside. Dirt tracks intersected the main road, enticing us to off-road and explore.

There were rice paddy fields as far as the eye can see and huge limestone cliffs and mountains in every direction.

We had so much fun wandering down quiet lanes, getting lost and stopping to take photos.

We reached Mua Cave on a very sleepy road between rice paddies that were inundated with baby chicks. They were so cute.

We heard that the cave itself was not particularly impressive but the panoramic views from the peak above were well worth the strenuous 500 step climb up.

With thick fog descending we weren’t sure we’d be able to see much but we persevered and reached the summit wheezing and out of breath. The dizzying views were absolutely wonderful.

From every direction we could see nothing but countryside. Lush and verdant green fields grazed by water buffalo and cows. The nearby Tam Coc River winded it’s way around huge limestone mountains shrouded in mist and fog. It’s a shame that the weather was so grey and dull but it did seem atmospheric. We climbed back down amongst the calls of mountain goats and continued our exploration by bike.

We had a quick look through the uninspiring tourist town of Tam Coc before finding a lovely place for dinner. Chookies had a great outdoor area and lovely vibe. We ate and people watched and I lost about 30 games of uno in a row.

The next day dawned much clearer so we got up and out bright and early to make the most of the gorgeous blue sky. We drove to the UNESCO world heritage site of Trang An grottoes.

We boarded a small row boat with a local lady who took us on an incredible tour along the Sao Khe river for the next three hours. She expertly rowed the boat and took us through three massive caves.

The limestone caves were incredibly long, plunging us into darkness for up to ten minutes at a time as we traversed stalactites. They had incredibly low ceilings that were so claustrophobic at times that we had to bend over completely to avoid scraping our heads. We’d emerge from the darkness into the scorching daylight and continue along until we reached a temple, another cave or other spot of interest.

Interestingly, the Hollywood blockbuster Kong Skull Island was filmed here just a couple of years ago and one of the islands still had some of the props and paraphernalia which really set the scene.

It was so lovely to sit back and enjoy the incredible scenery pass us by as the sun beat down and breathed life into the green fields, beautiful flowers and impressive mountains around us. We had a new found respect for our oars woman after Gary switched with her and had a stint at rowing us around.

She made it look effortless but it takes some serious stamina, especially when rowing into a head wind.

Following the boat ride we hit the road again for our afternoon stop at Chua Bai Dinh.

Completed in 2014, this Buddhist complex is absolutely huge and required a ride in a golf cart to get to main entrance. The cloistered walkways pass 500 stone Buddhist statues before reaching a triple roofed pagoda housing a huge 100 tonne bronze Buddha.

Regardless of religious preference, it’s impossible to not be impressed by the sheer size and grandeur of the building and it’s decoration. Everything was bathed in golden light and it looked majestic. Vietnamese came to pray and pay their respects with offerings including money, Coca Cola and cream puffs – the obvious holy choice. We then got the lift to the top of the nearby 13 storey pagoda which delivered wonderful views across the area.

We’ve absolutely loved our scooter days where we hit the road and discover amazing new things. This type of travelling is when we have felt most independent, stopping when we want, eating when we are hungry and coming back when exhausted. We returned to our guesthouse sun worn and dirty from the road dust but with huge smiles on our faces. Thank you Ninh Binh.

The Chaos of Ho Chi Minh City

30-03-18

Following the episode with the stolen phone, we were pretty much ready to leave Cambodia and start afresh in Vietnam. Whilst we haven’t allowed this one incident to impair our judgement of the whole city, it certainly left a bad taste and made it hard for us to really enjoy the remainder of our time in phnom Penh.

I visited Ho Chi Minh city ten years ago so I’m keen to see how it’s changed. Rather than tackle the land border crossing, we took a quick night flight and grabbed a taxi to our apartment. Slight concern set in as we pulled into a quiet dark alley in the pitch black and stopped outside a boarded up apartment front. It was 11pm by this time, with no one outside, a locked up metal gate and a taxi driver eager to be paid and get away.

Visions of having to traipse the streets of Saigon to find alternative digs crossed my mind but thankfully a quick call to the owner was made and we weren’t stranded for too long.

We spent the first day in Ho Chi Minh city sorting out a new phone for Gary. Whilst he was setting it up, I slipped off for a cheeky foot massage which was incredible. I’m always slightly confused about correct massage etiquette and it tends to change from place to place. I was especially unsure when shown round the back of this place into a very dark room and given a pair of Pyjama shorts to change into. I thought they were just touching my feet. Turns out that it’s customary in Vietnam to give a head massage and full leg rubdown before they get to the feet. I think I feel asleep half way through it was so good.

Over the course of the next couple of days we explored the city on foot which gave us a real taster of Ho Chi Minh. We really enjoyed wandering through the parks and green spaces of which there are a few. It was great to see the locals making use of the free exercise equipment. We loved the bustling streets and looking at the wonderful architecture that has such a French influence, including the post office which was designed by Gustav Eiffel and the Notre Dame cathedral. There were wonderful colonial buildings with beautiful windows and shutters. Some of these grand old buildings show their age with peeling paint and crumbling corners but others have been restored to their former beauty and elegance.

I’m sure it’s just a hangover from Phnom Penh, but we were much more cautious with getting phones and cameras out on busy roads, but generally the city felt pretty safe.

The traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is absolutely insane with a never ending stream of motorbikes, taxis and buses trawling the roads. There are seemingly no road safety rules here, as bikes mount the curb to take short cuts and fearlessly weave through oncoming traffic.

The stunts pulled here would instigate the most heinous of road rage wars back home, yet the folk are so tolerant. There is no shouting or beeping when being cut up. Everyone drives relatively slowly and accommodates the craziest of obstacles despite being crammed in. We’ve seen families of four crammed onto one bike and people hauling all manner of curious and bulky items through town. Crossing the road is a horrifying experience I remember from my last trip. You have to accept that there will never be a suitable gap in the traffic. Therefore the trick is to creep and peep, taking small steps at a hideously slow pace in the face of hundreds of bikes coming at you. Hold your nerve until you reach the other side and then high five that you made it. Miraculously this tactic works.

It’s become customary to hit up the local market whenever we get to a new place and Ben Thanh was first on our visit list in Ho Chi Minh city. This is a one stop shop for everything from knock off bags and watches, to fabrics and teas, right through to fruit and live produce including jumping frogs, clucking hens and flapping fish. A real assault on the senses. The prices are over inflated for tourists to bargain down but it’s an exhausting exercise trying to buy anything. We did get some delicious rambutan fruit.

We made our way to the War Remnants museum on our second day which was a very sobering experience. Told from the perspective of the Vietnamese, the museum reports the American actions and assaults during the conflict in the 60’s and 70’s. Unbelievably the war in its entirety lasted 17 years, during which time the US dropped three times more bombs than during World War Two. They also financed an unbelievable amount of weaponry for the French in their grapple to maintain colonial power prior to the war.

The photos taken by journalists at the time of conflict were very interesting and powerful. Without filter they show the brutality of violence against civilians.

There were rooms reporting the widespread use of agent orange, with harrowing photos documenting the devastating affect it had both at the time and generations on. 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to agent orange and the mutations and birth defects shown were horrendous. This uncensored view of war and its long-lasting aftermath is shocking.

To see how long it takes a country to recover from the savages of war, long after the headlines and news footage has faded is shocking. You can’t help but walk away with a sense of the utter waste and pointlessness of war that is driven by greed, money and power.

We walked out in need of a stiff drink and found our way to the roof terrace of the Rex hotel which boasted wonderful views across town as the sun set.