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.
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
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…
I’ve already done my farewell to South Africa post but I still have our adventures from the rest of South Africa to post. We had an amazing time travelling from Sibuya along the Garden Route to Cape Town. We stayed for two nights in Storms River Tsitsikamma, Knysna, Mountains Inn near Mossel Bay and Berluda Farm near Ouitshorn with a final long drive to Cape Town then a four day stay.
All the drive was lovely, all scenery beautiful. The first highlight was the walk up the river at Storms River. Lots of scrambling making us hot, which justified our little skinny dip in one of the many river pools. It was to be expected with a walk called Striptease Trail! We encountered a pizza restaurant that couldn’t serve pizza as they had no cheese ?!?! And a lovely afrikaans gentleman who wanted to talk rugby given Xan’s Lions shirt. We managed to avoid the scary zipline and treetop walk Scarlett wanted to do (theme of the adventure is becoming Scarlett’s fearlessness!).
On the drive to Knysna we stopped at a wonderful beach we could see from the road at Plattenberg Bay. Lovely morning “jumping waves” – at least Xander seemed to have finally got over his immediate fear of being eaten by a shark (as constant topic of conversation) and talking to a lovely lady who finally explained the weird lines on the roads that could be a hard shoulder or a basic duel carriage way. Somehow I was convinced to go on a downhill scooter trip, look for the photos of me looking terrified. Again shown up by my two children who loved it.
The drive to our next destination, Mountains Inn, proved to be interesting when my poor sat nav skills (combined with a actual poor sat nav!) led us onto an unmarked road…Max would have loved it in Marilyn but the poor hire car was not happy to be on a dirt track for quite so many kilometres. Mountains Inn, although much further from Mossel Bay than we thought, was just beautiful especially from the mountain top on horseback!
The next stop was further inland at Berluda Farm in the heart of the Ostrich farming region. Yep, I made Max go on the farm tour much to his disgust. I thought he would have been excited to see where his breakfast eggs & sausages and dinner steak came from (pmsl!!!). We did fit in a little vineyard visit which we thought would be the first of many but sadly we jut couldn’t find the time to fit another in. Max had another “missing my Landy” moment when we went on a mountain pass. The views were just stunning and we met a lovely man who had been travelling through Africa on his own for three years!
Whilst here we visited the Cango Caves and Scarlett finally got her zipline adventure! As all those who know me well we have guessed, I was the only one not to brave it!!!!!