A Quick Coffee Stop in Laos


The Mekong River at sunrise. Thailand to the left, Laos to the right.

I’m sat with a delicious Saturday morning coffee, in Naked Espresso, a funky cafe in the thick of the Vientiane backpacker area, having completed my daily ritual here of a brisk walk down the Mekong River nearby, which has presented me with picture perfect views this week of Thailand, just metres away over the water.

Since my last post about holidaying in Australia with Issy, I’ve traveled for work to Colombo, Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul. Squeezing in a weekend of football in Manila along the way. I’m trying my best to be a good citizen of the world, but for sure I am going to carbon hell.

Vientiane represents my penultimate trip of 2015 and, fittingly, last night I kicked off the evening with some Kiwi friends, in a German owned bar, managed by a kind man called Kami from Tokyo, where we tucked into some Laotian pork rolls, washed down with a few drams of glorious Japanese whisky.

To top off that eclectic moment-in-time, Kami and his staff put on an impressive ice sculpting show, fashioning square blocks into mini snowballs with just a small screwdriver which, when twirled inside our glasses, provided the optimal whisky cooling spectacle.

I’m not sure I can now drink it any other way.


Starting the weekend in style

Vientiane is a quiet little city, and it has been interesting being here again, after my last short visit back in 2008.

Earlier in the week, I attended a conference five hours flight away, over in Seoul, a city fizzing with technology and orderliness, and brimming with expectation. Vientiane is a sleepy distant cousin in comparison. Perhaps not even a direct relative, the charm of this city is quite the opposite of what you feel when kicking about a place like Seoul.

However, for all the impressionable places I have visited this year, whatever their particular traits, it is always the people you meet along the way who bind the memories together and guarantee you some sense of “normal”, at times of reflecting on how hectic it has all been.

People living and working and loving and arguing and shaping their lives the world over, is never boring to watch, and seldom uneventful when you yourself step into someone else’s world – even just for a few minutes.


Beer stop in Seoul.

Yesterday, after attending a CARE event out of town, I spent ten minutes, with three people stopping to offer help, attempting to pass on my hotel address to a tuk-tuk driver.

For each new person who came to my aid in this road-side challenge, I had a heightened expectation we would crack the puzzle (that being mainly a puzzle of language).

A teenager first, then an older man, and finally a middle aged business-woman, who pulled over in her 4 x 4. Surely, my all knowing inner voice chimed, she will know the Laotian for “Ibis hotel”. Alas, she didn’t.

At which point, I begun to work out the correct face-saving manner in which I would have to address the tuk-tuk driver, to alert him to the reality that this particular deal would not be struck today.

Instead, he beat me to it, breaking into a warm smile and gesturing that I hop in the back anyway and, with a confident nod in the direction of approximately where I assumed we’d find a bunch of hotels, I shrugged in response, laughed and attempted an expression that invoked that time old (male) habit of taking the nonchalant “f**k it, let’s just go” approach, when presented with a situation such as this one.

Of course, for twenty minutes after, bumping along the road in the back of the tuk, I cursed myself, as I had no idea where we were heading or where my hotel was located.

However, it all worked itself out (Vientiane really is that small that even I can’t get lost here) and in one of those serendipitous moments we all have from time to time, the old man didn’t even fleece me on the final fare, and very warmly offered his hand and the perfect smile to close out my week.

We know that reassuring, brief interactions like this all have their corollaries: the angry taxi driver; the over priced fare; the exhausting grid-locked rides.

Both experiences are mutually reinforcing and I often think that, without these odd sparks of familiar connection that come from choosing to step into someone else’s world – to jump in the back of the tuk-tuk, and just see what happens – without these, we risk losing something very precious.


In other news: many congratulations to Dad for scoring a double six on his birthday yesterday. The Beatles happen to right now be playing the Sergeant Pepper album here in the cafe, in a strangely well timed hat-tip to one of Dad’s favourite pieces of music of all time. Rock on!

Better still, I also managed to arrange for this guy yesterday to offer up a birthday salute:


1949: a vintage year.  Happy Birthday salute, Pops!

With the Christmas holidays approaching, Flo and Martha have been practicing looking demure and being well behaved, to ensure Santa delivers:


High Tea at the Hyatt, with Leni, Gaynor and Issy

And, for posterity, and because I missed Halloween this year due to being in Sri Lanka, these were the choice outfits for 2015 (I was assured they tried to look scarier for the actual trick or treating expedition later that night) – I think you’ll agree, the girls have gone for the ‘weekend-vampire-casual’ look:


Scary costumes. Comfy shoes.

So, time now to head off in search of more tuk-tuk ‘moments’.

Happy weekend, and more news from Saigon soon, before the sun sets on 2015…


My fav sundowner spot in Colombo. Perfecto.

A Brief Spell Down Under

Monday. And, so far today, I’ve flown to Singapore and just put in six hours working out of a business lounge and still have another eight to go before I get to kip (am Colombo bound this evening for the week…)

Mustn’t grumble however as, since my last post about our summer holidaying in Europe, Issy and I have also just indulged in a trip over to Melbourne earlier this month for weddings, family birthday partying and some brief flirting with a delicious vineyard and the salty ocean road inhalations on offer down in Sorrento.

As is the form when I get back over to the UK, trips like these are extremely special and also meticulously executed, in order to maximise each and every hour with all the important things in life.  In the case of this particular trip, the important things consisted of: new babies; zany nieces; legendary siblings; old school friends; and then an inevitable immersion in all of the particular shopping experiences and drinking haunts yet to reach the humid back-streets of Saigon.

We fitted it all in, and lapped it up (although, truth be told, for me to be accepted into the funky suburb of Fitzoy I’ll need to grow an exceptionally impressive beard – and this may take me a while.)

Video compilations with be forthcoming however, in the meantime, heartfelt thanks to Mark for the most spectacular day at Yabby Lake, to Phoebe for all the snippets of special laughs and larks, to Pobby for the Aga coffee and the egg and bacon pie on arrival (plus about two dozen other mouth-watering dishes enjoyed throughout the week) and to Mike for a lesson in cryptic cross-wording that I will never forget (I hope the Tuesday Latin tutorials continue to go well).

To all the other family and friends entourage, thank you for making me feel at home and for making me smile, constantly.

And to Alice and Richard Cook-Watkins. For seating me opposite the bride (I have been dining out on that since) and for laying on a seamless day of memories for us all.

So, as Mike would recommend – to anyone curious enough to ask – it is with whisky that one should finish one’s day and so, in spite of the fact that I am long off being asleep, I may just – on this one occasion – take him up on that and bid you farewell, for now…

Until next time.


Melbourne skyline. Obvs.


Emily, Archie and Ben. Stripey boys.


Fitzroy chic. Also obvs.


OK, I’ll admit it, the coffee ain’t too bad here…


These lot know how to do ice creams.


Replica clock-tower from Ben Thanh Market, Saigon. Love it!


End of day beer at Naked for Satan. Yeeees.


Brunswick Street bakery. Spectacular.


‘Knock off’ gin and tonic time in the garden.


Pobby’s kitchen. Aga toast – ooooooooooooooooh!


Yabby Lake vineyard.


The calm espressos before the twelve bottle tasting storm. Happy days.


The BEST lunch.


Diamond Bay. Hmmm.


Issy likes green. I like blue.


Everyone likes a good sunset.


Pin the tail. Hazy’s 3rd birthday.


Squirt the person who is pinning the tail.


It’s OK, it’s only Sam!

Summer times

In contemplating my work trip back to London this evening, I’ve realised that I’ve been remiss at updating this site since our summer trip back to UK (and Italian) shores…

As seems to be so often the norm, several weeks since being back home in Saigon and the vibrant memories of safari-ing at Longleat Park, crabbing in Lymington and camping in San Vincenzo can get easily eclipsed in the all too pressing realities of school runs, work trips and planning the next holiday!

I have managed, however, to keep up with my new video making enterprise, and in doing so have tried to capture some of that vacation vibrancy in these two clips:

Continue reading

Time to replace the Yorkshire Gold


Summer holidays Rule OK – Flo and Martha, 6th July

Saigon was blustery and cold today. That’s news in itself, given earlier this year the city broke it’s own temperature record by plummeting to depths of 23 C degrees (74 F).

However, enough about the weather. It’s July. The Ashes are on. Murray is still in Wimbledon. And it’s summer holiday time. Rejoice we all must.

My efforts in that department for the next two weeks will be not to fly anywhere and to catch up on all those things I’ve put off doing since they first found themselves populating a New Year’s Resolutions list, six months back. Continue reading

An Irishman walks into a pub (in Bangalore)


The Groom. Speechless, at last.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the month in which I will celebrate my 40th birthday. I’ve not yet decided upon a suitable present to myself. Currently, it’s a close call between a new motorbike (black, with big handles, obviously) or a new sound system. A drum-kit seemed too much of a cry for help.

In reality, I’ll probably settle for a new suit-case, as my two have both recently submitted to the perils of non-stop travel these past four years of hurtling around the region. Continue reading

Out and About in Saigon (with new GoPro)

Turns out any luddite can make a GoPro video of their weekend at home.

I promise more text in the next post…

My brief English Odyssey


A glorious London skyline from the CARE office in Vauxhall

I am back in Saigon, having missed most of the Tet celebrations this month. Instead, London was calling, and I returned there for two weeks…

Tet, by all accounts, went off smoothly without me.

The weather was perfect and, in Daddy’s absence, Florence and Martha at least dressed up ‘proper’ for the occasion…

flo and martha

Florence and Martha, ready for Tet!

I still can’t quite believe that, this time last week, I was sharing a pint in a Nunhead beer shop with a certain Mr Barmby – kept warm later that evening from the (frankly) glacial temperatures, thanks to our wise move to follow up the pie and gravy supper with a boat load of apple crumble and custard.

In the UK, we may entertain far too many grey and cold days each year than is good for anyone, however, we are also world class experts in tactics to at least keep the soul and the belly in fine fettle, whatever the conditions.

In every house at which I stayed throughout this last trip, without exception, the living room fires were roaring, and the alcohol and indulgent food made for a daily, and delicious, concoction.

Fish and chips, curry, roast beef, lasagne, bangers and mash. I could go on.


Late night whiskey sampling at The Wickhams

It tends to be unsatisfactory, trying to make sense of flying halfway round the world, immersing yourself in surroundings so familiar you feel an integral part of what is going on, only to then jettison back into surroundings utterly removed from where you have been, yet at the same time also totally familiar.

On this trip, whether I was with family, with friends, on the London Underground, or pounding pavements that I used to run down to catch my evening bus home, I could very easily have forgotten all about Vietnam in an instant.

London, in particular for me after 14 years living there, will always hold a special place in my heart. I know it intricately, yet it is also not quite how I left it, and I saw myself bounding about last week as if observing a former me from the past. Steering a pushchair through a park, tapping out a text message as I headed out of the office, leafing through a Metro newspaper, waiting for something to jump off the pages at me.


London hustle

On the one hand, my visit was intense on the work front (although hugely rewarding) but then surprisingly calming on the social front. Non-stop “catching up” with various folks, everyday, was, for a change, a much more languid and reflective and nourishing affair.

And I thank each and every one responsible for that – it was needed!

There were family trips to watch England vs Italy at Twickenham, visits to new babies, meeting new partners, rubbing shoulders with new and old work colleagues. There was nostalgia, contemplation, and a barrel of laughs (more pics below for posterity).

Meantime, over in Laos, heady with exploits of coming face-to-face with abandoned wild bears, and riding on the backs of elephants, my children threw themselves into yet more adventures and experiences that will shape them forever.

That, and I was also sent a photo of Martha yesterday learning how to fire a crossbow. I can only imagine how excited she will be tomorrow when she tells me all about that.

martha with crossbow

Martha firing a crossbow in Luang Prabang. It may not be wise in the future for this picture to be on a public website.

With Tet decorations now down, and schools back tomorrow, the end of February will close out what has been a very special few months. On all fronts.

In missing people along the way, I only feel more deeply touched by what is to come, and how lucky I am.

For this, and on many other levels (including the important role that pictures play in my life) my anthem of choice flying back here at the weekend was a real blast from the past – and therefore it does come with a warning to anyone who, like me, fast approaching 40, may not need reminding that this track first came out twenty six years ago.

Enjoy – all you 90’s disciples!

And some more pics, just for the helluvit…..


Surely one of the best bacon sandwiches a frozen commuter from Saigon has EVER tasted.


Brothers in Arms. Twickenham. Valentine’s Day, 2015.


The Harp. A finer establishment in Soho you’ll be hard pushed to find.


Teddy Brackley. 3 months old and wondering what all the fuss is about, as the rest of us get to grips with Sunday morning in Cheltenham (bloody mary’s at the ready).

Springtime in Saigon

Originally posted on saigonsays:

washing Even washing lines look better in Spring

It’s 2015. It’s mid January. And spring is here in Saigon.

In what has become my annual celebration of just how pleasant a time of year it is over here, when so many other parts of the world are either sweltering in their own juices, or snow ploughing their way to the office, I can’t resist once more in proclaiming the bleeding obvious: life is so much easier when you have the weather on your side.

Biking into work these days you are struck by the golden light, the intensely perfumed scents of the orchids and bogainvilleas, and the breeze. The fact that there is a breeze is enough to be thankful for, given Saigon’s notorious humidity track record. The New Year marks the lowest temperatures Saigon will experience until next January – somewhere in the mid 20’s – perfection in my mind…

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