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February 05 2018

The lovely lazy river town of Kampot, Cambodia

February 01 2018

Where I’m At: February, 2018 – Chiang Mai edition

January 25 2018

Diamond Island – The fake Paris of Phnom Penh

January 23 2018

Best new banks for travellers, expats, and nomads

January 17 2018

Sihanoukville – The New Macau of Southeast Asia

January 10 2018

Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville by train

January 01 2018

Where I’m At: January, 2018 – Otres Beach edition

December 07 2017

Crazy Jump Macau Tower: Bungy jumpers in costume at the highest commercial skyjump in the world

December 01 2017

Where I’m At: December, 2017 – Hanoi edition

November 28 2017

An updated map of the future Saigon Metro

November 02 2017

Where I’m At: November, 2017 – Chiang Mai edition

October 31 2017

Southeast Asia current and proposed railways [2017]

June 01 2017

Where I’m At: June, 2017 – Saigon edition

Where I’m At: June, 2017 – Saigon edition

[Where I’m At; a monthly update of what I’ve been up to, site news, and where I’m going next.]

Where I’ve Been

Greetings from Saigon! After starting the month in Mui Ne, last month was split between Saigon and a Singapore/Malaysia trip.


Pagoda Street Market

My Singapore/Malaysia trip revolved around meeting my dad in Kuala Lumpur. Rather than flying directly to KL, I went to Singapore first. I have some friends who have recently moved to Singapore, so it was a good excuse to visit. I visited some new sights, including the Singapore Botanical Gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Botanical Gardens

Another reason to visit Singapore is to eat. When I come to Singapore I usually eat what I can’t get in Saigon; cheap Indian food, and chicken and rice. There are some Singapore-style chicken and rice places in Saigon, but they are not the same, like Vietnamese food is not the same outside of Vietnam.

My first meal back in Singapore was chicken and rice, which I was dreaming of on the flight there. I also got to try the Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle – the street food stall with a Michelin star.

This place has become so popular they have opened a restaurant to cater for the crowds. The restaurant resembles a fast food chain, where you queue and get a number. I’m not an expert in chicken and rice so I couldn’t tell you if it was the best, or even Michelin-worthy. I can say it was great, and I am happy for their success. They are also opening a store in Taiwan.

Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle

Singapore is famous for being expensive, but the food prices at hawker centres are reasonably priced. In my wanders I found the ice cream sandwich guy who has been selling ice cream for years for $1 SGD. The ice cream is a slab that is served in an actual piece of bread, making it a literal sandwich. Or you can get it with the wafer as shown here.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Kuala Lumpur

I met my dad in KL, who was stopping over on the way back to Australia from London. I’ve met him in London a few times now but I couldn’t make the dates happen for this year, so KL was a good alternative. I’ve now met my dad in six countries outside of Australia (UK, Portugal, France, Switzerland, China (Hong Kong), Malaysia).

KL is one of those places where I have lost count how many times I’ve been. I first visited in 2006, and have since visited a few times a year, most of the time on the way to somewhere else. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say I’ve been over 20 times. At some point early on I stopped doing the touristy things, so this trip was a good excuse to see the things I haven’t done in KL.

The obvious tourist attraction is the Petronas Twin Towers. I still think it is one of the most beautiful skyscrapers in the world. Being twin towers it has the benefit of giving you the mirror opposite of the same building you are in, as well as the view from 370 metres above ground.

Petronas and KL Tower

Another interesting thing to do in KL is the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, which is the largest free-flight walk-in aviary in the world. This is walking distance from the old city KL train station, and it’s a large swathe of green space in the middle of the city.

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park


Rather than flying straight back to Saigon from KL, I got the train to Butterworth and spent a week in Penang. Georgetown is one of my regular haunts, and there is now a direct AirAsia flight from Penang to Saigon, so that was a good enough reason to go back.

Georgetown is so delightful. I don’t think I would ever tire of looking at all the old windows, doors, and tiles.

A post shared by James Clark ✈️ (@nomadicnotes) on May 19, 2017 at 11:39pm PDT

I have a list of favourite places to eat here, so I plan my trip to make sure I can eat at as many places as I can. It gets blazing hot here in the middle of the day, so I find a routine of wandering around in the morning and late afternoon, and work during the day.

ICYMI – Last months posts

In March I returned to Melbourne and felt the reverse culture shock feels – A bemused Melburnian returns to Melbourne after two years absence

On a recent trip to Hong Kong I popped over the frontier to visit some friends in Shenzhen. I didn’t enjoy it my first time around, so I was happy to give Shenzhen a second chance.

I have been visiting KL for over a decade now, and over the last year there have been some noticeable changes. Here are my observations on the regeneration of Kuala Lumpur Old City.

The regeneration of the Chinatown/Heritage Quarter of Kuala Lumpur

And not a new post, but an update on the best cafes in Georgetown, Penang.

May 31 2017

The regeneration of Kuala Lumpur Old City

The regeneration of the Chinatown/Heritage Quarter of Kuala Lumpur

The first time I visited Kuala Lumpur was when I was overlanding my way down the Malay Peninsula in 2006. Like most backpackers I ended up in a cheap guesthouse in the Chinatown area of KL.

I was amazed that there were so many heritage buildings that had not been restored. There are sections of old Kuala Lumpur that compare with Singapore or Penang, yet little has been done to make something of it. Like other cities in the region, Kuala Lumpur is seemingly ignorant about preservation of heritage buildings.

Since that first trip I ended up becoming based in Southeast Asia, and with AirAsia based in KL I pass through a couple of times a year. I’ve already been through KL twice in 2017, and this year I have noticed more changes in Chinatown than anytime in the last decade.

The Chinatown/Heritage Quarter area (Old City)

For this article I refer to the old area of KL as Chinatown, though there doesn’t appear to be an exact boundary or definition. Search for Chinatown in Google and you get this shaded area.

And a hotel search in Chinatown KL also clusters hotels within the area of this map.

The top triangle of the shaded area (bounded by the Klang River, Jalan Tun Perak, and Jalan Pudu) is an area popular with South Asian migrants, though it still gets lumped in as Chinatown. I’ve seen it referred to as the Heritage Quarter, and for the whole area it should be rebranded as the Old City.

Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin
[Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin – more Little Dhaka than Chinatown.]

The one street that is undeniably in Chinatown is Petaling Street, which has a Chinese arch at the entry of the Petaling St Market.

Petaling St Market

Most of the buildings on Petaling are obscured by the market. If you go in the morning before everything is set up you can see the old buildings in various states of decay.

Old Petaling St

Also in Chinatown is Jalan Sultan, which has a wealth of heritage buildings that are in danger of being lost. This row was saved from demolition and now waits for a restoration savior. If this was in Penang or Singapore it would be a row of boutique hotels by now.

Jalan Sultan

In the aforementioned Heritage Quarter, Market Square has recently been renovated as an attractive space with a water feature. Some of the old shophouses on this square also have been spruced up, showing what potential this area has.

Market Square, Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia
[Market Square, Kuala Lumpur.]

Cool cafes in old buildings

With so many heritage buildings crumbling into the ground, its heartening to discover businesses see their potential and make the most of these assets. On this trip I visited three cafes in the Chinatown area that show what appeal these old buildings have.

The first place I visited was Chocha Foodstore, which is set in the old Mah Lian Hotel building.

Mah Lian Hotel

The problem of using these buildings is that the interiors are often not suitable for modern retail shops or restaurants. Chocha have gotten around this by stripping out a lot of the interior, leaving the most remarkable features of the original structure.

Chocha Foodstore interior

A few doors away from Chocha is Merchants Lane. This is one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” cafes as it is accessed by an entrance next to an old shop. Go upstairs and there is a large warehouse space that has been converted into a cafe.

Merchants Lane

The cafe has created an open space in the middle of the building which has a little garden. There is an old tree trying to strangle the building, like the ruins of Ta Prohm at Angkor.

Merchants Lane garden

Another cafe I went to was Leaf and Co Cafe, which is in the same building as the highly-rated Mingle Hostel.

Leaf and Co Cafe

Like the other cafes, this building is in a typical long and skinny shophouse, so it’s a matter of getting creative with the space of the building.

Inside Leaf and Co Cafe

River Redevelopment

Kuala Lumpur means “muddy confluence”, which derives its name from the meeting of the Gombak and Klang rivers. The lovely Jamek Mosque sits on this very river junction, but little else about this area could be described as lovely.

River junction redevelopment
[The muddy confluence, under renovation.]

Once the two rivers become one it resembles a storm-water drain. It’s an ugly site for what is the centre of the city. Fortunately this part of KL is soon to be transformed with a massive redevelopment known as the River of Life project. There will be pedestrian walkways and new green space along the river, and the river will be cleaned up and rehabilitated upstream as well.

River redevelopment

Here is an artists impression of what the “muddy confluence” will eventually look like.

River Of Life

A new metro line

Pasar Seni metro construction
[Construction of the Pasar Seni interchange.]

Adding to the chaos of redevelopment is the construction of the Sungai Buloh–Kajang MRT line. This will connect Pasar Seni (the station serving Chinatown) with Bukit Bintang (one of the most popular areas for tourists). It is scheduled to be opened in mid-2017.

KL118 – soon to be KL’s tallest building


Perhaps the biggest catalyst for change will be the KL118 tower (now known as Merdeka PNB 118). As the name hints, this will have a whopping 118 floors and stand at 682 metres, easily eclipsing the current tallest building in KL – the Petronas Twin Towers. The building is designed by Melbourne architects, Fender Katsalidis (yay Melbourne!).

If you stand at the corner of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Hang Jebat (at the Leaf and Co Cafe) you can see the construction cranes. Also included in this picture is the usual traffic apocalypse that chokes the streets of Chinatown.

Chinatown and KL118
[Chinatown and the KL118 construction site.]

Work has already begun on this project and is due to finish in 2019. There will be a new metro station here (Merdeka) which is in between Pasar Seni and Bukit Bintang.

KL118 construction

So that is the state of the old city of Kuala Lumpur in 2017. One of the reasons for lack of heritage redevelopment is the cost of restoring old buildings. With the old city being redeveloped hopefully there will be a newfound interest in restoring old KL, as there has been in other Straits heritage cities.

May 08 2017

Giving Shenzhen a second chance

Giving Shenzhen a second chance

Shenzhen and I didn’t get off to a good start the first around. It was the end of 2010 and I was finishing a two month trip in China. I was in Shanghai and I had a flight to catch in Hong Kong. Flights to Shenzhen were half the price of those to Hong Kong, so I figured I would spend a day in Shenzhen before crossing to Hong Kong.

When I visit a place my goal is to find redeemable features of even the most boring cities. Shenzhen was one of the few places where I struggled to find a redeemable feature. Perhaps it was because I was fatigued by two months of China travel, or that there is little to see for a tourist in this business-oriented city.

I never expected to return anytime soon until some friends from Saigon moved to Shenzhen for a work project. As I was in Hong Kong I thought this would be a good opportunity to see my friends, and reassess my opinion of the city.

Returning after six years, Shenzhen felt completely different. It probably helped that it was my first day back in China and I was excited to be back (as in China where you need a visa – not Hong Kong which is also China). No doubt I’ve become a more seasoned traveller since then, and my expectations have changed. The city has definitely changed as well.


Shenzhen went from a town of 30,000 people in 1979 to becoming China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1980. Now there are nearly 12 million people living here. Shenzhen SEZ is a relatively new city, and there’s not much to show of old Shenzhen. The six years I was away represents nearly 17% of the 36 years of its current existence. The city feels more lived in this time around. The new buildings look worn in, street trees have grown, and there seems to be more interesting things to see and do.

Dongmen St

As is my usual style, I didn’t do anything that would warrant a “top ten things to do in Shenzhen” post. I’m more of an urban explorer and observer, so here are my notes from a day in Shenzhen.

Mobile Payments

Street food mobile pay

One of the first things I noticed when I emerged from the Hong Kong frontier was the prevalence of mobile payments. Practically everything is payable by mobile now. For example I found this street food vendor selling chicken and rice lunch packs out of a shopping trolley, and he had his WeChat code on the cart.

If you are going to China then you will be using WeChat a lot (especially since sites like Facebook and Google are blocked). Alipay is the other big payment platform of choice.

Biking Rental Apps


I arrived in Shenzhen at the start of a new bicycle revolution that is sweeping across China. Competing cycle-share companies (“Uber for bikes”) have churned out thousands of bicycles which can be found on practically every corner.

Mobile bike companies

Th bicycles have a scannable code on the back which allows you to unlock the bike with your phone. You can ride the bike for a few yuan, and then leave it where ever it suits you, saving the hassle of taking it to an official dock.

scan the code

Is there a Shazam for food yet?

Some kind of noodles

One of the main memories I have of my two months in China in 2010 was not knowing what I was eating half the time. By the time I arrived in Shenzhen I was so hungry I just stumbled into the first noodle shop I could find. Whatever my first meal back was, it was amazing.

The metro is huge

On the metro

Another noticeable difference is the expanded metro network, which is on course to become the world’s largest network by 2030. The combination of metro and cycle-shares makes getting around the city easy.

Metro bikes

Electric cars and bikes

Electric bike

There are electric bicycles and scooters everywhere. Most of the delivery services I saw use them, and after coming from the most motorbike-crazy city on the planet, the silence of the electric bikes is almost deafening.

Electric cars are also making their mark here. While in the west we are enthralled by every move that Elon Musk makes, it seems that China is quietly getting on with the business of becoming a leading electric car manufacturer. If you’re in Shenzhen look out for the blue taxis, which are the electric cars.

Electric taxi

In the hotel elevator there was a TV advertisement running with someone who looked like Leonardo DiCaprio. I thought it might have been a fake Leo, but no, it was actual Leo promoting Chinese-built electric cars (or “new energy vehicles”). The company is BYD, which is an acronym for “build your dreams”. I had never heard of BYD, but maybe they will be as common as a Toyota in a decade.

The 4th tallest building in the world that you probably haven’t heard of

Ping An Finance Centre

I got the metro to my friends apartment and I emerged from underground to be greeted by the Ping An Finance Centre. It seemed tall, even by Shenzhen standards. It turns out to be the 4th tallest building in the world. It was built in 2016, a year when Shenzhen completed more skyscrapers than the entire US.

It was raining the day I was there, which made for clean air and great views the next day. I got a shared taxi from the port to Hong Kong airport. Crossing the Shenzhen Bay Bridge you get a stunning view of Shenzhen, and you can clearly see the Ping An standing tall above an already bulked-out skyline. This grainy photo from my iPhone through a car window gives you a general idea.

Shenzhen view

Where to stay in Shenzhen

Shenzhen hotel room

Shenzhen is a city without an obvious central point. Fortunately I lucked out and picked a reasonable area to stay for the casual visitor. I stayed at the Xiang Mei Hotel (my review here), which is conveniently located near two metro lines and the Dongmen walking street. It’s also close to the frontier crossing to the Hong Kong metro.

Dongmen walking street

Search for more hotels in Shenzhen here.

For further reading this Esquire article from 2007 is a great read: Digging a hole all the way to America.

May 05 2017

A bemused Melburnian returns to Melbourne after two years absence

A bemused Melburnian returns to Melbourne after two years absence

I returned to Melbourne after being away for just over two years. I didn’t intend to be away so long, as I like to return to the homeland at least once every calendar year. Unfortunately my back injury of 2016 put me out of commission for a while and I wasn’t able to travel.

This was the longest I’ve ever been outside of Australia, and only the second time I wasn’t in Australia during a calendar year (the last time being in 2000 when I was half way through a work visa in the UK). Being away for so long made the changes more pronounced and the reverse culture shock more intense.

Flinders St platform

I began this blog in February 2009 when I was still renting a place in Melbourne. I left that house in September 2010 and I have rarely been back since. Apart from a few updates I’ve never blogged about my own home city, so here are my thoughts and observations of a week spent in Melbourne in 2017.

The Melbourne apartment boom

Elizabeth Street talls

One of the most noticeable things about what is happening in Melbourne has been the inner city apartment boom. It used to be that the city was the preserve of business, and the city at night was rather quiet. Now most of the new buildings are residential, and there lots of new cafes and restaurants in the city that goes with servicing an increased population.

Melbourne sea of cranes

On the other side of the river, Southbank continues to develop into a city in itself with more apartment towers. The street level activity is still missing though so it lacks the same vibrancy of the city.

Southbank skyline

One of the current projects in Southbank is Australia 108, which will be the tallest building in Australia by roof height.

Australia 108 construction

Many of these projects haven’t happened on empty blocks that were just waiting to be redeveloped. One of the towers in the first image sits on land that was once a Victorian-era pub. And I took a photo of this historic church building which was in its last days of existence.

Wesley Place development

This is not a new building but I wanted to put this here as it looks like a homage to the tall and skinny buildings of Vietnam.

Phoenix skinny tower

Food that got politised while I was away

Even though I don’t live in Australia I still read the Australian newspapers online to keep up with the national zeitgeist. Something that has become a thing since I’ve been away is the smashed avo breakfast. This has been around for years, but as a hard-core traveller spending $15 for a breakfast was against my religion while I was saving for overseas travel.

Smashed Avo Special

In the last few years of my travels I’ve noticed the rise of Australian breakfast culture around the world, like Aussie-style cafes in Paris, and avocado on toast in the US.

The smashed avo breakfast become politised when a local politician suggested that Millennials should forgo avocado on toast if they want to afford a house in Australia’s ridiculously expensive housing market.

I’m from Generation X, but I will not tolerate any lazy badmouthing of Millennials, so in solidarity I had a smashed avo for breakfast.

Smashed Avo

I was nice, but not something I would do every day (especially not at $16). I went to a market and saw the avocado prices which made me think that I should get my own avocado plot somewhere.


Another food that was politised while I was away was the Halal Snack Pack (HSP). It’s always been available, just never under that name.

HSP menu

Australia’s resident racist put the HSP in the national headlines with her objections to halal, and proving the Streisand effect to be true, the obscure HSP became an international sensation.

The HSP is basically a kebab without the bread, and with chips. It must be amazing drunk food, and even for this sober person I loved it. If it was topped with squeaky cheese it would be better than poutine.

Halal Snack Pack

Hipster doughnuts have arrived

I went to Portland in 2012 which is where I encountered my first hipster donuttery. Being the hipster capital of Australia I was surprised there wasn’t one here. This oversight has been corrected and and Melbourne now has a hipster doughnut stand.

Doughnut Time

I saw a number of people walking around the city with the doughnut boxes like it is some sort of status symbol. At $6.70 for a donut we’ve come a long way from the 25c jam donuts I recall in primary school. To be fair these things are the size of a mini cake, and they have cool names.

Hipster Donuts

Is it just me, or has Vietnamese food become the most popular Asian food in Melbourne?

Moo Moo Pho

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Vietnam that I am noticing all the Vietnamese restaurants here, but all the ones I am seeing are new.

On a previous visit back to Melbourne I visited Little Saigon in Richmond. There you will find the first wave Vietnamese immigrants in more traditional restaurants, perhaps named after the proprietor or where they came from. I saw the flag of South Vietnam flying there, and you would not see any imagery of Ho Chi Minh.

By contrast the new restaurants are modern fusion style restaurants, perhaps second generation owned who have had Vietnamese cuisine filtered through modern Australia. I visited a cool restaurant and bar named Uncle, which seemed to be a nod to the use of the word uncle in Vietnam (like Uncle Ho).


I met a friend for dinner and I didn’t know where we were going. I was taken to a new restaurant called Ho Chi Mama. I thought to myself that it would be a great name for a modern Vietnamese restaurant, and sure enough it was.

Ho Chi Mama

Pho has become a common fast food as well.

$10 Pho

And I had to laugh when I saw there is now a Pho 24 in Melbourne. Pho 24 is a chain pho restaurant in Vietnam .

Pho 24

Thai restaurants are also evolving

Even though Vietnamese food seems to be everywhere now, Thai food remains as popular as ever and is also evolving from the restaurant with tablecloths setting.

Thai Culinary

One place I went to was a restaurant called Soi 38, which is the name of a famous street food street in Bangkok (or it was until it recently closed). Soi 38 specialise in boat noodles, which is more famous around the Victory Monument area of Bangkok.

Soi 38

I went for lunch and the interior was like stepping into a portal to Thailand. I got a little misty-eyed for the Land Of Smiles when I walked in and saw the flags and portrait of King Rama IX. The restaurant has imported all the furniture from Thailand to recreate a Thai street food scene. The food carts, tables and chairs, the 4-cup condiment holder, the chopsticks box, and even the metal water cups are all exactly like you find in Thailand. The only thing they got wrong was they had boxes of tissues instead of toilet paper dispensers.

For a non-food related touch the staff were wearing vests the motorcycle taxi riders wear.
Like any good street food cart they only offer a few items so I got the boat noodles. The aroma and soup was as just like I remembered it to be in Bangkok. The noodles were maybe not exact, which might be to do with the fact that noodles in Bangkok are pre-softened by the humidity, and are infused with tuk-tuk exhaust fumes.

At $10 it’s a great deal for Melbourne, though at 264 Baht it was certainly the most expensive bowl of boat noodles I’ve ever had, but I am not complaining. I could imagine coming here on a bitterly cold Melbourne winters day and feel like you’ve been transported to Bangkok. Maybe they should invest in some humidifiers to add to the effect.

Boat Noodles

And Melbourne is more Asiatic in general

Tim Ho Wan

I had just come from Darwin which I had hoped to be more of a Asia-inspired city. It’s not yet but it is on the way. Melbourne though has more Asian influence than ever. Part of this is from the booming university destination that Australia has become, being a large English speaking country of the region.

There are so many interesting shops and restaurants here that I really needed more time to eat and explore.

Little Sichuan


No visit to Melbourne is complete without spending time in the many cafes. Australian cafe culture has now spread around the world, and Melbourne is the mecca for this new coffee religion.

Hipster hijab

One thing that hasn’t changed is the lack of public wifi in cafes. It’s embarrassing to think that a little roadside cafe some obscure Southeast Asian town will have wifi but not in first-world Australia. It’s wrapped up with Australia’s poor handling of internet modernisation.

One place that is internet friendly is The Little Mule.

Little Mule

I was delighted to see Old Town White Coffee – a Malaysian chain – in the city as well. The coffee is no match for a creamy Melbourne latte, but I discovered their frozen coffee drink in Penang and it is addictive.

Old Town White Coffee

I was only here a week and I had meet ups to attend so I didn’t get to go to many new places. I would need to spend a month here and have a detailed spreadsheet of every cafe I was going to visit if I was to make a cool cafes of Melbourne list.

Sk. Kilda and my old house

I would love to come back for a month and compile a cafe list, and just spend time in a great city. Part of my problem is no longer having places to stay like I used to. On this trip I ended up staying in Airbnb accommodation.

I paid a visit to my old inner city neighbourhood of St Kilda and went by my old house. When I was living here with two friends this 100-year-old house was practically falling down around our ears. The last month I was there we were paying $333 AUD a month each, which even then was insanely cheap. Each time we complained about something not working the rent would go up, so we mainly put up with it.

The house has since been sold and appropriately renovated, and it’s now the multi-mullion dollar house that it was destined to be.

I lived here

Before I left Australia, St. Kilda Beach used to be the centre of my universe. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, or at least not returning on a regular basis.

St Kilda Beach

Now I come back and I feel nothing for my old neighbourhood. It’s still a lovely place to live, it’s just not my place any more. I went to the pier where there is a great view of the city over the bay. It’s really a beautiful city, worthy of its world’s most liveable city status. For now though it’s not where I’m meant to be.

City from St Kilda

May 01 2017

Where I’m At: May, 2017 – Mui Ne edition

Mui Ne

[Where I’m At; a monthly update of what I’ve been up to, site news, and where I’m going next.]

Where I’ve Been

Greetings from Mui Ne! After returning from Shenzhen at the start of the month, I’ve been in Vietnam for the rest of the time. I was away from Saigon for a month, which is a long time in this fast-changing city. There is lots of construction going on now with the new metro line, and the continued mania of knocking down heritage buildings. I would guess that there is no other city in Southeast Asia that is looking as messy as this right now. I went to a rooftop bar to get some progress photos, and this is the current view.

Saigon panorama - April 2017
[Click for full size.]

This is the central point of Saigon, which is where a new metro line will go, along with two towers that face the metro site. The big change has been the removal of the roundabout. Here is what it looked like in October, 2016.

Roundabout, October, 2016

And in April, 2017 (you can still see the outline of the roundabout here).

Ben Thanh roundabout April 2017

Last year I wrote about the current and future railways of Southeast Asia. I still fly to many places, so this year I have been looking at what new train journeys I can take. With that in mind I took the train from Saigon to Phan Thiet, which is the station for Mui Ne. The train takes just over four hours and is a much better option than the bus.

I’m in Mui Ne on what happens to be the Reunification Day and Labour Day holiday weekend, so I have avoided travelling on the peak travel days. I’ve been to Mui Ne once before during the rainy season, so it’s been good to see it in its bright blue state.

The Mui Ne area is popular for kite surfers, though it still retains its fishing village heritage.

Travel books I’ve read

A Geek in China: Discovering the Land of Alibaba, Bullet Trains and Dim Sum

A Geek in China: Discovering the Land of Alibaba, Bullet Trains and Dim SumI got sent a copy of A Geek in China to review. I first became aware of the “A Geek in…” book series when I found A Geek in Thailand. Like the other Geek books (there is also Japan and Korea), A Geek in China is a visually stunning book that presents a condensed history of China, along with travel highlights and interesting bits of trivia. It’s an ideal book for pre-travel inspiration, or if you are already a Sinophile. This book series reminds me of the DK Eyewitness Travel series, which are better for research than planning, and it’s better as a real book (I wouldn’t get the Kindle version).

For more reading ideas visit the best travel books list.

ICYMI – Last months posts

I started catching up on a backlog of articles for places I’ve recently visited.

First up is Da Nang in central Vietnam, which is emerging from the tourism shadow of Hoi An to become a destination in itself.

Next up is Canggu in Bali, which in the space of a few years has become one of the worlds leading hipster hotspots.

After Bali I went to Darwin and I didn’t do anything in the way of sightseeing. Instead I started wondering about Darwin’s proximity to Asia. While researching about Darwin airport I saw a proposal for flights from Darwin to Saumlaki (Maluku). From there I wrote about Darwin as Asia’s gateway to Australia, which includes this rather fanciful future Indonesia-Australia route map (one can dream, no?)

Future Indonesia-Australia route map

April 20 2017

Darwin as Asia’s gateway to Australia

Darwin as Asia’s gateway to Australia

My first time to Darwin was a stop at the airport in 2007, which we all know doesn’t count as a visit. I was flying from Sydney to Mumbai, which stopped at Darwin on the way. That flight route was made famous by Ralph Fiennes and a Qantas flight attendant, though my flight was not as memorable.

The following year I flew from Singapore to Melbourne via Darwin, and I realised on that flight that Darwin is closer to Southeast Asia than it is to Southeast Australia. A quick look on the map could have told you that, but travel has a way of making you think about your place in the world.

I finally got to properly visit Darwin on my way back to Melbourne from Bali, ten years after my first “visit”. AirAsia fly from Bali to Darwin, so rather than getting a direct flight I made a detour.

I was only there for a short stopover, so I didn’t do anything of a touristic nature. Instead, this post is about my observations of Darwin’s place in Australia as a gateway to Asia.

My first impressions of Darwin

Charles Darwin in Darwin
[Darwin is named after Charles Darwin.]

“Darwin is like a big country town” were the words from the hotel receptionist, which was the conclusion I came to early on. According to the 2016 census, Greater Darwin has a population of 143,629 and is the 15th biggest city in Australia.

I stayed in the CBD over a weekend, which devoid of weekday office workers added to the feeling of emptiness. For tourists, Darwin has traditionally been the gateway to Outback Australia. You either fly in and begin an Outback adventure, or you are driving around the country and Darwin is a resupply/civilisation stop.

It didn’t help that I arrived at the tail end of the rainy season, which puts a hold on many activities that would be business as usual in tropical Asia. One thing I wanted to see was the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, which has a lively Asian food market. This only runs in the dry season, so I shall return on a longer trip to the Northern Territory.

My impression of the CBD is that it’s starting to have a renaissance, like other cities in Australia have been through. In the eighties and early nineties there were very few residents living in the Melbourne CBD. Now it is filled with apartment towers and the supporting cafes and restaurants that go with an increased population. There appears to have been a recent apartment boom in Darwin, which I think will fill in eventually.

Darwin CBD apartments
[A skyline is emerging in low-rise Darwin.]

There have been some interesting developments in the city, including the waterfront precinct which has an artificial beach surrounded by apartments and a retail area.

[The lifestyle of city living in Darwin.]

Next to the beach is a wave lagoon which also looks appealing for hot days (so basically every day).

Wave Lagoon
[Wave Lagoon (I was there early in the morning).]

With more people living in the city the cool cafes and restaurants will follow. I visited The Rabbit Hole, which would not be out of place in Melbourne.

The Rabbit Hole
[The Rabbit Hole cafe – Darwin.]

Darwin – Australia’s Asian city

My interest in Darwin is in its future as a gateway to Asia. The idea is not a new one, with the Territory’s former Chief Minister having said that Darwin is Asia’s gateway to Australia.

Darwin is Asia's gateway to Australia
[Image credit: Darwin Port Corporation.]

I arrived in Darwin after having spent the last ten months in Asia. I was not even 24 hours in the city and I was experiencing some Asia withdrawal symptoms, brought on by the wide open spaces and quiet streets. There was also the reverse culture shock (and sticker shock) to contend with as well.

Pho special
[A 222,000 dong bowl of pho 😭.]

I saw on the map that there is a Chinese temple, so to salve my withdrawals I paid a visit. I arrived to find a rather humble temple.

Chinese Temple

To be fair the inside is more ornate, which made me think of the plain exterior of churches in Italy that are more extravagant inside.

Temple altar

After visiting this temple it made me wonder about the history of the Chinese population in the Northern Territory. There have been Chinese Australians since 1818, which is a fact that is not celebrated in Anglo-centric Australia. Our shameful treatment of Chinese migrants is similar to the experience in the United States.

Even though there is a historic connection of Chinese in Darwin, there isn’t a Chinatown street like in other capitals in Australia. There is a Chinatown development that was proposed in the early 2000’s which has since stalled.

A new developer took control of Darwin Chinatown in 2016, stating that they remain committed to the original plan of “developing a unique, Chinatown themed mixed use development that provides a link to Darwin’s rich Chinese heritage”. The development will have three towers with a ground level retail and entertainment plaza.

Proposed Chinatown in Darwin
[A depiction of the proposed Chinatown in Darwin (from ntnews.com.au).]

Further Reading: Beyond Chinatown: Changing Perspectives on the Top End Chinese Experience

Darwin as a Southeast Asia air hub

Having flown from Singapore and Bali on Asia-based low cost airlines to Darwin, I wondered what Darwin would look like as a major airport serving as a hub between Southeast Asia and Australia. When I have such aviation-related thoughts I turn to the great Great Circle Mapper map maker (say that fast ten times). You can make all kinds of route maps on this site, and all the maps you see in this post are from gcmap.com.

What if low cost airlines from around Southeast Asia flew to Darwin. An Airbus A320-200 (used by AirAsia and Vietjet as two examples) has a range of 3500 nautical miles. I’ve drawn this map at 3000 nautical miles to leave some fuel in the tank. This range covers every country in Southeast Asia, and onward to every place in Australia and New Zealand.

3000 NM Range
[3000 nautical mile radius from Darwin.]

Jetstar’s attempt to make Darwin a hub to Asia

In 2009 Jetstar announced that they were turning Darwin into a hub for Asia flights. Flights that became a reality included Singapore, Bali, Ho Chi Minh City, and Manila with an onward flight to Tokyo.

By the end of 2013 Jetstar closed their Darwin base, bringing this experiment of a hub for Asia to an end. Darwin airports high airport fees were a factor, which reports in aviation forums were saying were the highest in the country. I don’t have a citation for that, but this letter from Northern Territory Airports mentions factors that make Darwin more expensive.

International flights from Darwin

Darwin International Airport arrivals and departures
[The not-very-internationl arrivals and departures.]

For a city so close to Asia there are not many international options. These were the airlines that were operating internationally at the time of my visit (March, 2017):

Airnorth: Dili
Indonesia AirAsia: Denpasar-Bali
Jetstar Airways: Denpasar-Bali
Jetstar Asia Airways: Singapore
Malaysia Airlines: Kuala Lumpur
Philippine Airlines: Manila
SilkAir: Singapore

Darwin used to have more international flights when it was a staging point for the Kangaroo Route. Qantas began its Sydney to London service in 1947, which stopped in Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo, and Tripoli. International airlines that stopped en route in Darwin included UTA (Union de Transports Aériens), BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), Alitalia, and Air India. When modern jets were able to fly from Europe to Australia in one stop, the multi-legged routes became redundant.

While it’s improbable that Darwin will get such a roll call of European airlines again, there is a future for more flights from across Asia. The big missing link is direct flights between Darwin and China.

Qantas did trial a Darwin-Hong Kong charter flight with the hope of making it permanent.

There have been calls to reopen the Kupang-Darwin route, and Indonesia has invited Australian airlines to fly from Darwin to Saumlaki in Maluku, where the Indonesian government is developing the area as a tourism destination.

Darwin as a Australia’s bridge to Indonesia

Indonesian halal food
[Don’t mention it’s halal and they’ll eat it by the boxful.]

The population of Indonesia in 2013 was 249.9 million. That’s a quarter of a billion people in a nation with over 17,000 islands, yet most Australians only experience of Indonesia is Bali. Indeed, I have read about bogans in Bali not even knowing they were in Indonesia. For a country that is so close to Australia, we really should be better connected.

What would a future Darwin airport look like with a prosperous Indonesia and if Australia offered a reciprocal 30-day free travel visa. Maybe a route map would look similar to this:

Future Indonesia-Australia route map

Currently the only flights from Darwin to Indonesia are to (you guessed it) Bali. There used to be flights to Jakarta (Java) and Kupang (West Timor), and the only recent new proposal has been the aforementioned flight to Saumlaki (Maluku), which seems unlikely.

To Jetstar’s credit they tried to do something different by offering a Perth to Lombok flight in 2013, which lasted less than a year. I think a better route attempt would have been Darwin to Yogyakarta, where Jetstar (or any airline) could at least market visiting the biggest buddhist temple in the world.

The Darwin non-stop to London option

Qantas announced that they will launch a non-stop Australia to London service from Perth. The flight will take 18 hours using a 787-9 Dreamliner with up to 236 passengers.

I personally have no desire to fly 18 hours non stop (unless it was in one of these), not to mention the long term effects on the crew who are continually in a plane that long.

What about if the service ran from Darwin. Here is the Great Circle Mapper map of the two routes:

London to Perth and Darwin

Darwin to London is 13,872 km while Perth to London is 14,499 km, making Darwin 627 km closer. A 787-9 Dreamliner has a range of 15,750km.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer suggested that Darwin should pinch the planned Qantas Perth international hub and become Australia’s Dubai (referring to the current Qantas hub in Dubai).

No doubt Qantas gave it thought, with Perth as the preferred option for being a bigger city with a large British expat community.

The Northern Australia “open skies” proposal

Another proposal that would have opened up Darwin airport to Asia was a Northern Australia “open skies” plan.

The Northern Australia Green Paper suggested allowing foreign budget carriers to operate domestic flights between airports located north of the Tropic of Capricorn (latitude 23.5° south). That would include flights between Broome, Darwin, Cairns, and Townsville.

For example a carrier from Singapore could fly Singapore – Darwin – Cairns, and be allowed to carry domestic passengers between Darwin and Cairns.

Singapore - Darwin - Cairns

This would have the benefit of opening up Northern Australia to more competition between regional routes, encouraging growth between the major cities of the north.

The open skies proposal would also allow quicker international flights from Darwin. Currently Darwinites have to backtrack to the southern cities for international connections, especially as Qantas likes to funnel traffic through Sydney.

The plan was of course vehemently opposed by the incumbent airlines who enjoy a monopoly on northern routes.

Foreign jets on domestic Australian routes has been done before, so maybe its time will come again.

A free trade zone in Northern Australia, and other radical ideas too radical for Australia

The most radical idea that reappears every few years is the idea of a free trade zone in Northern Australia. This ranges from the entire region above the Tropic of Capricorn, a chunk of Northwestern Australia, or a special economic zone in a selected city (like Darwin or Broome, for example).

An S.E.Z has been attempted before with the Darwin Trade Development Zone. This began in 1985 and ended in 2003 by “government interference and a focus on low-skilled labour”. It remains as Australia’s first and only free trade zone.

Another idea to populate the north is this proposal for a Singaporean ‘charter city’ in the northern parts of Western Australia. How about if the Darwin Trade Development Zone was restarted under this idea?

The charter city idea sounds similar to the Multifunction Polis (MFP) proposal that was meant to be some kind of futuristic Japanese city of high-tech industries. The idea was thrown around on the national news for years (this was pre-internet), and in the end no one really understood what it was meant to be. Also the Australia of the eighties was not ready for the idea of integrating into Asia.

In the eighties, racist scaremongers were selling this as a frightening Bladerunner-esque city with Japanese food on every corner. I say shut up and take my money! This idea would probably have a better chance today if it had a more catchy name than MFP.

This ABCTV story on the 7.30 Report from 1990 is an interesting time capsule of that era.

Multi-Function Polis.

What is the likelihood of any of this happening?

Highly unlikely. Big ideas are not Australia’s forte, so don’t expect any of these ideas to happen anytime soon.

Not that there hasn’t been any opportunities to build a hub/develop Northern Australia. Much has been written about how Australian governments have blown mining boom cash and subsidised mining companies rather than extracting more taxes from them. Norway built the biggest sovereign wealth fund in the world with revenue from its offshore oilfields. We could have had a sovereign wealth fund like Norway, or a government investment company like Temasek Holdings of Singapore (which at one point owned more of Australia than Australia).

Privatised airports haven’t helped either. Sydneysiders are well familiar with the price gouging that goes on at Kingsford Smith, and you know privatisation was a bad idea when a conservative paper rips into it.

What if instead of handing a monopoly to a private company the airports remained government owned (like Dallas/Fort Worth). Landing fees could be kept low, or even subsidised from the proceeds of mining income in order to develop the region.

These are all thoughts for another post, so I’ll stay out this proverbial rabbit hole for now. I’m sure I will return to Darwin to visit Kakadu and the Outback, so I look forward to seeing what’s new in Darwin.

April 17 2017

Canggu – the hipster paradise of Bali


I first visited Canggu in 2014 when it was already creating a name for itself as the next cool place in Bali. By then it was called “the new Ubud” and “Ubud for surfers”, so of course I had to see for myself. Sure enough I could see the new-age/organic of vibe Ubud fused with hipster surf culture.

Canggu - 2014

Three years later I found myself back in Canggu and I was staggered at the changes over that time. This little hipster enclave has appealing cafes and restaurants everywhere. If you measured its cool factor by hipster cafes per capita, it might just be the coolest place on the planet right now.

I enjoyed my visit in Canggu, though I know it’s not for everyone. For me I have come to associate Bali as being a luxurious recovery stop in between visiting Indonesian islands. Travel east of Bali and coffee comes in a sachet and hot water in a guesthouse is a rare luxury. You’ll be hard pressed to find cultural travel in Canggu, but if you want a beach town with an amazing variety of food and great accommodation, then this is your place.

Where is Canggu?

Canggu (pronounced as “changgoo”, and known as The Gu if you have been there long enough) is an area in South Bali, between Seminyak and Tanah Lot. If you look on the map of Bali, tourism development has gradually eaten its way north from the airport through Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak. Canggu is after those well-known travel hotspots.

From rice paddies to hipster paradise

What I like about Canggu is that it is still set among rice fields (for now). I’m based in a concrete jungle teeming with motorbikes, so I found the change of pace refreshing.

Rice field

My first impression of Canggu was of it being similar in vibe to Ubud, which has a high proportion of organic/new age shops.

Earth xpress

The difference being that you can drink, smoke, and eat hamburgers here, and not feel guilty about it.

Black Shores

And of course the one thing that Canggu has over Ubud is a beach. At first glance the beach doesn’t look appealing (like the brown beach of Pangandaran) but upon closer inspection it is soft beach to walk on.

Batu Bolong Beach

The Australian influence is prevalent here, but not overrun with bogans like in Kuta Beach. I’ve heard Canggu being described as “Bondi on Bali” (named after the trendy Sydney beach neighbourhood).

I found a cafe called Little Flinders, which is a reference to a street in Melbourne.

Little Flinders

It’s not all Aussie cafes though as there is a wide range of international representation here. Scandinavians are a well-travelled lot, so it is not surprising to find a restaurant of Scandinavian comfort food.

Fika - Scandinavian comfort food

French and Chinese fusion doesn’t sound obvious, except when you are in The Gu.

Bro Resto - French and Chinese fusion

Walking up and down the main road I just wanted to eat everything.

Einstein Dim Sum

Filing under TIL – I learned that you can make flour out of dried bananas, which is what Made’s Banana Flour Company does (the world’s first banana flour bakery).

Mades Banana Flour

A rare beast in Southeast Asia are good Mexican restaurants.

Localita Mexican

And excuse this blurry photo – you can get Cubanos here!


Even with all the foreign influence it is still Bali at heart. Balinese temples and shrines are everywhere, and the ubiquitous daily offerings are laid in front of every building.

Kung Food

Paradise or parody?

At times it feels like Canggu is one big parody of itself, with paleo this, vegan that, and organic everything else.

Avocado Cafe

Can I interest you in some colon hydrotherapy?

The Detox Room

If you do Crossfit on the beach and didn’t Instagram it, did you do Crossfit on the beach?

Beach Crossfit

And no hipster paradise is complete without a hipster barber shop.

Dirty Sanchez

My favourite cafe in Canggu

There are plenty of cafes in Canggu serving espresso-based coffee, though I wasn’t there long enough to compile a “best cafes in Canggu” list for my Bali cafe list. The best coffee I had was at Machinery Cafe on Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong.

Machinery Coffee

And for the drinkers

I don’t drink, but if I did I would have found myself at Ji, which is a Japanese fusion restaurant/wine & sake bar. The bar is housed in a Kang Xi period temple from 1706, which was facing demolition in Java until it was transported and reconstructed in Bali. This is more like something you would find in Seminyak, which is overflowing with uber-cool world-class bars. This is perhaps a harbinger of things to come as the Seminyak influence creeps its way north.


Less formal is this beer cart that you may find on your travels.

Bar the way - beer cart

The institution of Canggu is Old Mans, which is on the beach at Jalan Pantai Batu Bolong.

Old Mans

Where I ate

I visited Hungry Volks purely for its location near my accommodation, and it turned out to be a favourite. I liked it unpretentious Indonesian/Western menu and reasonable prices (for Canggu), where many places are charging Australian prices.

Hungry Volks

I prefer eating local where ever I go, which is a challenge in Canggu. I enjoyed Warung Bu Mi which is a modern take on traditional Indonesian restaurants that serves rice and your choice of side dishes.

Warung Bu Mi

Digital nomad scene

Offices for rent

I’ve been hearing the buzz about Canggu on various nomad forums so I was curious to see its suitability as a place to live and work. Canggu is spread out without a real town centre so there isn’t an obvious congregation spot. There is a co-working space here, and some villas have been set up and marketed specifically for digital nomads.

At this point Canggu is still a mix of surfers, hippies, hipsters, digital nomads, and expats who fled to Canggu to escape the development of Seminyak to the south, which has now caught up with them and who are now complaining about said development.

I prefer living in big cities, though I could see myself spending a month here to get some work done.

Getting around Canggu

Getting to and around Canggu is a pain. As Bali has grown over the last few decades little thought has been given to future infrastructure planning. Perhaps they did think about it, only to put that thought back in the too hard basket. Family land ownership is a big deal here, and properties are built up against public roads, making property acquisition and road widening an impossible task.

To make matters worse, the two main roads of Canggu run parallel with a valley of rice fields separating the two. It is here that you will find the infamous short cut road that crosses the valley to connect Batu Bolong and Batu Bewara. The short cut is wide enough for one car, so cars have to check the other side of the valley to make sure no other cars are coming before making the crossing. I have seen photos of cars that have rolled into the rice paddies.

Rice paddy shortcut

The taxi mafia is powerful in Bali and there is resistance to the new wave of ride apps that are sweeping Southeast Asia. The big app players here are Gojek, Grab, and Uber. I personally use Grab in Vietnam, so that was useful to have the same account already work in Bali. I also tried out Gojek to see what the buzz is about.

[Open a Grab account via my link and we will both get a free ride: Join Grab.]

The Minister of Transportation banned online transportation services in December, 2015 and then lifted the ban a day later. So they are still legal but taxi mafia strongmen have been known to intimidate riders and drivers of the new transportation companies.

Taxi mafia

At my guesthouse the listed price to get from Canggu to the airport by private taxi was 200,000 IDR. The rate I was quoted on Gojek was 63,000 IDR for the 45 minutes drive to the airport by car. It was about the same price for Grab to the airport.

Gocar Canggu to Airport Grabcar Canggu to airport

One time I took a Grab car from Seminyak to Canggu and the driver messaged me to ask if he could cancel and add another 10,000 to the price. The price was still way cheaper than a mafia cab, so I obliged.

I prefer the apps because when you are in a new place and unfamiliar with what the actual transport price should be, it is given to you without any haggling or tipping to worry about.

Goride Canggu to Seminyak

Gojek also offer a variety of other delivery services.

Gojek Services

Where to stay Canggu

There is a serious accommodation boom happening in Canggu (849 properties were listed on Agoda at the time of my visit). The cheapest places are the home stays that can be found down little alleys off the main roads. Some of them have online booking, but if you are here for a while it would be worth enquiring at ones you pass in an area that interests you.

Ris home stay

I was only there for a short time so I didn’t want to spend my time finding a place by foot. I prefer to book in advance and I found a good homestay option on the main road. It’s a bit of a hike from the beach but if you are going to be here a while with a bike it is a good option. Find out about Canggu Stay here.

Canggu Stay

For a guesthouse that feels like a resort have a look at Coconuts Guesthouse Canggu.

Coconuts Guesthouse

In the 4-star range the Aston Canggu is walking distance to the beach.

Aston Canggu

Search all hotels in Canggu here. And don’t forget Airbnb as an accommodation option. If you haven’t used Airbnb you can get a $20 credit when you sign up here.

How will Canggu handle future development?

As I mentioned previously, the pace of change has been staggering. I suspect if I visit again in another three years time more agricultural land will have been paved over. Before I left I passed this rice field on Batu Bolong which was being boarded up ready for a new construction project. This rice crop will be the last one on this field.

Last rice crop

The word is definitely out the Canggu is the place to be, with the Intercontinental putting up a new hotel here.

Project Intercontinental Canggu

Further reading

cangguguide.com – The local destination guide to The Gu.

Canggu Guide – Bali-based Travelfish has a big guide on things to do.

The Ultimate Guide to Canggu for Independent Travellers and Digital Nomads – Carolin from breathingtravel.com spent a few months in Canggu and put together this guide.

The best places to eat, surf and hang around in Canggu – A guide by off-the-path.com.

April 10 2017

Da Nang – A dragon rising

Da Nang skyline

I was in Da Nang for a wedding which was a great excuse to return to a city I enjoy visiting. I’ve been four times now over the space of 12 years. The first time I was in Danang was in 2005, where I only passed through on a bus from Hoi An. I remember the city looking dusty and run-down. When I returned in 2013 it – like the rest of Vietnam – seemed to have transformed so much in such a short time.


Danang has long been in the tourism shadow of Hoi An, which is a 30 minutes drive to the south. The city is growing and becoming a destination in itself. With its ideal location of being half way between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the government has plans to turn it into a modern hub city. There is a skyline emerging along the riverfront, and a fire-breathing dragon bridge has become the symbol of the city.

Dragon Bridge

A city with a real beach – My Khe

Another noticeable change over the years has been the development of the My Khe beachfront. This was known by American servicemen as China Beach, and backpackers in the nineties and early oughts could find cheap guesthouses here. Until recently the beachfront was lined with seafood shacks. These restaurants sit on prime beach front land, so it’s no surprise that these are being replaced by hotel developments.

There are not many cities in Southeast Asia that are true cities on the beach front. I can see this stretch of beach becoming a mini Gold Coast.


Overdevelopment issues

I’m all for this section of the beach becoming a city-by-the-sea and for Da Nang to become a more world-class city. What is concerning is the surrounding developments. Part of Da Nang’s charm is it being so close to the mountains and the sea. Overlooking the Bay of Da Nang is the Son Tra Peninsula which is about to be a mass of construction.

And along the coast between Danang and Hoi An it seems that the whole beachfront will soon be wall-to-wall resorts, which is already seeing its beaches eroding from overdevelopment.

Coastal development

A convenient airport

Arriving at Da Nang

Another thing Danang has going for it is its centrally-located airport. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from the airport to the downtown area by the river.

There are plans to expand the current airport while it continues to gather a collection of international flights, making it an attractive entry point into Vietnam.

International flights are limited to East Asia and some Southeast Asia cities (KL, Singapore, Bangkok). With Vietjet Air expanding their reach it is likely that more Southeast Asia options will be added, and I predict that one of the big Middle Eastern airlines (the ME3) will fly here within 10 years.

And a convenient train station (but not for long)

Ga Da Nang

The train station is also in central Da Nang, but it will be moved eventually. The train used to loop through the city, which you can still see the old track. The train now has to switch engines at the station, which is a time consuming process.

Old railway track

The station will be moved outside the city so train will be able to pass through. In the future the station will become a hub for trains coming in from Laos and Thailand.

Living and working in Da Nang

Whenever I visit a city I like to see what it’s like to work and live. For now Da Nang doesn’t have the big city diversions that I find in mega cities like Saigon and Bangkok. Watch this space though, as I think this will change in the next few years. I suspect hipsters that have been priced out of Saigon and Hanoi will come here, and there will be a wave of interesting cafes and restaurants opening up.

I look forward to my next visit.

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