Sunday, November 29, 2009

Destination Saigon: Adventures in Vietnam - Cover at last

The cover has been finalised for a while, but it has received some minor tweaking here and there.
I found out today that it may even end up with some gold on it, which sent me over the moon. I've always been a glittery gold kinda guy.
I think the jacket just looks fabulous - the designers have done a terrific job, and it's really going to stand out in the bookstores.
So don't forget:

Destination Saigon: Adventures in Vietnam
by Walter Mason
March 2010 release
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781741759495

Friday, November 27, 2009

Temple in Binh Dinh

Several chapters in my upcoming book are set in Binh Dinh, a beautiful but little-visited province in central Vietnam.
Specifically, I travel to the remote seaside temple of my old friend Thay Quang.
This is such a beautiful place that I thought I'd post some pics of it here.

Destination Saigon: Adventures in Vietnam is out in March 2010, published by Allen & Unwin.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ho Chi Minh City

I love big cities.
Most people despise places like Bangkok or Taipei, but I adore them. The more unwieldy and congested the better, in my estimation. I think this is a reaction to growing up in the bush. I spent most of my life dreaming of the city, and when I travel that's mostly what I'm interested in.
Now, most foreign visitors to Vietnam come away adoring quaint little places like Ho An or Phu Quoc or Hue. All nice places. Or they rhapsodies about the faded post-colonial charm of Hanoi. Agreed, great city. But for me, the truly wonderful part of Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City - that vast, heaving, polluted metropolis, a Gotham gone mad.
Yes, I know that it's filthy, hot and dangerous. I know that it's almost impossible to get around in - and increasingly so. But it's so charming!
For starters, the people are beautiful. Boisterous and outgoing, Saigonese love going out and being out, and their frank curiosity and love of the new make them irresistable.
And they are crazy about religion. Ho Chi Minh City is jam packed with temples, churches and shrines. This alone is enough to render it endlessly fascinating for me. Every single suburb can boast of dozens of hidden-away and quite beautiful houses-of-worship, and after 15 years of exploring I'm still nowhere near having discovered them all.
The crazy architecture and the tall, cool cement block houses are constantly diverting, and you never know what will be created when a construction begins.
Every third home is a restaurant or cafe, and dining-out options are endless.
Anyone who fancies him or herself a good cook can simply chuck a couple of plastic chairs out onto the footpath and voila, a restaurant is born. These places are frequently delicious.
Food, religion, noise and beauty - all these things combine to make Ho Chi Minh City the perfect metropolis in my eyes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vietnam Traffic

One of the things that is most legendary about Ho Chi Minh City is its abominable, dangerous traffic.
Vietnam is not really a place designed for the pedestrian, and any thoughts of leisurely strolls through quaint city streets should be jettisoned as early as possible. Any avid walker soon learns that strolling the streets of any city of size in Vietnam is an act of insanity.
Road rules do exist, but in Saigon they are, for the most part, ignored. You need to look left, then right, then left again before you cross a street. And then you need to close your eyes and step out into the chaos, calling on the protection of your chosen supernatural being.
In side streets and alleys the going gets even tougher, because there are no footpaths, and the flaneur is forced to simply try for a place on the street, along with all the motorised traffic.
Should there be the remnants of a footpath, it is mostly used as motorcycle parking or extended display space for shops and restaurants.
Any spare space is taken up by small, illegal carts selling sugar cane juice, cigarettes or bread rolls.
In Ho Chi Minh City these days one sees more and more cars, but I really wonder if they will ever take off. It is already difficult enough getting around on the infinitely more maneuverable motorcycle.