Life can sometimes throw us the most unexpected opportunities. As far as travel goes our holidays, like a majority of families, have been largely controlled by our budget, and of course its suitability for us as a family. In later years, with the children “largely” off our hands, we have been able to set our sights further afield. A visit to Asia or the Far East represents places that sit on many of our “bucket lists” I’m sure, but how many of us actually get there? So when our youngest son took a job in China the opportunity to put a big tick against a line on our bucket list was clearly there.
In late January 2017 we made our first trip to China. Of course there were concerns, especially with the physical side of the trip. I had delayed knee replacement surgery until my return – and what you don’t want is for the holiday to be impacted by your own inability to cope with the physical side of the trip. The holiday was a wonderful experience – and we had a great time visiting some of the wonderful sites in China. We also managed some independent travelling by flying to Tokyo for four days – leaving our hosts, Sam and Charlotte, a few days respite! What our trip to China did was not only open our eyes to a completely different side of the world, to its culture, its cuisine and its wonderful history – but probably more importantly – it allowed us to understand that we have nothing to fear from travelling that far. There is no doubt that having family who are living in Asia is extremely beneficial. The confidence that they have got in living and traveling in the Far East rubs off on you – the only real challenge is the language.
With our first trip to China behind us our plans focussed on meeting up with our son Sam, and his partner Charlotte, over the Christmas period. Again a new challenge for us – being away for Christmas!
I have never considered that my retirement from work would coincide with me sitting back on my butt and doing “jack shit”. However, what I probably didn’t factor on was how much things around me would continue to change, and that those changes would possibly mean some “re-consideration” of the choices or options available to us. When we had discussed the possibility of “going away for Christmas” at some point – Asia wasn’t what I was thinking of. But with a son living in China – the world opens up dramatically (if you want it to). So we made our plans for Vietnam, with the blessing of all the rest of the kids.
Vietnam had always interested Jayne and I. Our love of cruises had caused us to look at the possibility of doing a trip in that area, however we soon realised to see Vietnam properly we were going to have to do a land trip in some format. The concept of doing Cambodia and Laos at the same time was quickly ruled out when it became obvious we had no chance of seeing all what we wanted to see in Vietnam during the two weeks we would be there.
One of the challenges when going on holiday with another couple is ensuring that you all get to see what you want to see. Our itinerary was put together collectively, and then we left Sam to sort out the internal flights. This was the first time that Jayne and I had ever had connecting flights – and I still grimace as I remember us running through Abu Dhabi Airport with our carry-on cases as the clock ticked down to the departure time. This is where we put a “note to self” to remind us of the perils of having connecting flights that are only fifty minutes apart and your first flight is twenty-five minutes late! The reason we made it? Well that would be due to my dear wife thrusting her boarding pass under the nose of the security guard at Abu Dhabi – and we were suddenly in the “first-class” line for the security check – which was infinitely shorter.
We travelled throughout Vietnam during a stay of fifteen days. From Ho Chi Minh in the South to Hanoi in the North, via Hoi An and Ha Long Bay. . I particularly wanted our trip to Vietnam to give me a greater understanding of all things Vietnamese and of course the Vietnam War. It didn’t disappoint. Of course Vietnam is different to China – well, we can say that now we have been there! Firstly, more people speak English in Vietnam than in China – which is a positive if you’re a tourist. We found the people of both Nations friendly and helpful, and genuinely pleased to see you. I suppose the people of Vietnam rely far more on tourism than the Chinese – and yet, probably on paper China should provide the greatest interest for tourists. However, in the discussions we had with friends before our first visit to China it would seem that whilst many loved the thought of visiting China very few thought they ever would. With its proximity to Thailand, and being a destination of choice for many Australians, Vietnam is sure to be a choice for many dipping their toes into this part of Asia for the first time. It also seems the route of many backpackers coming through the adjacent countries of Cambodia and Laos.
It isn’t always possible to provide a “balanced” view when there are so many extreme or biased opinions in the public domain. My awareness of the conflicts that impacted the area known as “Indo China” over many years has been restricted to the numerous TV reports I saw during the late 1960 and 70’s. Yes, I was fully aware of the opposition by many regarding America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and of course, as a lover of modern War Films, especially those that depict the real horror of conflict, it’s not difficult to attribute the “blame” to one side or the other. There is no doubt that the years of conflict in the area have left a legacy of damage, structurally, physically and no doubt emotionally. In talking to the younger generation of Vietnamese people they all seem to have a single mind set – which is based on going forward, not back. It would seem that only the tourists have that “have a need” to understand or visit the areas of conflict. Even the seventy-four year old tour guide who accompanied us to the My Son Sanctuary, and had spent two years in prison for being an interpreter for the USA during the conflict, was determined to look only forward. “We have no interest in conflict – we have seen at first hand the damage it causes”, he said. A visit to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is a must.
As I said earlier, I am not a travel writer, or actually a “writer”. I classify myself as someone who just likes to write. As the blog indicates these are my “ramblings”. It is my firm belief that to really experience the real Country your visiting you need to embrace its culture. Just before we visited China I remember Sam reminding us, “remember Dad, they have a different culture to us, the things they do, the way they behave – it’s all different to the UK. Don’t judge them on those differences, just accept them”. We ate local food throughout our stay, in local establishments where the locals ate. We embraced the culture and the people – and we did so willingly, knowing that by doing so our trip would enrich our lives, which it did.