A Family Adventure in Vietnam

This is an adventure which I posted about on Paper Tree a few years ago but I have updated it in more detail here. It was a fantastic travel experience and I highly recommend it. My children were 8 & 11 at the time and still vividly recount many things including the ‘market horror’! The memories will be with us forever…..

I love to travel but having young children meant it was not possible for many years. So last Christmas, with our children now old enough to appreciate and withstand long-haul travel, and with my parents who are seasoned travellers, we set off to Vietnam for a family adventure. To make the most of the experience and to justify the airfares we took the children out of school for an extended Christmas holiday and were away for almost 4 weeks.

Vietnam is a stunning country stretching 1000 miles from north to south but very narrow with mountains to the west and coast to the east. It is a developing and rapidly changing nation with both poverty and growing wealth in evidence.

Vietnam Travel Map

We flew into the north to the capital Hanoi, a city rich in cultural heritage. Despite the jetlag we started early the next day with a city tour and visited Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh lying embalmed in his Mausoleum. He died in 1969 so this was quite a surreal start to our day.

Ho Chi Minh Tomb

Other sites of interest in Hanoi were Hoa Lo prison or ‘Hanoi Hilton’ (the children found the gore interesting, not so sure about me!) and the Temple of Literature built over 1000 years ago when Confucianism was a big influence. The Chinese governed Vietnam for over a thousand years until the 10th century and the French took control in the 19th century. The Vietnamese have a good record of overthrowing any attempts at domination as was the case when they effectively defeated the Americans in the Vietnam War (or American War as the Vietnamese refer to it). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Vietnam

Vietnam Traffic

Despite being very interesting historically and culturally, Hanoi was a fairly crazy place in terms of traffic. With no traffic lights we had to negotiate the art of crossing roads whilst a stream of bikes swerved around us.

Mai Chau

We left Hanoi for the peaceful and beautiful Mai Chau valley. This is a very agricultural region with rice paddies and subsistence farming.

Although life is very basic the smallholdings were beautifully maintained with lush vegetation providing plentiful food.

Vietnamese House

We chose to stay in a traditional homestay, a house on stilts make from wood and bamboo with the sounds of Cockrels waking us throughout the night. A visit to the local market revealed a very different culture to the children who were shocked to see roasted dog heads and bags of blood for sale.

Halong Bay

From here we headed to Halong Bay – perhaps the most famous of attractions in Vietnam. This is a UNESCO world heritage site (http://en.unesco.org) where over 1600 limestone mountains form a spectacular seascape.

The area is also home to the Viet people who live on boats and floating houses and make a living from fishing, as well as more recently tourism.

Halong Bay

We sailed into the bay on a traditional junk boat and stayed overnight enjoying the stunning sunset and sunrise.

Hoi An

A couple of days before Christmas we took the overnight train from Hanoi 500 miles south to Danang then Hoi An. It was a long and not entirely restful journey but worth the morning views as the train snaked along the coast to our destination. Hoi An was such a contrast to the bustle of Hanoi and we enjoyed strolling the streets and eating delicious Vietnamese cuisine.

Hoi An is another UNESCO world heritage site due to its history as an important Asian trading port and its preserved buildings. It is particularly famous for the beautiful silk lanterns that light up the town in the evening.

Cat Tien

After a few days relaxing in Hoi An our next destination was Cat Tien National Park in the rainforest (http://namcattien.vn/) . We flew to Saigon and spent 6 hours in a minibus struggling through traffic and along bumpy roads to reach the park followed by a boat journey over a river. The park is classified as one of 6 biosphere areas in Vietnam and is being protected from poaching and deforestation. Sadly some of the rainforest was destroyed by Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and many of the valuable hardwood trees have been removed.

The magnificent Tung tree (above) is one tree that has not disappeared as the wood is not valuable. The sounds, heat and spectacular jungle scenery were truly memorable as were the 2 huge spiders inhabiting our bathroom which my daughter nicknamed Sid & Bob.

Gibbons

The park is also home to gibbons who make an incredible singing sound in the morning – a sound similar to the ‘clangers’ but more eerie and sci fi! We woke at 5am one morning to trek into the forest and wait for sunrise and the gibbons to start singing, it was worth it!

Cat Tien

Another day we trekked to a stunning pristine lake in the middle of the rainforest, it has recently been re-stocked with crocodile so our canoe trip was all the more exciting!

Back to Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh city) where we visited the war museum with many harrowing photos and stories from the Vietnam war. Saigon was the most modern and developed city we visited although the huge suburbs were still made up of very basic housing.

We continued south to the Mekong Delta and stayed on in island in the middle of the Mekong river. The Delta is full of huge, brown rivers and is a very fertile agricultural region. Every type of tropical fruit can be bought from the floating markets.

Our final destination was the island of Phu Quoc lying to the south of Cambodia. Having travelled over 1000 miles and staying only a couple of days in each destination we were ready for a rest. We stayed at the Mango Bay resort (http://mangobayphuquoc.com/), a beautiful and tranquil eco-resort. Our accommodation was  a simple bungalow on stilts overlooking the sea with resident geckos and an outdoor bathroom where birds flew down to drink the shower water.

It was an unforgettable and amazing trip. I highly recommend Vietnam to anyone who loves travel and has an adventurous spirit. My children wrote and illustrated travel journals (they had to be encouraged at times) and these are now lovely keepsakes too. With many thanks to Natasha at Selective Asia for helping us to arrange a superb itinerary  http://www.selectiveasia.com/

Ann-Marie x

 

 

 

 

 

The Chelsea Flower Show

It was my daughter who persuaded me to get tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show this year,  she is a keen artist and nature enthusiast and like me she loves flowers! My last visit was 15 years ago and since then I have slowly learnt to plant and nurture my own garden with variable success.

Foxgloves

I am so pleased we went, it was the most beautiful summer’s evening which really brought out the best in the displays.

One of the first gardens we looked at was the Morgan Stanley Garden by Chris Beardshaw. It is a naturalistic style garden with green topiary contrasting with spikes of salvia and lupins. It was stunning with layer upon layer of shapes and colours. It won a silver gilt but we rated it as gold!

Chelsea - Morgan Stanley Garden

Chelsea Flower Show - Chris Beardshaw

James Basson’s M&G garden won a gold medal and best in show. It is a spectacular landscape of limestone blocks set against a backdrop of limestone walls and soaring trees evoking the idea of a Maltese quarry.  The garden was inspired by principles of ecological sustainability, the wild flowers growing through the rocks signifying regeneration.

James Basson garden

Simon Gudgeon’s sculpture garden and his ‘Leaf Spirit’ was absolutely stunning set amongst roses and natural flowers.

Leaf Spirit

To celebrate 50 years of Radio 2 the BBC created ‘feel good’ gardens based around taste, scent, colour, texture and listening.  In the listening garden vibrations in the water features created some really interesting sounds.

Chelsea Flower Show Radio 2 garden

The Silk Road Garden was an ambitious representation of the Silk Road trade route sitting amongst the ‘mountains’ of Chengdu – it was incredibly colourful and included many plants brought from China to the UK including Rhodedendron.

Silk Road Garden

Our favourite garden of all was the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ garden – this is partly as I grew up in Yorkshire and love the landscape! It is inspired by the spectacular Yorkshire coastline with a pebble beach, sea and fishing boat. The designer is Tracey Foster.

Chelsea Welcome to Yorkshire Garden

The crumbling ruin represents the thousand year history of the Abbeys & Monasteries in Yorkshire – the monks chose the most beautiful of locations in which to live!

Yorkshire Garden

Yorkshire Garden - Chelsea Flower Show

The garden was set amongst beautiful wild flowers. Foxgloves seemed very popular this year and appeared in many gardens.

Foxglove

Whilst we could have spent a lot longer there, it was certainly very inspiring. This is one of the quotes we saw displayed in the gardens;

Look deep into nature, Einstein

Being amongst such stunning gardens and flowers certainly brings a perspective and appreciation of the incredible beauty in nature.

Scotland – The West Coast & Hebrides

Isle of Coll, Hebrides

Last June I travelled with my family to the West Coast of Scotland.

We drove north from Glasgow through the Loch Lomond National Park – a stunning area of Lochs & mountains. There are many diversions to follow through the park; we took the Eastern route and stopped for a picnic by Loch Lubnaig.

Loch Lomond

From here we headed to Oban, a lovely small port on the West coast. We checked in to our hotel and then headed out for a freshly caught dinner at the Waterfront Fishouse Restaurant .

Oban Harbour

From the restaurant there is a panoramic view over Oban harbour and we ate watching the sun set over the mountains.

Sunset over Oban Harbour

The next day we had an early start, heading off with Basking Shark adventure boat tours, to swim with seals off the Isle of Coll. Along the way we saw sea eagles and looked out for basking sharks.

Tobermory

We stopped for a break at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, famous for its colourful houses and the children’s TV programme ‘Balamory’.

Isle of Coll

We moored off the coast of Coll – a pristine wilderness.

The sea was freezing cold so full dry suits were necessary. We swam around the tip of the island and encountered a colony of around 20 seals. We quietly watched them, as they watched us, bobbing their heads up and down. Sadly I don’t have any photos of them due to a lack of an underwater camera!

Following lunch on board the boat, I took some time to explore the island.

Isle of Coll, Hebrides

The beaches resemble a tropical paradise (without the heat) – white sand & crushed shells, lapped by crystal clear, turquoise blue sea.

Wildlife, Isle of Coll

The only sounds are that of the sea, wind and birds.

Following another night in Oban we headed north and stopped at Port Appin, walking down to Airds Bay for lunch.

Airds Bay

Carrying on northwards we drove to Glen Coe then down through the Bridge of Orchy to join the main route south. Several films have been made in Scotland and the James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ features many scenes here. It is a much starker landscape than the west coast but very dramatic.

Map of Scotland

Overall an amazing holiday, helped by the weather, I highly recommend it and hope to explore more of Scotland in the future. For more information on Scotland have a look at  the Visit Scotland website. You can see more of my photos on instagram.

Ann-Marie