Leaving Vietnam

To sum up Vietnam is quite a hard thing to do. Of course we have only had a too short, 3 weeks here and as we have stayed in real luxury with Mum and Paul for 2 of them that has made it a fantastic holiday. Before we came to Vietnam we heard many people say it is very beautiful and I’m sorry that we didn’t have the time to experience some of the most picturesque areas of central and northern Vietnam.

The biggest impact Vietnam made on our family is the friendly, gentle and welcoming nature of the Vietnamese people. Without exception, everywhere we visited we have been treated to smiles, laughter and interest in us. We all admitted that prior to our visit here we had some pre conceived thoughts about Vietnam, having witnessed how American history portrayed the war here but from the minute we arrived here all those images were swept away. On reflection it’s very hard to understand the American war here and the use of chemical agents such as napalm was a terrible crime against the Vietnamese people.

My image of HCMC will always be of thousands of motorcycles. Weaving in and out of each other with amazing dexterity, we witnessed lots of minor bumps that we sorted out in seconds. I will always picture the Vietnamese women in their beautiful national dress. They are absolutely stylish, elegant and graceful with their conical hats and long silk gloves clutching a magazine and sheltering their faces from the sun.

The weather here has been at times overwhelmingly hot. In Mui Ne we were so lucky with clear blue skies and bright sunshine everyday. Paul said it is the only place he has ever been where the aircon causes condensation on the outside of the bungalow windows in the morning! I read before we started our trip that only the hardiest of travellers come to SE Asia in the killer month of April and feel proud to now class myself as one of the toughest of the tough! Come On!

The food in Vietnam has been nothing short of awesome. I have absolutely loved our diet of steamed rice with “something else” laid on top and we have certainly had our minds broadened as to the possibilities of what can constitute “edible”

I will be sorry to leave, of all the countries we have visited so far in Asia, I feel like we have seen the least of Vietnam. It has been an education for us all, particularly I think in forgiveness, pulling together and getting on with it. Despite the terror of the war that tore the country apart and only ended 35 years ago the Vietnamese people really do seem to have rebuilt Vietnam. It is a lovely country and I think we all leave here admiring the spirit of the place and hoping that we will come back one day.

Mum and Paul go home

Woke up with a massive headache and feeling slightly sick. Ali was sleeping in Mum and Paul’s room and I stumbled across the corridor to check they were up. Of course they were all bright and breezy and after a quick shower I joined them for breakfast which I then found I didn’t want.

We have decided to go shopping this morning but when we asked The Kindo Hotel if we could stay for another night they informed us they were full, leaving us with the problem of finding somewhere to stay tonight. In the end we decide the best thing to do would be to send the kids with Mum and Paul whilst we check out some rooms for tonight. As I’m not feeling too great I just can’t face staying in a crappy dive tonight and we phone a midrange place for 40 dollars.

When we arrive in the taxi I’m a bit gutted to see that it looks like a bit of a shithole and I sit on the pile of rucksacks while Simon goes up the road to find somewhere better. After about 15 mins he comes back and we walk to the 2 star Hanh Hoa Hotel. What a great find, the rooms are lovely, freshly painted with massive windows and pretty bamboo furniture. At 15 dollars per night I’m really pleased and we chuck our gear in and head back to Dong Khoi.

We have arranged to meet everyone at 1pm and they are already weighted down with shopping bags when we arrive. Mum and Paul have given the kids some money and Ali shows us his MP4 player he has bought. Maisie, Mum and I head straight off for the mall and I take advantage of the fact that we can buy some souvenirs without worrying about carrying them. I get some chopsticks, a miniature Chinese tea set and a lacquered poster of “Tintin in Vietnam”. I ‘m worried that Simon won’t like this and his look of disgust when I show him confirms it! We ring home and speak to my brother it’s his birthday today and Mum and I sing down the phone. Happy Birthday Will!

The afternoon passes too quickly and soon it is time for Mum and Paul to start preparing for their flight home. We sit in a cafe listening to The Carpenters and getting very emotional and all end up laughing when mum tells us how she cried over Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys on the way up to Birmingham one day. Its starts me off crying also and we must have looked like a bunch of crazy people to the Vietnamese waiters all laughing our heads off with tears running down our faces!

We get in taxi and make our way to The Hanh Hoa Hotel where they have a quick freshen up. Ali has a terrible headache and it gets worse on the way to the airport. Poor Ali, I think he is worried about saying goodbye and feeling stressed out. We say our goodbyes and it’s horrible. I feel very sad that they are going, in some ways worse than when we left as we know what it’s like now. There are a few tears as we wave them off. We get back into a taxi and Ali falls asleep within 10 minutes.

Back at the hotel and Ali gets straight in bed. Hope he feels better tomorrow, we are flying to Singapore and then to China. I am looking forward to it but feeling a bit down really. We watch Robots and eat take out pizza for dinner. I guess I’ll feel better tomorrow. Ready for the next bit of action.

Last day in Mui Ne

Today is our last day in Mui Nne and we pack up our stuff sadly and then make our way to breakfast. Too soon it is time to go and we all pile in the taxi. The journey takes around 4 hours and we can tell we are nearing HCMC as the number of motorcycles on the road increases massively.

We stop on the way for a drink and Mum buys some horrible” jackfruit” crisps that none of us can stomach! We arrive back at The Kimdo Hotel and check in. We had planned to go out for dinner but as I’m feeling sick and headachy we decide to stay in. We make our way to the restaurant and have a good meal. Ali has a steak and as usual raises a few eyebrows when he asks for it to be cooked rare!

We all sit in our room afterwards and Ali plays his guitar showing off the songs he has written since we have been away. Simon and I bicker over who will be his manager when he makes it as a star and he solves that row by saying he will manage himself! Checked a few emails, great to see Lou the girl we met in Cambodia had such a great time there. Also heard from Nicky she’s great keeps me in touch with the world at home. Hello mate you’re a star!

Off to bed now tomorrow Mum and Paul are leaving and we want to make the most of our last day.

Phan Thiet

Ali is better today and came in to see us first thing singing Reach for the Stars by S-Club 7 and dancing around the room. Hmmm! We have our breakfast and quickly shower and decide we will get ourselves ready and visit the nearby town of Phan Thiet. We call a taxi and all pile in. Phan Thiet is a busy fishing and market town and the cabbie drops us in the town square from where we can walk around easily.

First we head into the market and almost immediately are surrounded by women showing off their goods. Some of the silks look gorgeous but to show even the slightest interest results in an excitable crowd gathering around and high pressure selling techniques!
In the end we settle for drinks and some fried coconut and honey biscuits. We walk through the food areas and gaze around. The fish area is disgusting, huge piles of fish lie in baskets and on the floor and the smell is fairly grim.

We hurry through and make our way past the fruit and vegetables. Lots of ladies touch Maisie’s face, legs and bottom and chatter to themselves. Mum and Paul comment on how friendly the Vietnamese people are and we definitely agree with this observation. Everywhere we look people smile, wave and call out to us and very generously agree to have their photographs taken.

We leave the market, have a quick drink in a rooftop restaurant of a local hotel and then set off for a walk along the river to photograph the boats. Simon gets a few shots and it makes an interesting walk. On the way back we look in a tank at some giant snails. I’m sure these will end up on someone’s dinner plate. Urgh! We have seen some interesting food choices on the menus here including steamed claw and tail, baked pig stomach, roasted frog and fried crispy sand lizard.

We set off in a taxi back to Mui Ne and stop at The Victoria Hotel. We have a lovely lunch and a few glasses of wine sat high on a wooden veranda overlooking the sea. It is a perfect, breezy spot and Mum and I agree the kind of idyllic “honeymoon” destination place.

When we get back to Little Mui Ne Cottages Maisie, mum and I have a swim. We sit gossiping and reliving some of the best parts of this holiday. We agree it has been lovely and we’ve had a fantastic time.

Lazy Days

Ali hasn’t been very well for the past few days and spent all of yesterday in bed poor thing feeling crappy. Subsequently we have done nothing but that has suited us fine. We figure that once we arrive in China it will be much colder and there will be so much to see and do, we may as well take advantage and spending our time reading books, swimming and baking in the sun.

Mum went for a massage but although Simon asked me if I wanted to go I am too savvy for that and there’s no way I would put myself through that torture. Mum did look slightly shell shocked when she came out! The fact that the girl had walked all over her back was a bit of a surprise although not as much of a surprise Paul got when he asked the female receptionist what type of massages were offered! We explained that their shocked expressions were something to do with the fact that they weren’t used to being asked for extras!

All around the resort are huge coconut palms. The past few days a small team of fellas have been working on the trees chopping them all back, removing all the older branches and hacking down the bunches of coconuts. Watching the fella shinning up the tree is awesome. He has a rope tying his ankles together and uses this and his machete to help him up. How brave is he. I stand watching him with the Vietnamese phrasebook in my hand but can’t find “Oh my god aren’t you scared you might fall off” in it.

We eat at Little Mui Ne Cottages in the evening and share all our dishes. Off to bed now hope Ai is better tomorrow.

Fairy Stream, Fishing Village and Sand Dunes

When I woke up this morning I was surprised to see it was only 8.30 as I felt I had been asleep for days. I left Simon and the kids asleep and headed off to the bar to send a few emails. Eventually Mum and Paul appeared and I woke Simon, Ali and Maisie at 9.30 for breakfast.

Mum and Paul’s bungalow is in a prime position just by the beach and they have spent the past few days frying in the suns hot rays. The kids and I prefer the pool though and it’s very luxurious. As it is so hot in the daytime most people seem to want the beach breeze and the gorgeous pool is nearly always empty apart from us. We love swimming around in the warm sometimes hot water under the shade of the tall palm trees.

We have our lunch over the road and at 2pm set off in the back of a jeep on a trip. As there is very little to do around Mui Ne the local sights and attractions are lumped together in a combination trip and we have planned to visit the “Fairy Spring”, red and white sand dunes, the red canyon and a local fishing village.

We drive around 200 metres up the road and the fella stops, he motions that we should get out and we realise that we have arrived at the “Fairy Spring”. A small group of local children surround us and lead us up a path to the murkiest looking drizzle of a river I have ever seen. We soon realise that the general idea is that we should paddle along the stream bed to the waterfall at the end.

We do pass some pretty red and white rock formations on the way but given the fact that it is boiling hot, it takes us at least half an hour to get there and the waterfall turns out to be only around 5ft high I reckon it must win a prize for the crappest attraction so far on a our trip.

Back in the jeep and we soon reach the fishing village. As we pull up loads of children run up with trays of shells to sell. We tell them firmly that we want to see their village first before we buy anything from them. We walk down the steps to the beach and Simon gets some beautiful photographs. A little girl clutches onto my hand and we chat as we walk along. She tells me she doesn’t go to school, too expensive and that her mother has a bad chest. When we get back to the jeep I agree to buy a few shells. Simon points out that every dollar we give them encourages their parents not to send them to school but I figure that at least they aren’t out begging.

Next we arrive at the white sand dunes, they are lovely but we felt we had all seen equally impressive dunes elsewhere in the world and were more interested in the sand sledging. What a rip off really!! The local kids charge 20000 dong per slide on a piece of laminate plastic and the sand gets everywhere. Still we have a great time, we laugh at the children they really are so enterprising we admire their tough little spirits and relentless exploitation of tourists! Our kids are so great chatting away with no shyness whatsoever and I’m proud that although they both have humanitarian spirits and acknowledge and recognise how poor it is in some areas here they aren’t stupid and refuse to be ripped off by the Vietnamese kids!

We tell the driver we’re not too fussed about seeing the red dunes but stop off quickly at the red canyon. We are all tired and refuse to get out of the jeep but Simon wanders off to get a photo to show us later on the laptop!

When we get back its takes ages to shower off the mixture of sun cream and sand and we lie on the bed watching the telly. There are some really interesting programs on the discovery channel and soon the kids are engrossed in a documentary about The Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Maisie in particular likes learning ancient Egyptian history and was very disappointed when we visited Egypt not to visit Cairo. I promise her we will take her one day.

We then start watching a documentary called The First Emperor of China about the Terracotta Army. We end up ordering take out pizza and lying on the bed watching TV. It’s good for the kids to see and a bit of an easier way for them to research our next destination. Mum and Paul have their meal and join us for a quick beer. Later we all crash out completely knackered, our bit of exercise today has done us in.

BBQ by the pool

I woke up early this morning and lay shivering in the aircon room. At 8 o’clock I decided to get us some coffee and wandered along to the restaurant. Despite it being early the sun burns into me and we spend most of the morning researching hostels in China on the net and staying in the shade. We do some science with the kids and it goes well. We have a revision session at the end of each section of work and they both seem to be able to answer all the questions fully.

I lie reading my book in the afternoon by the pool. It’s excellent, set in 1960′s Nigeria and called Half of a Yellow Sun. Like lots of books I like reading I was attracted to this one once I found it was set in Africa. Although I have visited a few African countries I would like to go there for a longer time and have added Africa to my mental list of places to go in the future. Simon and I were saying to Mum and Paul that although we have travelled to some great places and would like to revisit some of them, this trip has made us both want to explore new places that we hadn’t previously considered.

In the evening we have booked to eat dinner here at Little Mui Ne Cottages Resort. The pool setting is ideal for a night time BBQ as it looks really magical in the dark. Fairy lights are hung in the trees and Chinese red lanterns swing gently in the light breeze. We can smell Jasmine and the scent of other flowers. The wine is displayed in an upturned round fishing boat, lined with huge banana plant leaves and there is a choice of salads, beef kebabs, fish steak and tiger prawns. We have fresh fruit and one of my favourite puddings crème caramel. Love it!

After dinner Paul crashes out and me, Simon, mum and the kids make our way to the beach. We sit gazing up at the stars and I show Maisie Orions Belt the only star constellation I can recognise. The tide is far out and its lovely sat on the warm sand listening to the waves and looking for crabs. We have a beer and head off for bed. Today has been perfect, tranquil and relaxing.

Burning on the beach

The past few days have been spent alternately lying by the pool, lazing on the beach, eating or drinking. I am beginning to feel completely apathetic and I guess really need a rocket up my arse to get motivated to do anything.

Yesterday wasn’t too pleasant as Simon, Ali and I fell out over schoolwork. Trying to teach maths is really hard for me and I wondered afterwards if my total lack of enthusiasm for it contributed to Alisters uncooperative attitude. (Must try harder). Anyway after a few words we did eventually all make friends and got on with the day.

Due to the boiling heat we have spent a lot of time on the beach where it is cooler. The sea isn’t very clean though and when I went for a swim I noticed a few brown jellyfish as well as a lot of sticks and seaweed. As Mui Ne is marketed as one of Vietnams most beautiful stretches of coastline we all agreed that it would benefit from some beach cleaning if Vietnam becomes really popular with tourists over the next few years.

I have spent a few hours researching our next destination which is China. At the moment we have no idea where we want to go other than walking on The Great Wall and to Xian to see The Terracotta Army. I am starting to realise that China is absolutely vast and wonder if we have made the right decision to only spend a month there.

Last night we walked to a small restaurant for dinner. Despite us being the only customers the food took ages to come! However it was tasty and we had a bit of excitement when the power went leaving us completely in the dark. The lovely friendly staff brought us a lamp that unfortunately attracted every bug in the vicinity.

Got back from dinner and the kids decided to go for a swim in the dark. Paul jumped in with them in his pants and they had a great time splashing around. I picked up a magazine from reception and lay reading the Australian equivalent of Take a Break. What a load of crap! Won’t be buying that when we get to Oz.

Little Mui Ne Cottages

How lazy are we, didn’t wake up until 9.30 and had to race to breakfast before it finished. We were planning on spending the day at the beach but in the end never made it. We have no excuse it is so close to our room we can hear the waves crashing on the shoreline but the pool looked so inviting we didn’t get any further than the sunbeds.

The Little Mui Ne Cottages Resort is really lovely. Off the main road you enter a long drive and eventually reach some steps. At the bottom of the steps are two large pots filled with water and flower blossoms are floated on the surface. Up the steps is the reception area which consists of a bar, restaurant and small library. There is a snooker table and dart board and games including back gammon, chess and connect four. From this area is another fight of steps down leading to the pool and the bungalows. The pool is so clean, absolutely sparkling and it’s great as there are very few other guests staying here.

The grounds are immaculate and beautifully landscaped with coconut palms, scores of different brightly coloured flowers and bushes. It is for us completely different to anything we have experienced so far whilst on our trip. We did compare it to Ko Lanta but it is a much more luxurious experience than we had there. I think this will be our last beach place for a while and therefore am glad for the opportunity to laze around.

Although I have always needed hours of sleep and feel knackered all day if I don’t get at least 9 hours a night I feel a bit embarrassed now Mum and Paul are here. They must think we are very idle! But then again they know what I am like and as Simon keeps pointing out to me travelling is tiring!

Simon has looked on the internet and discovered cashews are inedible until cooked and that he has on his face a kind of acid burn that may blister. I’m not too sympathetic as he picked it up from the floor but do rest the temptation to labour that point too much! (With difficulty!) We checked our emails today and heard from The Spiers family in Canada who are following our trip. Soon it will be their turn and we will be following them! Also caught up with news from some of our friends.

The area of Mui Ne is very quiet and apart from 3 small restaurants there is very little to do here. There is a fishing village just up the road and Simon gets some good photographs of their small round boats.

In the evening we walk up the road for ages before we find somewhere to eat. We pass a restaurant on the way advertising baked goats udders but none of us fancied those tonight and we keep walking. Dinner costs about a tenner for all six of us and we walk back in the dark. Stuffed and happy!