INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial
Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain
paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district.
Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of
legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's
East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures,
cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical
getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho
Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's
most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor
joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on
the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac
in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy
peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning
and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawaks Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink
of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield
goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ its
summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings
long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present
as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush
rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval
diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
Seeking the past in China's megacity
Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatias phoenix
The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
World heritage site
Land of hope
Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
Suzhou and Hangzhou
The river mild
Top of the world
Memo from the Lower Mekong
Call of the wild
Mad about Madurai
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification
Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure.
Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
Daybreak unfolds slowly over the Red River
delta. Hours before the mist has lifted, the eerie glow of
squid fishermen's lanterns drift through the haze from
the river mouth and the South China Sea beyond. The sights
and smells of the pre-dawn hours hang heavy with a mystery
and timelessness that would be hard to appreciate from the
economy class of a French-built Airbus or the cramped aisle
of a fume-belching village mini-bus.
For my fellow passengers on train NI201 bound for Hanoi, still
dozing under a blissful veil of sleep, appreciation seems
to extend only to the next passenger whose shoulder they are
borrowing as a pillow. The rush of cool air through the iron-grill
windows does little to stir their bedraggled souls. Only when
glasses of cafe den (hot black coffee) arrive and the first
breakfast cigarettes are ignited, do the bleary eyes begin
to adjust to the early-morning spectacle outside.
Fifteen years ago, Vietnam's Reunification Express,
or Thong Nhat, was little-known or largely ignored by tourists
who generally preferred to base themselves in Ho Chi Minh
City for a week or so of day trips south to the Mekong Delta.
Back then, taking a train north was for intrepid travelers,
determined anthropologists and the odd pen-for-hire from National
|An aging fleet of diesel
locomotives trundle along the country's only north-south
Braving the bone-rattling 2,010 kilometers of small gauge
railway from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi these days is still
an adventure, though you're more likely to be sharing
it with aÊgarrulous Australian businessman, a returning
American war veteran or a bleached-haired German backpacker,
than a pajama-clad peasant farmer. An aging fleet of Polish
and Czech-made diesel locomotives continue to ply the country's
only north-south trunk line, and despite the unscheduled stops,
occasional flood, typhoon and derailment due to stray buffalo,
the system actually works.
Make no mistake, the 45-hour journey will test your mettle:
the army-style rail meals, cramped seating and boozy all-night
card games of your fellow passengers, not to mention the spontaneous
cat fights between elderly female vendors which sometimes
erupt at each station, can turn even the toughest old Asia
hand into a delirious basket case. The chance to learn Vietnamese
local-style while viewing some of Southeast Asia's
most dramatic landscape, on the other hand, rate this as one
of the most spectacular train journeys in Asia.
From the fetid and steaming streets of Ho Chi Minh City, we
head north toward the coastal village of Nha Trang, a journey
that takes 15 hours and cuts a swathe through the lush paddy
lands of southern Vietnam. Crossing Khanh Hoa Province, we
rumble on through sleepy fishing communities with their pastel-colored
bungalows catching the first rays of sunlight as the incoming
tide laps quietly at their doorsteps.
Nha Trang is comfortably more low-key than Ho Chi Minh and
after the frenetic hubbub, its breezy, wide boulevards and
surf-pounded beaches entice many foreigners to make a pit
stop, straighten their bones, and soak up some sun for a few
days. Out of Nha Trang the trunk line snakes north along the
rocky coastline, crisscrossing jagged granite mountains by
way of long, pitch-black tunnels. Above my head, a makeshift
25-watt bulb dangles from a bird's nest of electrical
wire and serves as the sole source of light in the periods
of momentary darkness. On through the salt-producing villages
of Binh Dinh Province we trundle, crossing a vast patchwork
of mirror-like salt pans rimmed by troupes of spindly-legged
old men, which stretch seemingly to the horizon.
|Worshippers gather at
a temple in Cao Dai, not far from Ho Chi Minh City
At this point, breakfast suddenly appears-a plastic
bowl of pho noodles with shredded pork loaf and a ladle of
gritty broth-unceremoniously thrust before each passenger.
I pass, opting for a glass of hot coffee sold by a young girl
whose singsong voice seems to me the perfect advertisement.
With 524km under my belt since departing Nha Trang, I suddenly
catch a glimpse of the sprawling, dusty suburbs of Danang.
Its close proximity to the 13th-century port town of Hoi An
to the south and the ancient ruins of the Cham civilizations
to the west, still makes this none-too-pretty service town
a popular base camp for tourists. Pulling into the Danang
station, simply called "Ga," the quays instantly
became a tangle of hot-headed humanity as teenage boys and
round-bellied old women force their way aboard and hustle
through the disembarking throngs to sell slices of green papaya,
baguettes, hairy rambutans and steaming cups of refreshing
jasmine tea to those heading onward.
The heady mixture of aromas, yelping kids and bickering vendors
transform the carriage into a marketplace to rival any in
Asia. Understanding my bemused expression, an elderly gentleman
sitting opposite stubs out his long-extinguished cigarette,
smiles and quips, "The Thong Nhat's never boring."
|South of Danang, the
port town of Hoi An features urban canals and ramshackle
Many airlines, including JAL (tel: 03-5460-0511) and Vietnam
Airlines (tel: 03-3508-1481), operate daily flights to Ho
Chi Minh City from Tokyo. For information on tour companies
and basic travel information, visit www.vietnamtourism.com
Four trains depart Ho Chi Minh City's Saigon station
between 9am and 10:30pm every day with stops at Nha Trang,
Hue, Danang and Vinh before arriving at Hanoi. For the latest
schedules (they change regularly), call or visit the Saigon
Railways Tourist Service (Tel: 08-836-7640) in the Pham Ngu
Lao area of Ho Chi Minh City.
Seat classes include hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, sleeper,
air-con sleeper, and prices range from 370,000-796,000 dong
(¥2,830-6,090). It's best to book at least one
day in advance at one of the hotels, tour agencies or cafés
that handle train ticket sales.
Photo credit: Simon Rowe