Monday, January 10, 2011

Vietnam with the Family - Part I

Hi all, Happy New Year.  May the New Year bring you wealth, health and happiness.

I have just spent 3 weeks in Vietnam with John, Aaron, Renee, Hayden, Renee, Nikita and Ethan.  It was great fun and wonderful being able to spend time with John,  Aaron and Renee and of course the 4 grandchildren.
Renee had done all the work before leaving Aussie and had arranged for a very busy and exciting itinerary and all I had to do was just tag along.  Fantastic.
I left Siem Reap on Saturday the 11th leaving about 1 hour late at 7pm and Sandra had already left the school heavily laden down with 38 kg of luggage which was mainly gifts for her family for Christmas.   Sandra will be missed as she is certainly larger than life and dearly loved by her students as was shown during our end of term party.
I arrived at the Hanoi airport and did the airport taxi shuffle and travelled what seemed ages to be met by John at the door of the hotel we were staying at.  It was great to see him again and to catch up on what has been happening back in Australia.   The family had just returned from two days in Halong Bay where they spent time on a boat, looking at the sights, singing Karaoke and making spring rolls.
I had to wait until next morning before I could catch up with everyone and it was great eating breakfast (eggs & bacon) surrounded by everyone talking at once.
Sunday saw us going to the Thu Le Park and Zoo where the kids had a great time bouncing around in huge plastic balls and the older Doidge women chose to have a more sedate trip on the swans in the lake.


The next major event on the agenda was a trip to the water puppets which we have managed to see every time we have been to Hanoi.  There had been some changes to the program and it was only 20 minutes long but I must admit it was fantastic watching how much the grandchildren enjoyed the show especially when the puppets smoked, dragons spat water and rice grew.  Renee was absolutely taken with it and hardly moved during the whole show and of course wanted to 'do it again'.  She was told that we may have time when we come back from  Sapa or when we were in HCMC.
Later that evening, we were collected from our hotel and taken to the train station to head off to Sapa.  This was the trip that I had wanted to do for ages and Renee arranged it that I would be there to come along.

The train conditions were very basic but surprisingly comfortable, with  compartment for 4 passengers, the girls shared with John and myself.  We were rudely woken up about 5 am when we arrived at our destination and the guard told us to get off.  Fortunately, being good Scouts we had everything packed ready to go. 

We found ourselves at Lao Chai Railway, sheltering under a small verandah, freezing to death for ages before we relocated to a bus to wait some more before travelling up a number of very winding roads which were hidden by mist, our ears popping and the children snoring.  Our hotel was a blessed haven of heat and food.

Located in Vietnam's remote North West Mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. Sapa, at 1,600m above sea level, is an incredibly picturesque resort town that lies on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwestern Vietnam, known as "the Tonkinese Alps". Sapa and its surrounding region is host to many hill tribes, as well as rice terraces, lush vegetation and Fansipan (Phan Xi Phang), the highest peak in Vietnam at 3,143m. 
Sapa is home to a wealth of colorful, diverse hill tribes, who have steadfastly resisted integration into Vietnamese society and modern life.

At 9: 00am we left the hotel running the gauntlet of brightly dressed women who were wanting to sell their wares and start trekking. The grandchildren and I were wearing rubber boots that we had hired and I must admit that by the time the two days were over, I was pleased that I had them.  This trek was only 3 km long but down into a valley which consisted of many steps and when we reached the bottom we were given the option of walking back or hiring a motobike, yes, we all grabbed a bike and rider and took the easy way back up the hill.  I think that I would have had to been medivaced out!! 

The 12 km trek the next day will remain in my memory until I die. The first part is on the road but we soon turned to the right and walked on a small, slippery, muddy path down the valley to the Muong Hoa River and from there to the Black H’mong village Lao Chai. Black H’mong is one of the biggest minority groups in the Sapa area. They are proud of their culture and keep their traditions and way of living. They have their own language and wear traditional indigo blue clothing which is not colour fast as I found out.  I had bought a pair of pants and a top at the market the day before and by the end of the second day, my legs were a great shade of green. 

The kids had an absolute ball during the walk as they skated and skid through the mud, waded across rivers and ended up covered from head to toe in mud.  Us oldies took it much slower, John and Aaron were planning to take on the Kadoda trail next, Renee and I just mumbled!!
I am really pleased that we went to Sapa and I loved the colours and the mountains as I knew I would, it was just the cold and the slippery mud that wasn't a lot of fun. 




We were on the train returning to Hanoi before we knew it and packing to fly to Hue. The weather was just a litttle warmer in Hanoi.Huế is the capital city of Thừa Thiên - Huế province, Vietnam. Between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty.

The plane trip was a very short one and we were soon settled into our hotel and while we were booking in, Aaron went for a walk and said that he had found a restraunt for our evening meal. Well, it turned out that a delightful young lady called Nicki ran the restaurant and her father was the chef. We ate almost all our meals there and the kids loved being with Nicki.
John and I were determined that the granchildren spend some time to see the Citadel where we really enjoyed spending time during our first trip, so we hired a car for the day and set out to explore the old ruins for the morning. I started reading bits from the lonely planet and the time flew by and the kids had a ball reading and taking pictures. We could have spent more time there but we had other places to go.


The weather was still wet and cool but we were promised better weather soon.  After lunch we headed out to Thahn Tan Hot Springs, everyone taking their bathers hoping that the weather would change from cold and wet to hot and sunny. NO not today.
We still went in to the water as the water from the hot springs have been channelled out and you can slowly move your way up to the spring outlet where the water is a nice 45 degrees. The kids of course went off and tried out the water slides. I would recommend a visit to the springs but in the 'peak' tourist season as there was very little open and nothing happening. I would think it would be the place to be during the warmer months.
Where are the pictures you ask?
Well everyone was swimming except John who had his camera with him but forgot to use it!!!

We left Hue behind the next morning and travelled to Hoi An by private car, think it took about 4 hours.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vietnam with the Family - Part II

Hội An attracts a fair number of tourists mainly intent on buying made-to-measure clothes and of course the Doidge grandchildren were no different. Ethan brought with him a box that had the picture of the Backagon Trainer – a Japanese Battle cartoon character on it which he wanted made. The end result was great especially with the added embroidered black dragons on the back of his pants, he wore it almost every day, taking it off very reluctantly to get it washed.

The two girls had jeans and tops made which were very nice and John had a couple of dress shirts made.  We seemed to do a lot of walking and waiting in Hoi An.
Shopping, looking and waiting


Aaron, both Renee's, Ethan and I went to a cooking class while we were there and helped prepared a couple of dishes and we then went out the back to the garden and shared a meal prepared by chefs.  It was a little disappointing as we paid $14 and really didn't cook anything and the meal itself was not all that great.  An expensive couple of hours.  Never mind.  We have some great recipes to try out when we get home.

We drove back up to Da Nag by hire car and caught a plane to Na Trang the next morning, and Ethan, Renee and Nikita were all wearing their new cloths.  It was only a short plane trip to Na Trang, the trip from the airport to the hotel was almost as long as the flight.  Great new airport but miles away from the town.

Aaron had not been feeling well so we left him in the hotel room with a hot lemon drink and a couple of aspirins and the rest of us grabbed a taxi to catch a cable car over to Vin Pearl which is a fantasy island where you can pay a pile of money when you catch the cable car and from then on most things on the island are free except food and drink.  We had a ball and it was the first time that John and I had watched a 4D show.  We tried out heaps of computer games, went on the bumber cars and watched the kids go down all sorts of scary watersides.  Lot of fun, wish we had more time to look at everything.  One of the major attractions was the underwater aquarium made for lazy people, all you had to do was stand on the conveyor belt and it carried you around the aquarium.  Very well done.



Waiting, waiting
The next day we all set out for a day on the sea, visiting a number of islands for swimming, snorkeling, parasailing and fun on the boat.  This was a set tour so we had to hurry up and wait, and then hurry up again. 

The weather was still a bit on the cool side but this did not stop the kids from going in snorkeling at the first stop and then the fun started at the next stop where they all clambered off the boat  onto jet skis.  The only thing was that they had to have an adult on with them and this cramped their style just a bit, although Nikita took off like a rocket with a very surprised Vietnamese lad hanging on for grim death.

We had lunch at this stop and then the boat became a disco party with music blaring out and Nikita, Renee and Ethan up dancing on the table tops with members of the crew.

We sailed to yet another beach and then came the parasailing.  Mum Renee and the kids all went up and what seemed like a couple seconds were back in the water and being picked up by the ski boats.  Ethan really enjoyed it and whet back for a second go.  I just sat and watched, definitely not my scene.

Na Trang is very nice and I would have like to stayed there a bit longer as we really didn't have a chance to go sightseeing.  The beaches are wonderful and one day it would be nice to go there in the warmer weather.

The drive to Dalat was exactly as expected, we drove through some huge mountains and saw some amazing scenery.  The road was quite good and by this time we were all immune to near misses and stopped freaking when we spent most of the time on the wrong side of the road.

The hotel we were staying at in Dalat was quite a walk from the inner city so we did quite a  bit of walking here, up and down hills.   We found the city centre and wandered around the markets but by this time the spending urge had diminished a little and besides, everything was beginning to look the same.  The best thing about Dalat is the beautiful fresh fruit and flowers.  We booked a tour for the next day and chose a number of things each of us wanted to do and see.

The next day proved to be a long one but we managed to find time to:
  • see two waterfalls where we went to and from the bottom of the valley by luge sled, the kids fired a long bow and Aaron a crossbow and Aaron and his family went on a elephant and ostritch ride.
  • Crazy House - this was a lot of fun
  • Summer Place - quite educational
  • Valley of Love - very pretty
  • Linh son Pagoda - very spiritual
  • Dalat Biological - very grose


Crazy House

Dalat must have quite a large congregation of Catholics due to the French influence as the traffic around the large Cathedral was incredible.  Everyone dressed up in their Sunday best going to early Mass.  I hadn't mentioned this before, all the churches around Vietnam had been decorated for Christmas and large shops everywhere had christmas decorations, music and large nativity scenes.

We flew out of Da lat late on Christmas Eve.  By this time our luggage had grown to enormous proportions.  Each child had a back pack and a large carry bag, Aaron had his large blue bag which now weighted 20kg, John had his Jamboree bag plus hand luggage, Nikita had bought a great big stuffed cat and I had my back pack.  We now filled up over 3 trolleys.

We arrived back at the Crystal Hotel and woke up to Christmas Day in HCMC. 
Christmas day was lovely.

I had brought a cloth Christmas tree with me and John had brought over Christmas hats and I also brought over some gifts from Cambodia and everyone brought gifts over for me to take back.  The children had been told that their gifts were back in Darwin so there would be no gifts on Christmas Day so they were surprised to have something to unwrap.  We all wore our hats and as we had spare ones, the staff at the hotel also hats to wear for the day. 

Ryllis and Liz had come over from Cambodia a week earlier and had spent 3 days at Halon Bay and then caught the train from Hanoi to HCMC a trip of over 30 hours.  They had arrived at the Crystal Hotel earlier Christmas morning so they were there to share Christmas with us.
The children had been looking forward to Christmas day because they were going to Dam Sen Park for the day. Dam Sen Park is Vietnam’s version of Disney land. It was a good day, crowded with children wearing little Santa clause outfits and there were a number of thin Santa clause roller blading around the park.



We spent the whole day at the park and managed to visit a lot of the sites, we went on roller coasters, bumper cars, rides that went through water, went into huge rooms with frozen ice sculptures, John and the kids went roller skating and a heap of other things.  Poor John hurt his back when one of the rides hit the water at great speed.  We were very tired and some of us very sore when it was time to go back to the hotel. 
It would have been nice to have had a old fashioned Christmas dinner to finish off the day but that was not possible.  Maybe it was me looking for a roast dinner as I have not had one for 4 months.

We headed out early on Boxing Day to go to the Cu Chi Tunnels for the day.  This was one of the trips the children were looking forward to because they were planning to fire some of the old weapons from the Vietnam confrontation have there.  Unfortunately, they were too young and were not allowed to fire the weapons as the recoil would be too strong for them.  Quite understandably they were a little upset, the other sad part was that since we first visited the tunnels the tourist trade has more than doubled and there were just so many people in our group and the other groups right behind us that it was impossible to able to see anything and it seemed that we were being rushed all the time.  A bit sad but I guess that is progress.

The two day Mekong Delta trip was next on the agenda and by this time the kids were well and truly seasoned travellers.  They were ready well and truly before the time they had to be down at reception and little Renee always seemed to have everything anyone else forgot tucked away in her bag.

As usual we were moved around from bus to bus before the tour set off but we had go used to this by now and it seemed that our group of 10 was to big to fit anywhere so we ended up with our own private vehicle which took us to the boat some several hours away.  Very nice.

The boat trip was great although I must admit, as I am getting older, the getting off the boats and clambering over other boats and also just dropping off the side of the boat down to the ground is getting harder.  I certainly envied the kids clambering over the side and just jumping.

The whole day was a blend of boats and just doing things to pass the time until we could get back into the bus (yes we were back on the bus as some passengers when back to HCMC) for an endless trip further into the Delta.  We travelled for simply hours and eventually arrived at the hotel about 6 O'clock.


After a quick freshen up we went on the search for the restaurant that Renee had eaten in last time she was there.  She had eaten rat and promised the kids that they could too.  We eventually found the restaurant (we think) but it did not have rat on the menu just field mice so that had to do.  Renee ordered two mice as that is all they had (what a shame) and the kids all tried it.  We had a really nice meal there although Ethan's snails were the most radical meal we ordered. 

Shopping at the night market was then undertaken with Aaron and John taking up their arms crossed, waiting pose, outside of the stalls, as the kids and Renee did some of their last minute shopping.

The next morning saw us on the Mekong again looking at the floating markets which is always interesting.   We then walked around filling in the time until we went back on the bus to sit on our bottoms for over 4 hours.  It is funny we were about 4 hours from the Cambodian border and if we had thought about it and of course wanted to, Liz, Ryllis and I could have gone home to Cambodia.

I was beginning to feel a little sad as we had only 2 days left before we had to leave, the kids had mixed feelings they didn't want the trip to end but by this time their soft beds, Christmas presents and electronic toys were calling them.

An unexpected event happened, which has I think become on of the highlights of our Vietnam visit.  On the way back from dinner on the second last night,we saw a number of floats and people in costume standing around the bottom of the park we needed to go through to get back to the hotel.  We decided to scoot around in front of the floats in the hope of being able to finda place where we could see.  Instead, we were invited to sit up on the VIP seats and watch the whole event from a grandstand view.  It was great fun.  It turned out to be the opening of the International Food Festival and all countries had been represented in a huge opening parade.  Loved it!! 

At the end of the event, the performers pulled us onto the road to join them in a final dance number and after that the Doidges formed an impromture conga line which was taken up by a large number of dancers and suddenly there was this line of people dancing their way up the road let by a number of 'mad' westerners.  Good fun.

Liz, Ryllis and I took Renee, Hayden and Ethan to the waterpuppets in HCMC as promised and it was just as good as the one in Hanoi, the theatre was certainly a lot newer.
The final two days of the holidays became a bit of a blur, with last minute shopping, John, Aaron and Renee all getting tattoos and time spent in a coffee lounge watching Ryllis and John drinking cups of 'real' coffee.

Ryllis, Liz and I left early on the morning of the 30th on our 'express' bus to Siem Reap which was very hard to have to say goodbye again to the family.

The remaining Doidge contingent caught the plane back to Aussie later that evening and arrived back with no problems and a heap of luggage.  I understand that they just walked through customs with no questions asked and sleepily fell into a mini bus to take them home.

It was a fantastic 20 days and I am so proud of the grandchildren and how well they handled the travel and having to live so close together.  Thanks to Renee who could get a job as a travel agent and of course to John and Aaron who probably did more shopping and stood outside of more shops in that month than they have all their lives.