We met Ba Tam at a village market between Halong City and Van Don Island. We’d stopped to buy a bushel of bananas and found her by the side of the road, finishing her morning shopping. When we offered her a ride, she immediately accepted. Still nimble at 80-something, she hopped into the backseat weighed down with plastic bags full of eggs and cabbage.
One of the pleasures of working for a magazine is a flexible definition of ‘holidays’. When my friend Selena proposed a quick weekend trip to Phu Quoc, my mental wheels started turning. Diligently, I asked the boss if “any resorts need checking out”. Nick, ever the quick thinker, told me there was, as well as a guesthouse on an untouristed island archipelago not far from my destination. And that, dear reader, is how one gets roped into 12 hours of boat travel in a four day span, surrounded by the crashing 10-foot waves that guard such treasures.
When Madonna sang La Isla Bonita — meaning ‘the beautiful island’ in Spanish — she sang of a place of her dreams, a place where she longed to be. San Pedro isn’t a real island, but it didn’t matter, the yearning was there.
The first time I met Luong Van Mao, we were outside his bar on Ta Hien. Until then, I’d believed that Mao’s Red Lounge was named after the historical figure. But this man in angular glasses and a beret, shaking my hand with a wide smile, had little in common with the other Mao.
When the clock ticks over to the wrong side of midnight, the culinary options in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City begin to dwindle. But don’t worry about starving: the dark city alleys hide a plethora of choices for the hungry night owl, whether you’re craving a warm plate of banh cuon, creamy vodka penne or a banh mi stuffed with chili-egg goodness. We dug up all our favourite late-night haunts.
As soon as Cu “Owl” Nguyen and her groupie-and-drummer contingent enter the room, she heat-seeks the computer and its limitless song archive. Dismissing the guidebook, she queues up five Pink songs and three Adele songs. David Moses Haimovich of Space Panther had been singing some Kylie, and she perhaps got the wrong idea.