The night before we left Cambodia, Sue and her friend Solpol took us on a drive through the grounds of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. We hadn’t been to the temples mostly due to fear of Dylan moving a stone and the whole of Angkor Wat falling down and us being chased out of Cambodia. But seriously, having to explain to Dylan that she has to be quiet and not follow the tourists climbing all over the ruins just wasn’t something we wanted to tackle this trip. The next one, yes. But this trip, we’d leave the temples intact. Driving through was the perfect resolution, we could see them but also tiny mischief was contained and it was absolutely incredible. I’m not one to be wowed by ancient buildings, statues and monuments. I don’t mean to sound massively ignorant – I find beauty in lots of things, give me a starry night sky and I’m practically in tears, scouring my Spotify for the perfect soundtrack but I’ve never been moved by castles, ruins and Stonehenge absolutely baffles me. This will sound over romanticized but driving through the grounds was like being driven through a storybook. The trees were the tallest I had ever seen planted along both sides of the road so their branches touched in the middle. Their shape created a perfect tunnel for you to drive under making you feel tiny and surrounded by some sort of otherworldly magic. There were monkeys jumping through the ruins and weaving in and out of the trees, monks meditating in ruins that had been turned into beautiful shrines and the water surrounding Angkor Wat was vast and beautiful it was honestly such an incredible sight. It seemed apt that we saw them before we left and it kinda summed up our experience of Siem Reap as a whole. We didn’t think we could do it, we didn’t think Siem Reap would suit us and in the first few weeks as I’ve mentioned before I honestly thought we’d made a horrible mistake. But, as we got closer, more involved and got to know the people, explore and find our feet we found our rhythm and it was a totally different one to the one we had back home and that was absolutely fine. If anything, it felt a lot more natural to us and we didn’t just end up liking Siem Reap, we fell in love with it. So, as we left for Vietnam and waved goodbye to Sue and Sokunthear – we left feeling a little heavy, but also adamant that’d we’d be back. Really soon.
A few blog posts back I said how when we arrived in Cambodia I felt like it was sending us messages to get back on a plane to the UK immediately – well, compared to what was about to happen in Vietnam – Cambodia welcomed us with open arms and sat us down for a cup of tea and a cuddle. We’ve learnt quite quickly here that Dylan and Dotty are an attraction over here, it’s like walking around with Adele. Everywhere we go people want pictures and to pick them up and cuddle them (okay, not Adele – I can’t imagine she’d stand for being picked up by strangers), we are in restaurants for a couple of minutes before a lovely waitress comes over and takes one of them to show them around or play with them. At first, it was nuts because obviously if someone picks your child up that you don’t know in the UK we are conditioned to think stranger danger, but here the culture around children is very different. Children are brought up by the community and people take an interest in your child immediately, they are really treasured. This isn’t to say we are being naive, the intensity of how each country/countries tourists has been with the girls has differed and in some cases, we’ve had to step in because it’s been too much – which I’ll talk about later. The reason I’m talking about this is that we can’t really go anywhere without there being a bit of a scene and that’s fine! Most of the time, it’s really lovely but the one place you don’t want there to be a scene is a border control at an airport.
At Siem Reap airport, the staff were really lovely with Dylan – she had got really excited and as she ran around, the staff would grab and play with her – which was helpful because we had a mountain of hand luggage and Dotty. It was a series of calamities from this point, we hadn’t booked a return flight yet so we had to book one at the airport otherwise we weren’t allowed on the flight. We hadn’t got the correct visa so had to change our plans (which worked out for the best!) and then when we arrived at the Vietnam border, Dylan ran.
And as Sam went to chase her, we were told he couldn’t. So as our two-year old was running faster and faster, thinking the border police chasing her was a game – Sam was trying to rationalise with the Vietnamese border how he needed to get her. By this time I was mid anxiety attack because she just wouldn’t stop running – Sam ended up throwing his passport at the border police and running after her just as she spotted a lovely Vietnamese lady she had met on the plane and ran into her arms. In hindsight, I know Sam would have always got her – whether it meant we were all locked up a cell for the night or not but at the time, everything goes through your head. She had become so accustomed to people wanting to speak to her, being lovely to her and picking her up in Cambodia that if the wrong person had been on the other side of the border within those moments would she have just presumed they were kind like those she had met before? I was a mess and I was angry at myself and I’m sure the border police gave us a visa stamp that said if we weren’t out of the country within fifteen days we would be catapulted over the nearest border.
It was late and we were so tired. We were driven to our Airbnb which in our dark, sleepy haze felt like the middle of nowhere, down tiny roads and at the end of a small track. We were greeted by smiling faces and a pack of the happiest dogs (all named after fizzy drinks!) and ushered into our little cottage, which looked out onto a fishing pond. The girls and I went to sleep and Sam sat up working. This was not our favourite day, at all.
We woke up in Hoi An, Vietnam and met our hosts Hung, Thanh and their son Bin. They had made us a beautiful Vietnamese breakfast, a fruit plate for Dylan and two icey Vietnamese coffees. I have never been a massive coffee drinker ever, but if this trip has taught me anything (it had taught me many things)… I need a vice. Whilst living in Kings Heath, I had become a little dependent on a surprise Ice Soy Latte with caramel (Honestly, my sixteen-year-old emo self would be so disappointed in me) but they happened rarely and I was a Lemon tea addict through and through so coffee was something I just dabbled in. Now, my lemon tea addiction has been something that was enforced upon me at the age of 7. It comes in a yellow jar, with a red lid and is drank mostly by elderly women. I can say it was an addiction as it’s the closest thing I can associate with someone saying they need a cigarette to start the day or calm them down. The magical powers of lemon tea have been something I’ve had in my life for the last 23 years. But, Asia hasn’t heard of it (most people in the UK hadn’t heard of it) so I’ve had to wean myself off and by wean, I mean completely cold turkey. My mum mentioned when I come back for the book release that I’ll be able to have one and this should have filled me with glee – BUT NO. I cannot go near that magical powdered beverage, I’ve been 10 weeks clean and to taste it again will only cause heartache. So, I’ve had a lemon tea shaped void in my life, a huge gaping hole that used to be filled with lemony goodness was now empty and it needed filling. With all the things offered to us on this trip so far, I can safely say that Coffee seemed to be the safest and most delicious of all the vices available. In Cambodia, I’d have my lcey Latte and feel quite fancy but that was until Hung and Thanh and their magical beverage of hope and glory. Sam and I were instantly in awe of our new-found love, filtered coffee – with condensed milk and all of the ice cubes. It sounds so simple, but never ever have I ever enjoyed a drink so much (Sorry lemon tea, love you babez). Maybe it was the decadence of the condensed milk, maybe it was the strength of Vietnamese coffee but suddenly the woes of yesterday were behind me – I was capable of anything, I could take on any challenge the day had in store. VIETNAM I AM READY FOR YOU.
Well, I was still a little anxious but I’m just trying to get across how utterly delicious it was.
Dylan instantly fell in love with Thanh, a beautiful, playful Vietnamese super queen who adored her. They would play every day and Thanh took her in the swimming pool and taught her bits of Vietnamese. If Dylan was out of sight she was most definitely with Thanh, taking photos or exploring. I say most definitely, Dylan had a few hiding places in Hoi An. One was with a gorgeous older couple that lived next door to where we were staying, she had beautiful salt and pepper hair that cascaded down her back and her husband had the most lovely bone structure. They were both stunning and had grandchildren and Dylan would go and play with them and their grandchildren’s toys. The lady crafted Dylan a fishing rod from a branch in her front garden, she stripped all of the bark and the sharp bits off and made a line and hook out of the stem of a plant. Dylan sat trying to catch a fish proudly with her fishing rod for close to an hour, for Dylan to sit in any one spot for longer than five minutes is a triumph so to me this wonderful lady was pretty much a wizard. Across from their house was a young couple building their house, the land surrounding it was covered in mounds of sand. We had been to the beach on our first day in Hoi An, so Dylan’s love of sand was fresh – and this was a massive beach next door. Thankfully, the neighbours were enamoured by her and sat and build sand castles with what would soon be their house. At the end of our little road was the basket boats, Hung along with the rest of the hamlet had been in a huge argument over the basket boats which had caught on to the national media. They had been using massive stereo systems and providing Korean tourists with karaoke basket boats which they felt had been ruining the peace of the hamlet (which it had – there is only so much Gangnam Style you can hear before it becomes a bit of a nightmare!) whilst we were there, they had won the fight and during our stay we had gone from hearing Gangnam Style 10 times a day to just a couple, I’m pretty sure the locals will fight until Gangnam is no more. No one will even be able to mention the song without being flung into the river. It was that big of an issue. The hamlet had become a tourist attraction in recent years, just around the corner from where we were staying lots of little shops selling Vietnamese trinkets, fruit sellers and a few places for coffees and ice lollies. On one of our first nights, we were invited into a yard for a party, they played with Dylan as we chatted and then we were escorted home by a bunch of them as they carried the girls, we followed and they took us right up to our front door. It was really lovely.
Every morning Hung & Thanh would make us breakfast, we’d even be surprised with lunch every now and then which was always the most welcomed as their food was delicious. Each meal they made us went up into the list of our favourite meals ever, their Cao lầu was amazing but honestly, everything we had was incredible. If we could have eaten every meal there we would have, but we ventured out each evening and found that Hoi An was just a honey pot for delicious food! One night we went into the old town, Dylan and Dotty had both fallen to sleep, so this was the closest to a date night we’d had in a while! We searched for absolute ages until we found somewhere called Hola Taco, which by this point as long as the food was edible and the drinks were wet we would have left happy customers. As we sat down Dotty woke up and as the food came out Dylan did too and suddenly we were overwhelmed with a smell. The worst sort of smells. We ate quickly, I can’t tell you what it tasted like – I didn’t chew. Sam escorted Dylan to the bathroom and Dotty and I made a swift exit to the street. After a while Sam emerged and as quick as a tiny racehorse Dylan weaved past him through the restaurant and on to the streets of Hoi An in nothing but a nappy and a smile. Whilst I apologised over and over to anyone who would listen (sorry has been one of my first phrases to learn whilst travelling with a beautiful little wrecking ball) I learnt that the reason she hadn’t got any clothes on because the smell was a grade 7 – an explosion wiping out anything in its tracks – this hasn’t happened for a long time and I hadn’t planned for it in my mum’s back of tricks that I carry around with me. That sounds way more organised than it is, it’s my tote bag with teething gel, nappies, baby biscuits and various hair clips, receipts and sand/leaves whatever may have found its way in there that week, however – no clothes. We made our way through the old town much to the joy of other tourists taking photos of the naked toddler and her irresponsible parents and the disgust of the elders who thought we’d brought a party girl to Hoi An on a wild Club 2-10 holiday. Finding the closest taxi that could fit us all in and the bucket load of shame we’d just acquired we headed back to Hung and Thanh and decided to never leave our hamlet for the rest of our stay.
(Ok, we did leave our hamlet but never, ever without extra clothes).