Spring Break

Spring is the best season in Bournemouth, just ahead of autumn. Winter and summer are both dreadful. The former because it’s so cold, bleak and bloody miserable. The latter because the town swells with tourists, from a population of about eighty thousand up to several billion. Or so it seems.

A decent spring, April through to June, with co-operative weather, can be jolly nice. The beaches are empty, the town centre is pleasant to walk through and the traffic is just at normal levels of grid lock, not the super grid lock we get in summer.

This spring is already looking a bit busier than normal though. Every cafe and restaurant has set up shop outside, on the pavement. It’s all a little bit European. Which is a bit ironic really, given the politics of the last few years. Still, I like Euro pavement culture. We could rename the town Bôurnemouth d’Azur. And now that everyone has gotten over the initial excitement of the shops all reopening, it’s all beginning to look and feel more like it should.

I’m going to make the most of this spring. I’m going to enjoy it. Because this summer is going to be a staycation summer in the UK, and Bournemouth is going to be hell on earth*. Or Bôurnemouth d’Hades, if we’re sticking with Eurospeak.

* but it will also be the much needed shot in the arm for local businesses.


Vietnam – Timeless Charm

There are a lot of shops in Vietnam selling artwork. A lot. In Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi, you can’t walk for more than a few minutes without passing a gallery. Or ten. The artwork comes in every size and colour, but only one price – unaffordable. Of course, that last one is subjective, but it applies to me. But for those on a budget, there is an alternative – the Propoganda Poster shops. There are plenty of them about too. The posters are all of a communist bent, of course, with lots of different slogans. None of which I understood. But a lot of them are decent pieces of artwork, and we bought one, which will be duly framed and hung in the kitchen.

The slogans Vietnam is pushing today are aimed at the tourist. The key one is Vietnam – Timeless Charm. What do you think? I’m not blown away myself. They could do better, and I have a suggestion. Vietnam – Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. It rhymes and is factually accurate, which is what all good slogans should be about. Also, there are lemons in Vietnam. But I digress. Allow me to explain.
Getting There 
Vietnam Airlines are a growing force in South East Asia  with new routes being flown by sparkly new planes. Being able to fly direct from London to Saigon and then back from Hanoi to London was a big plus. Mrs P and I don’t like multi stop flights. Who does? While Vietnam Airlines are the topic, I’ll just quickly mention that the service was excellent. Much, much better than we experienced on the dreadful flight we took with Air India in 2017.

15 Day Visa Exemption
If you are from one of  thirteen lucky countries as I am (eleven from Europe plus South Korea and Japan) then there’s no need to worry about a visa so long as you sling your hook within the proscribed 15 days. Vietnam chose to introduce this in the middle of 2015, which Those days do include the day you arrive and the day you leave. Another ten more local countries get a 30 day visa exemption. And the good citizens of Chile, for some reason, get 90 days to roam Vietnam without needing a visa. For the rest of you? Most other countries can apply for an e-visa at reasonable cost.

Three Mobile
I signed up with Three shortly after returning from Mexico in 2011. It was a good decision. Not least because they have deals in loads of countries around the world that allow me to use my phone just as if I was at home in the UK. Data, texts and calls. It makes life easier when you want to look for somewhere to eat. Or to order a Grab taxi. Or just to walk from A to B using Google Maps, because you’re in a strange city and B could be freaking anywhere. And by the way, I got a decent 3G connection pretty much everywhere we went. Even out in Ha Long Bay, although there were, unsurprisingly, some blackspots out there.
This was an easy, stress free holiday. I’d set it up to be potentially complicated, with two internal flights, a bunch of tours and all my hotels booked independently through But the Vietnamese provide an enthusiastic and slick service at every turn, whether at your hotel, online, dining out or on a tour. Everything ran just as it should. And always with a smile. What more could you ask for? Vietnam – Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.


Why Vietnam?

Alas, our holiday is over and we have returned to the land of toil and turmoil. How best can I describe our two weeks in the Far East? Perhaps I should start at the beginning, with a question I was asked on day one and several times more. Sometimes by tourists, but usually by tour guides and hotel staff. Why Vietnam? It’s a fair question, I guess. There are numerous other countries we could have chosen to visit. I was often tempted to answer the question with the cliched return question – why not Vietnam? But besides being a slightly churlish and unfriendly answer, I had quickly gathered why they were asking. Tourism is still relatively new to Vietnam. Where did all these people come from? And why?

Over much of the last century, the Vietnamese have put rather a lot of time and effort into violently repelling ‘visitors’ to their country. Inviting people in and making them feel at home is something of a novel concept. Happily, the quality of visitor entering Vietnam has improved considerably over the last couple of decades, and the number of people coming over to the country has soared from a paltry two million in 2000 to a a little over seven million in 2015, to a whopping fifteen million last year. That’s pretty impressive growth, especially over the last three or four years. Vietnam is a now peaceful country, determined to reap the dividend and is busy building a thriving tourism industry. 

There’s no escaping the fact that the wars against first the French and then the US put Vietnam in the public consciousness. The movies that followed in the 1980s also showcased the lush, beautiful scenery to be found in rural Vietnam. Well, providing you can overlook the inconvenient reality that most of the big films were shot in Thailand or the Philippines. Or in the case of Full Metal Jacket, London. But recent Vietnam based shows have thrown a more positive and modern light on the region. The Real Marigold Hotel on Tour recently spent time in Hanoi. Jack Whitehall took his father there. 
And a few years ago, Top Gear filmed a special episode there. They raved about the country. And funnily enough, I walked right past Jeremy Clarkson whilst strolling the streets of Hanoi. I’m not the sort to stop people in the street and demand a photo. So we just settled for stalking him for five minutes or so, until we began to feel a bit creepy and stopped.

There’s also the power of ‘word of mouth’ and digital media. Bloggers, Instagrammers, Twitterists and YouTubers are all extolling the wonders of Vietnam and sharing what they’ve found. Mrs P and I watched most of the Vietnamese episodes of the Best Ever Food Review Show before we went, which were entertaining, informative and inspiring. Although, ironically, the only place we went to that was featured in his show, a fried chicken joint, sucked eggs. Such is life. And of course, I’m now doing my bit to showcase the wonders of Vietnam too.
In a previous post, Great Expectations, I wrote about one of the key factors in choosing to go to Vietnam now – the ‘sweet spot’. I didn’t want to be an early adopter, suffering my way through a country that just hadn’t sufficiently developed its tourist infrastructure. Nor do I particularly want to visit anywhere that has become swamped with a plague of tourists. I thought that now is the time to visit Vietnam. Was I right? I think I almost got it right. Truth be told, I suspect that the very centre of that sweet spot was two or three years ago. But we managed to go on the edge of that sweet spot, and I’m happy for that. 
I suspect, I am certain, Vietnam will grow its tourist industry considerably in the years to come, but it’s still a long way from turning into the next Thailand. Which, for the record, attracts about 40 million visitors a year. So, yes. Now is the time. And that is why Vietnam.