Homeward Bound

Tomorrow is our last day of travelling.

This brings mixed feelings: part of me could carry on this lifestyle forever; part of me pines for home comforts. The grass, as they say, is always greener.

No more packing up our troubles in the old kit bag; no more roaming the hot, dusty streets in search of a big family room for a small family budget; no more wild animal adventures; no more 17 hour bus journeys; no more removing fear inducing insects from the bathroom; no more sleeping on top of each other.

No more seeing my girls every single minute of every single hour of every single day. It is a very, very sad thought.

As for the children, they are incredibly enthusiastic about returning home. They can’t wait to taste fresh, creamy milk again, and to see all their ‘dodo bears’ (soft toys). We’ve allowed them to input into our first UK supermarket shopping list, which is going to be delivered to our home just hours after we arrive (what luxury!) so it now contains all the ingredients to make trifle, a number of crisp based snacks and most of the dairy aisle. It also has our favorite Malbec wine, real ale, chedder cheese…all the things we’ve missed eating and drinking. After managing not to gain weight after a year of eating out, we are in danger of ballooning in our first week back!

But ask them if they’ve enjoyed it? “SO much!” is the reply I got last night. I wonder if they can really remember what our old routine was like, or appreciate how much freedom they’ve had this year.

For now though, we are all very excited about going home. For the first few days our house will seem like a mansion, the cold weather will seem refreshing, English food will seem delicious, and it will be amazing to see our friends and family again. We even have a new family member, a baby girl cousin to our girls. I am so excited about meeting her! The challenge is to carry on appreciating these things in the weeks and months to come.

Here’s a quick list (shouted out by all of us, in no particular order) of all the things we are looking forward to:-

Megan

NanaRara

Nana Avril

Rara Rob

Uncle Kieran & Auntie Yeni

Reuben

Our new family member, Wren

Auntie Kate

Mac & Daisy (Auntie Kate’s dogs)

Grandad Alan

English milk

Squirty cream

Trifle

Nachos

Cream

Our big house

Our own TV

Our own kitchen

A bed each

Our garden

School

Bouncing on the trampoline

Slide

Sofas (although we don’t currently own one)

Space, more space and more space

Dodo bears

Our own car

All the days out e.g. Cannon Hall Farm, Golden Acre Park & Hall Park

Going to a shop that has things I might want to buy in it

Drizzle

Snow

Fast internet

Being cosy under a duvet

Oven cooked stew

Cooking our own food

Feeling safe

Smooth roads

Safe transport

Cheese

Dentist

My bike (all of us)!

My ukulele & music

Water from the taps

Buying a recorder

Dairy milk

Mince pies [Ferg]

Board games

Roleplaying games [Ferg]

Decent red wine [the kids – only kidding! This was me.]

The NHS

It’s a pretty comprehensive list… I wonder how much we will really remember to appreciate once we are actually there?

For now, we’ll try to concentrate on enjoying our last 24 hours of hot sandy beaches, warm sea, a swimming pool, a resident monitor lizard in the canal outside, friendly locals, eating unidentified food, and enjoying being together as a family.

A Change of Pace

We’ve been in Sri Lanka for 6 days now, and I feel like we are only just beginning to find our feet here.

Coming from the cacophony of Bangkok, it’s a bit of a surprise to be back onto what we affectionately call ‘Nepali speed’. During our 3 months in Nepal, we at first resigned ourselves to everything taking approximately 25 times as long as it would in the UK, before slowly growing to love it. However, we’ve actually spent the last couple of months in various cities including Ho Chi Minh City, Phenom Phen and Bangkok, all of which are fairly frenetic. Life moves fast in the city (and so does the traffic), and we’ve grown used to having well stocked shops, an overwhelming choice of restaurants and a busy plan for each day.

It’s going to be different here. The pace has slowed right down, and we’ve had to as well. Life is simpler, quieter and more natural here. People speak more slowly, they move more slowly. The only fast moving thing is the Leyland branded buses, which make me think of my Dad every time one comes hurtling down the road, which is at least 20 times a day.

Sri Lanka is, in places, much less developed than Thailand or Vietnam today, and there are still huge stretches of un-spoilt coastline and unexplored trekking opportunities in the hills. For us, this country is going to be all about the wildlife. We’re planning whale watching, turtle spotting & a wild elephant safari, as well as seeing the tea plantations, and doing a little trekking in the hills, before we head off on our final long haul flight of the trip: Sri Lanka to Oman, Oman to London Heathrow, and home.

It’s almost hard to summon the energy to really get the most out of this final leg of the trip. We are all feeling a little road weary, and looking forward to sleeping in our own beds again. However, with the infinite possibilities for exploration that Sri Lanka offers, I’m sure we’ll find that our last 21 sleeps will fly by.

 

Only One Dollar

Cambodian Street Seller

“Please miss, only one dollar!”

“For you, just one dollar, one dollar miss, only one dollar!”

“Two for one dollar! OK, OK miss, three for one dollar!”

This is the soundtrack to Cambodia, the slightly mournful cry of the street vendors, often just kids, who are trying to scratch a living out of the tourist trade around all the major sites in the country.

As well as feeling as though I’ve entered the word’s biggest Poundland (OK, Dollarland), it also feels very sad to see such abject poverty. The general consensus is that buying from street kids worsens the problem and discourages school attendance, so we’ve had to master the art of patiently walking past with a constant dialogue of, “No, thank you; no, thank you.” We’ve donated to a number of NGO’s and eaten in good cause restaurants; but it feels like a drop in the ocean.

This also got me wondering, why the US dollar?

Cambodia operates a dual-currency system. Even in the major supermarket chains, prices are quoted in US dollars, but you can pay with either USD or the local currency, riel. It’s highly confusing, as you often pay with USD and get the change in riel, necessitating some agile mental arithmetic to work out if your change is right.

It was actually while researching some background on the Khmer Rouge campaign that I found out why this is. We watched the Killing Fields whilst in Cambodia, a chilling but fascinating account of the human tragedy that took place in the 1970’s. The genocide is well documented and, quite rightly, it’s the human side that got most of the media attention.

What I didn’t realise was that the KR also carried out what must surely be the most drastic economic experiment ever to take place in modern history. They destroyed the currency. I don’t mean they wrecked the economy so that the currency was devalued; I mean the literally burned all the currency, blew up the banks and burned the cash, and destroyed all the account records, so that in the aftermath, everyone was effectively starting from zero again.

Just try to imagine that in your home country.

No wonder the US dollar has taken a hold here as the currency of choice; there was no currency in place for in the late ‘70’s. Plus, the UN injected thousands of USD into the economy when it ran the country for few years in the early ‘90’s.

Since then I’ve been reading up on how there’s a split of opinion of whether the country should go for complete ‘dollarisation’, or work on making the riel a world currency. Many campaigners hoped the launch of the Cambodian stock exchange would decide one way or another, but that too sits on the fence, with prices quoted in riel but accounts that can be settled in Dollars.

I find it fascinating. It takes me back to my A-level Economics days and it will be a story I follow with interest as Cambodia continues to develop.

In the meantime, I’ll distribute my dollars as fairly as I can in this beautiful country; and remember to be grateful for the dollars I have in my pocket. By accident of where I was born. Life could have been very, very different.

Homeschool in Vietnam

What do people in Vietnam eat?  Pho!

What do people in Vietnam eat? Pho!

Here’s the Q&A I set the girls (aged 8, year 4) on our last day in Veitnam.

How do you think they did?

Evie Hadley

1. What’s the original name of HCMC?

Saigon

2. Name 3 buildings in HCMC.

Pro M [meaning the Bitexco Financial Tower]

Majestic Hotel

Yellow church

Elegant Inn

Pho 24

Hotel Sunland

MB Land

Hotel Hoa Hong

[I should point out that the last 3 could be seen from the window]

3. What do people in Vietnam eat?

Pho, cao lau & spring rolls. Spring rolls are (in Vietnam) veg, herbs and prawns wrapped up in rice paper.

4. What’s the night train like in Vietnam?

The night train is smooth and gentle although it tends to stop a lot. There are many 6 beded compartments with very little floor space with a small table at one end and the door of the compartment at the other, the room was cosy and warm with a reading light at the head of each bed and a step at the foot to help climb onto the one on top. The mattresses, though clean, were hard yet I dozed off in the described atmosphere.

5. What happened in the Vietnam war? Tell me everything you can remember!

The Vietnam war was started by Vietnam being colonized for 1,070 years and then finally being free. When this freedom came no one could remember if Vietnam had been communist or capitalist so the country was split in two: South capitalist, North communist. A few years later South Vietnam started a great war against the North who fought back mightily. The Americans joined the South because they were capitalist and wanted more countries to turn capitalist so that they could trade with them and make money out of them.

China and Russia joined the North because they were also communist. At the end of the 15 year (about) war, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates of Independence Palace and the war was won.

The capital of the South’s name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City by a man called Ho Chi Minh (leader of the North Vietnamese army).

6. Describe crossing the road in HCMC.

When we cross the road in Vietnam I feel scared because there are so many motorbikes. Vietnamese traffic lights: red = go, yellow = go, green = go.

7. Give me 1 example of bias from a museum in Vietnam.

When the Saigon Museum called South Vietnam’s army the puppet troops, because they were being controlled by the American army. This is bias because that isn’t their real name and the ‘pretend name’ mocks them.

8. What’s the worst thing about Vietnam?

The worst thing about Vietnam is the heat which positively frazzles you to a frisp.

9. What’s your favorite thing about Vietnam?

My favorite thing about Vietnam is the kitchen we had in Hoi An where we made a yummy spag bol.

10. Recommend a restaurant you’ve been to in Vietnam in the style of a trip advisor review.

The Hungry Pig

At this restaurant we all got make your own sandwiches which was amazing, it was honestly the best sandwich ever. It was a pleasant surprise. 4.5 stars!

 

Scarlett Hadley

1. What’s the original name of HCMC?

Saigon

2. Name 3 buildings in HCMC.

Pro M [meaning the Bitexco Financial Tower]

Independence Palace

Ava 2 Hotel

3. What do people in Vietnam eat?

Pho bo, pho ga, spring rolls. Spring rolls are vegi and fruit wrapped in rice paper.

4. What’s the night train like in Vietnam?

The night train is rickety vehicle with hard, lumpy beds cramped into a tiny carriage cramped into a tiny corridor resulting in triple bunks! Also, it has creaking joints and oil-needing limbs. I would take the plane!

5. What happened in the Vietnam war? Tell me everything you can remember!

The Vietnam war was started by a disagreement of the communist North of Vietnam and the capitalist South. This disagreement caused the South to send out troops of soldiers and tanks up up up to the North. Of course the North fought back. America, being capitalist, joined the South and yet they could not win! This was because the soldiers of the North just kept disappearing into the jungle. The Americans therefore were forced to drop spray to kill the trees but caused many babys to be born with body problems. The war was won by the North as they broke the gates of the Independence Palace. This was done with a tank. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City by Ho Chi Minh, the head of the North Vietnam’s army.

6. Describe crossing the road in HCMC.

Crossing the road in HCMC is like being in the middle of masses of motorbikes and a chaos of cars! I don’t like crossing the road.

7. Give me 1 example of bias from a museum in Vietnam.

The War Remnants Museum said that when the North won the war, the freedom of the South had come. This is biased because the wealthy people didn’t feel welcome or happy any more.

8. What’s the worst thing about Vietnam?

The worst thing about Vietnam is the road crossing because of the way the drivers of the motorbikes don’t seem to want to live very much! They make me feel in danger.

9. What’s your favorite thing about Vietnam?

The best thing about Vietnam is that there are millions of playgrounds. I like them because they are fun.

10. Recommend a restaurant you’ve been to in Vietnam in the style of a trip advisor review.

The Hungry Pig

The Hungry Pig is a lonely place but it does the best plain bagel, maple bacon, lettuce, bell peppers,olives, rocket, Philadelphia and cranberry sandwich I;ve ever had. 4.5 stars.

 

Jemima Hadley

1. What’s the original name of HCMC?

Saigon

2. Name 3 buildings in HCMC.

Pro M [meaning the Bitexco Financial Tower]

Clock tower [this is in Hong Kong, but we did go to HK for 2 days from Vietnam]

Parksons

Museum

Hotel Sun

AIA 7

AVA 3 Hotel

AVA 2 Hotel

Elegant Inn

[Most of these could be seen from the window…ah well]

3. What do people in Vietnam eat?

Pho – beef noodle soup with herbs and beef.

4. What’s the night train like in Vietnam?

The night train is nice. Though with hard beds, the lights are comfortable and are not too bright but not too dim. The food isn’t that great but OK. All in all the night train is recommended by me.

5. What happened in the Vietnam war? Tell me everything you can remember!

The Vietnam war started when the country got freedom. They divided Vietnam in half, the North was communist and the South was capitalist. One of them wanted the whole of Vietnam to be their way of ruling so they had a war. America helped South but China and Russia were helping North. The Americans didn’t know how to fight in the jungle so they just dropped bombs instead. North all knew how to fight in the jungle and when the Americans came they just slid out of sight. The Americans dropped more bombs on Laos than all of the rest of the whole Vietnam war altogether. After a lot of fighting the Americans said that they weren’t going to help anymore and without them the South Vietnam couldn’t win and so the North Vietnam’s tank came through the gate of the Independence Palace in victory and the South lost and the famous picture was taken, and so the war was ended. The North had victory.

6. Describe crossing the road in HCMC.

Very hard. Motorbikes streaming everywhere, and the traffic lights don’t help. When you do see a car it’s hardly ever a taxi. Traffic lights: red means go, amber means go, green means go.

7. Give me 1 example of bias from a museum in Vietnam.

A picture of a tank at Independence Palace with everyone waving flags and holding flowers. It was bias because not everyone was happy in real life.

8. What’s the worst thing about Vietnam?

The worst thing about Vietnam is the rain. It always rains at the right time to go to a playground. This makes it so that it is very hard to go to a playground.

9. What’s your favorite thing about Vietnam?

I really like Hoi An at Botanic Gardens because it was just so nice with our little kitchen and the tiny dog and the swimming pool. It was simply amazing.

10. Recommend a restaurant you’ve been to in Vietnam in the style of a trip advisor review.

I recommend the Hungry Pig because, though it’s a little expensive, it’s create your own sandwich was incredible. It’s the best bacon buttie I have ever had. I give it a 5 star review on trip advisor. I am from England.

Busy Doing Nothing in Hoi An

It’s been good to slow down.

Instead of hurtling across the continent on various forms of public transport, trying to cram in as much as possible before our visa expires, we’ve chosen to spend the last 10 days moving no further than a couple of square miles, settling into our new Vietnamese lifestyle.

Our days consist of morning yoga, a leisurely breakfast, a trip to the market & the deli to buy the day’s provisions, back to our bungalow for home school, and then either a stroll around the town, a trip out or simply spending the rest of the day in the pool.

In many ways, I feel we are seeing more of the country, not less, by doing so. Travelling with children is a different experience.  We’ve got past the stage where all the old ladies at the market shout “Sing-ba! Sing ba!” (triplets) over the entire area and create a mini-crowd-surge of excitement around us. They know us now, and are very welcoming, and very funny. We talk to them in English, they reply in Vietnamese, and we seem to get along just fine. For the first time in the trip, the girls have been able to enjoy the pleasure of exploring a really good fresh food market, and finding out what all the ‘funny stuff’ is, without being hassled. It’s lovely.

We’ve also found ourselves a great place to stay. We have a ground floor flat in Botanic Garden Homestay, with 2 bedrooms, a living room and a little kitchen. There’s space for the kids to play, and a little swimming pool to cool down in. We got a good deal for our longer stay, and are compensating for our wild overspend in Hong Kong! It’s lovely to be able to cook together and we’ve even attempted some old favourites – spag bol and bangers & mash have banished our home food cravings.

So what’s next? We’ve just extended our stay for another week, so more of the same. There’s some ancient Cham ruins, and a couple of promising beaches that will make good excursions. But mostly we’ll be staying right here. And loving it.