Cambodia

Arriving in Seam Reap, Cambodia, it became apparent very quickly that we had arrived at a very special time.  After being sprayed by giant water guns for the umpteenth time we finally asked someone – Maha Sangkran – New Year!

Well this turned our trip to visit the temples at Angkor Wat into something much more interesting for the children.  By day we walked the temples, by night we were water warriors!

Max was very excited to see Angkor Wat however I was not looking forward to wondering around old buildings all day, I know I’m terrible.  After squeezing all five of us into one tuk-tuk (money saving Yorkshire mentality is hard to let go of) we at least would have a fun ride there.

First impressions weren’t great as we were inundated with pushy sellers that I personally find very uncomfortable (and that’s quite an understatement).  The upside was the advice to buy a top to cover our arms; we had come with legs covered but in a vest top.  Max also loved his discounted book on the temples.

We then spent the day walking around the temples, even I was impressed, they are truly stunning. Looking out from the top gives you at least a feel for the vastness of the development.  I would have loved a helicopter tour to really see the extent of the ruins but when travelling for six months these luxuries are out of budget.

It was also lovely to be walking the temples with locals rather than just tourists as they enjoyed the temples as part of the 3-day new year celebrations. Seeing large family groups pitched up by the side of the road, cooking, playing and having an amazing time was a privilege.

Xander and Scarlett were pretty impressed with the temples however it was the evening that they continue to talk about daily.  Both children were bought their own small water guns and we entered the “zone” in the centre of Seam Reap.  It took about 5 minutes before Max bought himself the biggest one he could find.  It was great good-humoured fun.  Lots of water, smiles, music, dancing, and a gentle talcum powder rub on each cheek to wish you a happy New Year.  If anyone knows the background to the talcum powder please share!

We left Cambodia after a couple of days with fabulous memories of the sun rising over Angkor Wat, big smiles, warm welcomes and wet clothes.

 

Halong Bay – Vietnam

The sailing trip didn’t get off to the greatest start as apparently our boat was in for repairs as the tide was low?!?!?

Well, it turned out that did not matter, the boat we were on was fabulous and Halong Bay was just as beautiful as all the pictures on the internet. Our pictures on the other hand do not do it justice as the sun didn’t stay out long enough.  The cabins were fabulous, the food was abundant and great, the activities were fun – just the weather that could have been better.

The main highlights, other than the spectacular views, were:

Kayaking – A lovely way to explore the bay and appreciate the views and tranquility.   I swapped partners for the return trip, I am too unfit to be paired with Scarlett!  Laura and I did much better. The only downside was the rubbish floating at points in the bay which apparently comes from the shanty villages (imagine boats, wooden rafts etc roped together and you all have an idea) being damaged in high winds.

Caves – I must admit I was quite vocally against this trip, in my defence all the boats seemed to follow the same itinerary and that meant lots of people were there, add to that the steep set of steps and it wasn’t something I was looking forward to (and we had also seem spectacular caves in South Africa).  Well, the first cave was disappointing and I was all, I told you so, but then we entered the next cave and it was truly stunning.  Well worth the steps!

Pearl Farm – This was a surprisingly interesting visit.  They took us through the farming processing then Scarlett got picked to choose an oyster which they then checked for a pearl.  Well, Scarlett chose well and a pearl was found.  With Vietnam being Scarlett’s birthday location she came away with her pearl and a set of pearl earrings (not bad for a nearly 8 year old). What about you Maria I hear you ask? Nope I got nothing :(.

Food – Xander would say it was 11 courses (he was counting all meals in a day) and lovely.  It might not have been that many but it was lovely and fresh.  The best bit being the self-made fresh spring rolls we all attempted after our mini lesson.

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.

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.