The Blog

Hanoi – Vietnam

Hanoi was just amazing.  I won’t bore you with a hour by hour review, but just some of the highlights and some photos (which I have tried to caption – not sure I’m skilled at that).

Night market – This was full of great crafts, like the handmade pop up cards that were just beautiful, mixed with lots of fake goods.  Max, being a Yorkshireman, couldn’t resist what appeared to be great bargains and we left with a Bose portable bluetooth speaker, new Nike trainers for Xander, pink headphones for Scarlett and a NorthFace t-shirt and coat for Max.  Anyone would think we had unlimited luggage allowance!

Food – At first we were very worried about the food given the fact that it was all on display.  Where are the fridges we cried!  Also the general hygiene was not great – don’t look at the walls. Well, all the food was fresh so no need for fridges and none of us got food poisoning. We did however get the most amazing food, my favourite being from New Day that Laura took us to on the first night (TripAdvisor wins again).

Hanoi Hilton – Our visit to the old prison was very interesting and gave us an opportunity to teach the kids (and ourselves) a little bit about the French and American wars.  I was very cognisant of the victor-bias in all the information but was still struck by the sheer amount of conflict this nation has had in recent history.  It just added to my positive feelings that they could be such a welcoming happy nation in the light of such horrors. Prison visit – Hà Nội

The Bridge (and views) – The never-ending crazy busy bridge (trains, mopeds, cyclists and stupid tourists).  I was absolutely terrified, given the height and the big gaps and loose paving slabs, but determined to walk across.  I was rewarded with great views of the river, and ordinary people living and working.  We even saw a cockfight going on amongst the allotments (can’t think of a more apt word) near the shanty houses.  The bridge itself was subject to constant bombing in the American War but they found a solution – get the POWs to fix it.    Apparently this resulted in the USA stopping the bombing to protect their service men from the rebuild dangers.

Turtle Temple – In the middle of Hanoi is a lake, which is lovely to walk around, and on that lake is a little island temple.  The story is that of a turtle and sword.  The detailing was just stunning and it was great to see locals as well as tourists still using it for reflection and worship.

Water Puppet Show – The puppets were just beautiful and the show was great.  Only downside was that the low lighting level and relaxing music, combined with dialogue we couldn’t understand, seemed to create a lovely sleep-inducing effect and I had to constantly fight my nodding head.

My Super Adventure

The Leaving Ceremony

As we were getting onto the speedy train 🚂 a shiver came down my spine like someone was stepping onto my grave.  For the first time it hit me, we were actually going away.  I started to get nervous but the train was about to leave so I gave Oma a final hug and stepped onto the train.

As the train pulled away I frantically waved at Oma, it would be six months until I saw her again.  As the train turned the corner I made for my seat 💺.

2 hours later we finally pulled into London Kings Cross, I would later find out that by Australian 🇦🇺 standards this was just a trip to the pub next door 🚪.  As I stepped of the train my back ached and I felt lonely already even though I had only been gone a few hours, it felt like forever. I was looking forward to when I got to the hotel room and could FaceTime Harry.

After a while, we got into the hotel room and changed.  There were a few restaurants  and bars in the end we ended up in a grotty Irish 🍀 bar which I plainly disliked.  The menu was pants, it was very busy and full of people.

In the morning, we went to go for a leisurely swim which turned out to be the second lesson of our trip, as we did 6 pages of our work books when we got up, it was hard but fun all the same.

When we got back to the room Mum told us to hurry up and that the taxi to take us to the airport would be here soon.  So we slipped some comfortable clothes on and went down to the lobby where our luggage was waiting for us.  The taxi  was waiting at the front and I got in, Mum told me to budge up so she could get in.

We were off!

 

 

 

Vietnam – first stop

After Xander being very unsure in Hong Kong and our expectations of Vietnam being “very different”, we were all a bit anxious about our month there.

First step was getting into the country, Max and I had decided to follow the embassy website advice to not use the e-visa process as it can’t be guarenteed, and go all the way to London and get the visas in person over two days.  It was just an added bonus that this meant we could have a fabulous two evenings out in London with Yvonne, Amanda, Laura and Pete wishing us luck for our travels.

Laura went with the e-visa…would she get in?  How long would it take? Well, e-visa worked fine.  Really quick (Xan says it was still longer than having the visa already!).  Would have saved us train to/from and two nights hotel in London.  This was one of Max’s caution decisions that wasn’t needed…

In keeping with our cautious approach to Vietnam, all the accommodation was booked in advance along with hotel pick ups and transfers.  The transfer from the hotel consisted of us looking out the window at the traffic in utter amazement and trepidation that we would have to figure out how to manage through this craziness of mopeds.

Pulling into our hotel, the Angel Palace, the challenge began – could we cross the road?

For those on Facebook you may have seen our short videos of our road crossing attempts.  We managed that afternoon with the simple advice of “just walk slowly across the road and let the traffic go round you”.  Seemed simple. I was just a bit worried about the added “don’t stop, or walk too quickly, otherwise you will get hit!”.

By the end of the first day we were already in love with Vietnam and its energy.  The hotel, although only a 3* was very modern, clean and perfect.  The traffic was daunting but we managed, the difference to the UK is that no one seems to have the right of way, so everyone is expected to pay attention to everyone.  It works.  It also took at bit of getting used to the noise. All the “beeps” were not people being angry with each other, the noise was not one of aggression.  They were just curtesy beeps to let people know they were there.  The crazy traffic, the noise, and the people.

The people, or more specifically families, are just on the street.  Small plastic chairs and tables outside their home, shop, restaurant are were they seem to spend the evenings.  Watching the world go by whist cooking their dinner.  As an avid people watcher myself I just loved it.

Well, that was my first impression of Vietnam from Hanoi.  I’m going to post more about Vietnam with our photos and writing about the various places we visited, but my first impression never changed.  An amazing place, great people, great feeling, just love it.

Will definitely visit again.

Footnote:  Electricity…don’t look up!

Reading 📖 – the thing to do in a thunderstorm ⛈ 

Well, after 43 days of travelling I’m finally ready to begin reading from my friends recommendations.  Yvonne all yours were covered in the first 43 days ☺️. If something you recommended isn’t on the list of probably read it!

I’m really looking forward to reading some new authors, I like most books with my favourite author being Iain Banks (and his sci-if Iain M Banks) but with limited time I’ve been reading mostly trash for the last few years with the odd exception.

Feel free to add or even to agree with some of the titles!

My plan is to edit this blog with my thoughts on each novel.

  1. Animal Farm by George Orwell.
  2. Jack Reacher – Well, I’ve read the first three books.  I did really enjoy them but by the third one I decided they were a bit too similar for me to want to read anymore from this series, just my personal choice.
  3. The hitchikers guide to the galaxy books- Douglas Adams
  4. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
  5. Grapes of wrath or any other Steinbeck book.
  6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
  7.  The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.
  8. Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre.
  9. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
  10. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella.
  11. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – I read this book whilst in Vietnam which seemed rather fitting.  Very thought provoking book, I think I will have to read it again.  Happiness or freedom seemed to be my main takeaway.  It did make me think of Singapore and Vietnam society.  In Singapore, from my limited knowledge, they seem to have a benovelent dictatorship but everyone seems happy and well cared for, but do they feel trapped, do they dream of a more free society?   
  12. Travels with Charly
  13. The Goldfinch
  14. Mists of Avalon- Marion Zimmer Bradley
  15. Pillars of the Earth- Ken Follett
  16. Shogun- James Clavell
  17. State of Fear, timeline, rising sun, prey-Michael Crichton
  18. The Stand, It- Stephen King
  19. Lightening- Dean R Koontz
  20. Water ship Down- Richard Adams
  21. All the light you cannot see – by Anthony Doerr.
  22. Fingerprints of the Gods, keeper of the Genesis, magicians of the gods- Graham Hancock

Hong Kong

After meeting Laura at the baggage reclaim we had an evening, then two full days in Hong Kong.  The first evening was spent in Soho for dinner and drinks.  After South Africa, Zambia, and Singapore – its was bloody freezing! Not sure if it was just the cold but none of us took to Hong Kong that well.  Xander found it all very intense and uncomfortable.

On waking up it became apparent that one of the fatal flaws in doing “as Laura does”  is I am just not as organised (understatement of the year).  This resulted in no breakfast for the Leightons.  Laura however loved her pork dumplings and even managed to smuggle out some goodies for the kids.

A trip on a local bus to the hill top to see the views an then back down on the victoria tram was planned.  It was however extremely disappointing that all you could see from the top was grey cloud!!!  We consoled ourselves with a visit to the trick-eye museum so we could at least take some souvenir photos.  Very silly but fabulous fun.  I usually avoid the camera as much as possible but even I got caught up in the fun.

Lunch was at……drum roll please….Maxims Palace! If you find that funny it was nothing to the staff who couldn’t stop giggling when Max explained why we were there.  We may have only picked it for the name but it was lovely.  Traditional Dim Sum brought round on trolleys.

More electronic browsing (as Max spied an Apple store) was followed by a short rest then onto Times Square for dinner.  Slightly embarrassed to say we ended up at Jamie’s Italian as the kids were a little tired and cranky.  Ok, not just the kids…

DISNEY BABY!!!!  I may hate rides but I just love the atmosphere at theme parks.  After a suitable lecture to all going that my fun would be ruined it anyone even mentioned my name and any rides I was all set. A lovely day at a park just the right size for a day visit.  I even when on the BuzzLightYear ride (although Scarlett killed more than me :() and the Misty Castle ride.  The highlight was the parade in the evening, everyone love neon lights.

Still not sure Hong Kong is my favourite place,  but it is amazing – from the bamboo scaffolding, the matching taxis, the sheer “fullness” of the place.

Singapore

After the frantic pace of our African leg, with visits to most places only two nights, and the longest 4, we were looking forward to a relaxed week staying with Claire and Igor in Singapore.

The week was lovely and just what we needed.  It was just great staying with friends, being able to relax, chat, watch TV (kids!) and feel at home.  Thank you again Claire and Igor, you couldn’t have made us feel more welcome.

We all loved Singapore, an amazing place that feels so safe and clean and really helped us as a family have a gentle introduction to Asia. We spent the week jumping on the MRT (Singapore underground) and walking (a lot!!).  I was so proud of the kids trying all the food, Zim Zams was a bit much for Xander but everyone loved the Dim Sum.

We did China town and little India, both brilliant.  Our Family highlights were:

  • Xander: Going to football training with Igor, getting a Tiger henna tattoo, the view from the Marina Bay Sands (and mummy and daddy being terrified)
  • Scarlett: China town and my new red dress, ArtScience museum where we could draw pictures and they then become 3D and appeared as part of a scene on the wall
  • Maria: Kids playing in the inflatable ArtZoo, didn’t see them for two hours and got to finish my book (not my fault Max thought we’d all been kidnapped – apologies Claire for the worn tread in your floor).  The Buddhist temple, just lovely and so welcoming, I’m looking forward to reading my Buddhism for beginners book.
  • Max: Sim Lim (an electronic mall  – hard drive, two camera lenses, two usb fans) and the China town tailors (three new shirts)

 

 

 

 

Zambia

Our second country was Zambia, I feel a little like a cheat in saying we visited as we only went to our hotel near Livingstone and Victoria Falls.  However I can honestly say we will be back (we might have to save for a while, as it was very expensive compared to South Africa).

Livingstone is the only place in Zambia that retains its colonial name in recognition of Livingstone’s positive influence on the country. The town buildings are still from the colonial era and are protected.  It looks a bit surreal.

We were very privileged to be staying in a hotel in the Victoria Falls national park, with only a two minute walk to the falls; which did kind of make our prepaid guided tour kind of the falls pointless (imagine it – we all get into a 7-seater van excited for our trip to the falls…the driver pulls out the hotel…rounds a corners…and parks!  So funny! We must have looked right plonkers!!!).

The kids favourite thing wasn’t the falls however but the resident monkeys and zebras that hung around the rooms and grazed by the pool!

The falls were just spectacular and enormous, especially vast as we were seeing them in the wet season.  The splash from the falls bounces up and then falls down, like a heavy tropical rainstorm.  You get wet from all directions!  With the hotel so near a little water was a small price to pay for the views, the immense sound of gushing water and the vastness.  Truly one of the most breathtaking sights I have seen.

I also followed the kids advice from the morning and went in the afternoon without a waterproof to enjoy the freedom of just getting wet!  I wasn’t the only one, as a group of excited Zambian girls were enjoying dancing in the waterfall rain also.

In the evening we took a sunset cruise up the Zambizie.  The evening was great with new friends made for us and the kids (Scot, South African and American) but what topped it off was the amazing sight of the Hippos in the water.  So graceful and beautiful playing in the water.  Wonderful.

Xander and Scarlett did find it funny that mummy just couldn’t cope with the banter from the market traders.  I get stressed with sedate english shop assistants, imagine my horror at being talked to by all of them, encouraged to buy and touch it all.  You can see me now can’t you, cringing and trying to hide behind Max!

Enjoy the photos, I like the one of our personal coach transfer back to the airport…