Brendan Gara Photography

The how and the why

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OK, how did we go to South East Asia?  We worked hard, saved and took unpaid leave.  I’ve been self-employed for a while, so this was easier for me to do than Debbie.  Were both in our early 40’s so this wasn’t a gap year kind of deal, this was a close to mid life, “let’s make a difference” kind of thing.  Certainly not a bucket list, I’ve never thought that is healthy- you’ll change your mind, regret things too much, and it’s way too negative.

We flew Emirates to Dubai, then to Bangkok.  Dubai airport was pretty grim, surprising considering the wealth, but just plain ugly, dirty and extremely busy.  Like Heathrow, but sunnier.  Bangkok; a blast of hot air and humidity, and a taxi to our hotel tucked away by a temple next to the Chao Phraya river.   Three days there, acclimatizing (sweating) and eating everything you’re told not to.  After a while we get the hang of it, and regret we brought so much crap.   But the prawns, and the Tom Yum Soup.

We’d use cars, trains, tuk tuks, skytrains, bikes, motorbikes, scooters, buses, planes, boats, legs and an elephant to get around.

So why go?  We’d both always wanted to go there, and had not taken the opportunity about 8 years ago when coming back to the UK from a spell in New Zealand.  We’ve both worked overseas off and on for the last twenty years, but and it’s important to note; we worked.  That’s very different to being a tourist as you experience life, not a succession of waypoints, views, and random encounters.

I had like many 40-ish men an itch about Vietnam, having absorbed so much of it in popular culture.  We both wanted to know if everything we’d heard was for real.  We wanted to spend time in one place, going to the same bar, the same noodle or Pho stall and try to get to know intimately a few square meters of Hanoi or Saigon.  Use what we had learnt living overseas for long periods, rather than scratching the surface.  Photograph it, come back with a body of work that would describe what we had felt and experienced.

We’d both read what we could to get some idea about the places we thought we would visit.  Classics like “A Quiet American” and Norman Lewis’s travel epic “Dragon Apparent” (which was to define much of our trip as we went on), then a diverse range of books taking in cooking, the “American war” and modern Vietnam.

Good enough reasons to go.

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