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.


Viet Nam – the conclusion 

After a wonderful few weeks already in Viet Nam we finished off with two very different locations, Ho Chi Minh city (HCM) and Pho Quoc island.

HCM was everything we expected, crazy traffic and high rise buildings and lots of hustle and bussel.  The food was again lovely and going to a rooftop bar to enjoy cocktails and the view is a must!  Pho Quoc was the complete opposite, a wonderfully quiet Island that is still in the early stages of commercialisation.  Lots of sunbathing, swimming and Xander qualified as a PADI open water junior diver.  Forever memories made.

America War

To balance out all our relaxing so far, and that to come on the Island, we decided to take the children to the War Remnants Museum and out to the Cu Chi tunnels, with the aim of educating them about the more modern history of Viet Nam.  Both were well worth a visit, but I would be very cautious about what in each place you allow the children to see.  The museum contained many photographs of very disturbing images and there are recreations of the barbaric traps at the tunnels.

Although I wanted the children to learn about the horrors of war, particularly this one when “collateral damage” seemed to first become an acceptable part of strategy, I didn’t need them to see it in full technicolor at their young ages.  I must admit I, as a 40 year-old women, found both the photos and traps very disturbing.

Our guide for the Cu Chi tunnels was a fascinating man, a vet of the war who supported the Americans as a communications engineer.  He was keen to give us insights into the real experience, rather than the adapted ‘Tourist” version.  Slightly worrying that he stopped talking whenever one of the state guides walked past.  He underwent two years of reeducation camps and is still blacklisted from most jobs, hence freelancing as a guide.

My lasting impression, and personal view, was just the sheer horror of a war that reduced normal people to nothing.  Made even more sad, given the unimaginable casualty numbers (again sanitised language – dead people), by the fact the war wasn’t primarily about Viet Nam or its people – just a old fashioned pissing contest between larger nations.

PADI  – back to happy thoughts

Well, back in the UK Xander was desperate to learn to dive, but you can only start when you are 10.  He turned 10 three and half weeks before we set off.  Never one lacking in determination he attended a weekly course in Harrogate with OverlandUnderwater and crammed in all the book learning as well.  Super proud Mummy when he got 86% in the test.  However disappoint was felt when the weather came in whilst we were in South Africa preventing the qualifiying dives.

I was a bit reluctant at first for him to learn in Viet Nam due to unfounded prejudice on the potential professionalism and safety. Xander did a two day course with RainbowDivers, fitting in five dives, passing the practical tests, and making a new best friend. He is now a fully qualified PADI Open Water Junior Diver.  Awesome, or as they would say in New Zealand SWEET (where I am writing this avoid the torrential rain). Future posts will have him diving in Byron Bay, the Great Barrier Reef and Poor Knights Islands.

Bye Viet Nam

Upon leaving Viet Nam we were all very sad, a truly lovely country – great people, great scenery, great food – just great!  However on our next journey we began to debate whether the country is equally great for the people living there.  It is clear that economically the country has opened up, but are the people free, do they care?  Whilst travelling  in Viet Nam I read Aldous Huxley A Brave New World, and although on a day to day basis people seem to have all they need, is freedom more important than that? Are we putting our views onto them, would they see our slave to commercialism as equally constraining.  I’m afraid I have come to no conclusions, just lots of thoughts.

The Pictures  – more to follow


South Africa: Sibuya Game Reserve part one

The Beginning of Sibuya 

We were getting onto the motor boat that was going to take us to are first stop, Sibuya Game Reserve.  I was extremely exited but sadly I was half asleep!

As the boat started picking up speed I finally started waking up.  The ride was amazing  (and really fast) but it still took us a hour to get there because the Game Reserve was in the middle of know were.

Finally we got there, it was amazing  and we got shown to our tent/room it was a lot bigger than a usual tent and square but made out of tent fabrics.  The sun shone onto my face making me sweat again but we did not have time to have fun in the room because we had a night game dive in 30 minutes.

So I sliped my jumper on because it got very cold at night, Scott our game driver told us that the night before it got down to 4 degrees. So after all that I headed out and found a bowl of biscuits, I helped myself to one and waited for the others.  After a few minutes, every body was there, there were 10 tourists and 2 staff: Scott and Miles.

We were about to leave when they told us to bring a poncho just in case it rained.  Scot said that today we were going to try and find the Elephants 🐘 so we got on our way .  I started seeing Imparlers  the moment we got driving , although Scott called them McDonald’s because they were on every corner and fast food for the Lions 🦁.  We all found that very funny.  So we kept on driving for about an other hour and still no Elephants although we did nearly drive off the cliff several times and and we saw lots more MacDonald’s.

After another half hour of searching we gave up and Scott promised that we would find some tomorrow and we would also go see the Lions 🦁.


Hoi An – Vietnam

After constantly moving location since we set off it was a welcome break to arrive in Hoi An where we stayed for a week in an AirBnB.  The house was on a normal Vietnamese street and was in the traditional style.  It was fabulous  – if you are interest see link: airbnb.

I just loved Hoi An, it was a beautiful place with a river through the centre and lit up by lanterns at night.  As with all the locations we visited in Vietnam the food was spectacular.  The only downside was that this was planned as a beach week and the weather let us down, only made one day on the beach.  It was still very relaxing, and we actually enjoyed a more sedate pace and I caught up on some Reading 📖 – the thing to do in a thunderstorm ⛈ .

Cooking Course   – Following our trusted Trip Advisor we attended a cooking course with Green Bamboo.  The day started with a trip to the market to purchase all the ingredients for the various dishes (each person on the course was going to make their own dish).  This in itself was a great experience, learning about the meat, fish, vegetables, herbs and staples and seeing all the colourful fresh food.  Once back at the house we all then made our dishes, and as each was ready enjoyed a steady 12 course banquet!  I made a chicken curry, Scarlett fried spring rolls, Xander BBQ fish in banana leaves, Max traditional Pho and Laura Prawns.  We left the premises very full, with a cookbook and a commitment to each other to do a Vietnamese dinner party when we got home.

Tailoring – Hoi An is known for its exceptional tailors so getting something made was a must do activity.  I was being very me  and being scared of the shop assistants, but by day three of visiting even I was persuaded to get something made.  It didn’t seem optional after even Scarlett’s monkey Charlie got a new outfit – a banana shirt.  For those coming to Richard and Maria’s wedding in September look out for Max and Xander new suits!

Diving –  Xander (my little 10 year-old boy) worked very hard in the weeks before we left to pass his exam and swimming pool skills to enabling him to become a PADI Junior Open Water diver.  All he had left to do was his four qualifying dives.  Unfortunately there wasn’t time in Hoi An due to the weather but he did get in his first real dive, a discovery dive.  Look out for his blog on how he enjoyed it.

Neighbours – Our next door neighbours helped look after us and came in each morning to make us clean and make breakfast, usually omelet and lots of fresh fruit.  One morning they brought another neighbour, Gary, with them to explain they needed to come early the next day as they were celebrating the death of the husbands father, followed by an invite for us to attend.  We were very confused as it seemed odd to invite us to the funeral and assumed it was lost in translation.  Mid-morning the next day they popped in to ask (well gesture) if we were coming as food was ready.  Laura, Scarlett and I jumped up, got dressed (chilling remember) and headed over a bit worried.  Turns out it is an annual event to remember his father rather than a wake, and involved lots of family and food.  We were made to feel very welcome and the food was lovely if a little daunting.  Again just showing the welcoming nature of the Vietnamese.  (The boys missed out as they were diving)

Birthday Girl – Having your eighth birthday without all your family and friends could have been hard, but thanks to the present from Laura and all the e-cards and videos Scarlett had an amazing day.  We got a lovely birthday cake delivered (the French influence is really evident through the amazing bakeries) , attended the neighbours celebration, and finished the day with a lovely meal and putting lanterns onto the river.  The most memorable bit though was the YouTube birthday song.



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.