GET­TING THERE

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

I’m in prison on the Viet­namese is­land of Pho Quoc and guards are tor­tur­ing their cap­tives, hang­ing them up­side down, pulling their teeth out, and ad­min­is­ter­ing elec­tric shocks. For­tu­nately this is not real, but lurid de­pic­tions of scenes when the is­land was a prison camp for 40,000 pris­on­ers back in the 1970s. It’s a strange tourist at­trac­tion, a hang­over from the days when Viet­nam wanted to present itself as a tough com­mu­nist state. These days, although it’s still com­mu­nist, the gov­ern­ment

VIET­NAM Air­lines (viet­na­mair­lines.com) of­fers the UK’s only non­stop route fly­ing from Lon­don to Hanoi or Saigon. Re­turn fares cost from around £500 in March.

Ex­pe­ri­ence Travel Group (www. ex­pe­ri­ence­trav­el­group.com) can tai­lor-make seven night hol­i­days to Southern Viet­nam from £2,101 per adult, stay­ing at the Park Hy­att Saigon (saigon.park.hy­att. com), the Vic­to­ria Can Tho (www. vic­to­ri­a­ho­tels.asia) and La Ve­randa, Phu Quoc (www.laveran­dare­sorts. com)in­clud­ing flights and trans­fers. is keen to present a more friendly face and is do­ing its best to at­tract tourists. The is­land has long stretches of palm-fringed golden sandy beaches, un­touched jun­gle and abun­dant ma­rine life around the tiny is­lands off the coast.

New ho­tels are going up all over the place and the area has high hopes of be­com­ing the Viet­namese equiv­a­lent of Phuket.

I start my Viet­nam trip in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it’s still known to the lo­cals; Viet­nam Air­lines flies di­rect from Lon­don. At the mo­ment you don’t even need a visa and I sail through im­mi­gra­tion into the early morn­ing traf­fic. Most peo­ple don’t own cars, but the streets are clogged with thou­sands of scoot­ers, some con­tain­ing en­tire fam­i­lies.

At first sight the leg­endary charm of Saigon seems to have been re­placed by a bustling mod­ern city, dogged by con­struc­tion work and new high rises.

How­ever, as I set­tle in and ex­plore on foot, I be­gin to get a sense of its colo­nial past. The Con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel, where Gra­ham Greene set The Quiet Amer­i­can still ex­ists, although the few for­lorn ta­bles on the ter­race are a sad re­minder of what it used to be.

Other lo­ca­tions from the novel have been de­mol­ished but still going strong is the rooftop bar at the Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel

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